Tuesday, March 1, 2011

A Little About Me

My perspective is definitely different from that of many other folks—and it is definitely the product of my life experiences. I am really grateful for this gift of perspective, and by sharing “a little about me”, I hope you will be able to appreciate and benefit from my journey as well.

One of the first blessings bestowed upon me by my Creator was that I was born in Texas! Yes, I am one of those proud Texans that wears Texas on various items of clothing, loves George Strait and Willie Nelson, knows all the words to “The Eyes of Texas”, goes crazy over high school football, and considers the Alamo sacred ground. I depart from most of my fellow Texans because I don’t drink beer or iced tea—but still believe there is no good Tex-Mex food north of the Red River. I married a fellow Texan, not a native, but still a Bluebonnet-loving, cowboy-boot-owning Texan.

That said, hubby and I have both traveled a little and love people and places from all around the world. Our grown children are now traveling to places far beyond our comfortable borders, and we are so blessed to get to love people from more remote corners of the globe. But I guess that is also Texan—loving people—and we do.

My husband and I are the proud parents of eight children. Clark 25, Katy 23, Preston 20, Annie 18, Kent 16, Callie 13, Carson 11 and Dawson 9. They are the eight finest children I’ve ever known. I am such a better person because I have the privilege of being their mother. They are often the conduit through which God chooses to teach me. You can tell how much I had to learn by how many children were sent to help get the message across! Through this blog, I’ll share as much of what I’ve learned, and what I continue to learn, as possible. Today’s post will just set the stage.

The geography of the land of Bateman had a drastic change on February 1, 2000. Our youngest son, Dawson, was born with a severe brain injury. He tied a true hand-over-hand knot in the umbilical cord, suffering periodic prenatal anoxia. This knot had to be tied by three months gestation because after that time, babies are just too big to do that kind of swimming. I knew something wasn’t right before Dawson was born, but didn’t make any fuss about it—hoping it was just a “different” pregnancy. I knew within hours of delivery that he wasn’t nursing like the other seven babies had, he didn’t sleep the same either. Something was wrong. By six days of age, I was CERTAIN something was wrong and dashed to my beloved pediatrician for help. After examining Dawson, he was pronounced perfectly healthy, I was told to get more rest, and sent packing.

At the four-month well check, I was all of a sudden correct in my “hunches”. Something was VERY wrong. Dawson had nystagmus and alternating convergent strabismus. The combination of these two conditions usually results in cortical visual suppression or impairment—in other words, blindness. This condition (CVI) is often accompanied by mobility issues and cognitive impairment. This is often called global developmental delay or pervasive developmental disorder (PDD). Not only was something wrong, the news got worse—there was nothing I could do about it. Remembering what a proud and stubborn Texan I am, you can imagine I wasn’t about to take that news lying down. I left the pediatrician’s office with a tear-stained face and more determination than usually fits inside one body.

Within just a few days, God brought a wonderful woman into my life—Cindy Dees. Cindy had a daughter who’d had similar issues and she introduced me to a program where parents receive training and become therapists for their children with neurological difficulties. Her daughter was doing spectacularly well, and so I listened. She taught me why Dawson’s vision problem was NOT in his eyes, but in his brain. She taught me some basic information about how to help my son and what we could do to get started. We didn’t wait, we jumped right in and our family went to work right away.

That is the beginning of the change. The change that taught me to seek out the root cause of problems, not just chase the symptoms. The change that taught me that parents are the best teachers and therapists in the world. The change that taught me to stay the course and work hard to get the desired improvements. The change that taught me the brain is a spectacular organ and is one of the final frontiers of anatomy understanding. The change that lit an unquenchable fire that drives me to learn and then share with other parents how they can help their precious child.

Dawson is now nine years old. He is doing amazingly well. His biggest concern in life is that he isn’t finishing his schoolwork on time. He reads, he does math, he has his first crush on a little girl in his class, he plays with his friends on the playground. He’s never qualified for special education or any other “services.” His work is all at grade level. He isn’t at 100% of expected neurological function yet—about 85%. But what started as a severe injury is now mild. Thank goodness we know what to do, how to do it and to hang in there because sometimes changes take time.

Every child in my family has benefited from my knowledge about child brain development. We’ve solved many problems that we see other families “coping” with. Because of the success I’ve experienced and my Texan nature, I determined to become trained so I could help other parents in an organized way. I couldn’t bear to see one more mother suffer the heartbreak of thinking her child could never (fill in the blank). I believe in every child’s potential to be well and I see children every day who are becoming just that—-well! Even though their peers continue to struggle with the same challenges. Even though the doctors or teachers or therapists said they would never be able to go beyond certain boundaries. Even though the odds were stacked against them.

So every day, I get to do what I love. I love teaching about brain development in terms that everyone can understand. I love putting parents in the driver’s seat of their child’s development. I love empowering families to help every precious child realize their full potential. And you’ll love understanding your child and knowing how to help them progress!

The Brain That Changes Itself---Book Review

by Dr. Norman Doidge

This is the inaugural Book Review/Book Give Away for the Parents With Purpose Blog. Each quarter I will review a book that is applicable to the topic of brain development. Everyone who leaves a reasonable comment on the review (spam, porn and inappropriate responses will be deleted), will be entered into a random drawing for a copy of the book which was reviewed. Be sure to check back on the blog to see if you are the winner so I can get an address for the book to be mailed.

The first book I’ve chosen to review and give away is: The Brain That Changes Itself by Dr. Norman Doidge. This book is available in many public libraries and is on the New York Times Best Seller List.

In this book, Dr. Doidge shares the story of 11 different people who have changed their brains or changed the brains of many others through their research. Some of those included are Paul Bach-y-Rita, Barbara Arrowsmith Young, Michael Merzenich, Walter J. Freeman, Edward Taub, Jeffrey M. Schwartz, V.S. Ramachandran, Alvaro Pascual-Leone, Eric Kandel, Frederick Gage, Dr. Jordan Grafman, and others.

Chapter 3, entitled “Redesigning the Brain” is devoted to the work of Michael Merzenich, one of my personal favorites. Merzenich is the founder of the company Scientific Learning. One of Scientific Learning’s products is a family of programs called Fast Forword. I have personally used these products with my own family and know them to be very effective. However, the reason Merzenich is one of my favorite neuroscientists is because of what I’ve learned from reading about him in Dr. Doidge’s book. Here are some quotes from the chapter about Merzenich that I found most enlightening:

“Merzenich claims that when learning occurs in a way consistent with the laws that govern brain plasticity, the mental “machinery” of the brain can be improved so that we learn and perceive with greater precision, speed and retention.” Wow! Isn’t precision, speed and retention what we’re ALL chasing? Isn’t that exactly what we want for our children? If we can change how we’re working with the information getting into the brain, we can improve all three. That’s exciting to me.

“There is an endless war of nerves going on inside each of our brains. If we stop exercising our mental skills, we do not just forget them: the brain map space for those skills is turned over to the skills we practice instead.” Use it or lose it. We don’t really OWN anything in our brain, it is always part of the “endless war of nerves”. Very encouraging for us to keep up our edge.

Setting for the following quote: Merzenich had done brain mapping and proven that brain maps could alter their borders, location & change their functions well into adulthood. Now the quote:
“Almost everybody I knew in the mainstream of neuroscience thought this was semi-serious stuff—that the experiments were sloppy, that the effects described were uncertain. But actually the experiment had been done enough times that I realized that
the position of the majority was arrogant and indefensible. Can I get an “amen”? I have found so many people who hide inside that comfortable fort of believing the brain cannot change, or there are time limits to neuroplasticity, etc. I wonder HOW ON EARTH they can ignore the endless volume of research. I wonder EVEN MORE how they can ignore the families whose lives are changed because their children have made dramatic improvement. I have to agree with Merzenich, “arrogant and indefensible.”

“The reward is a crucial feature of the program, because each time the child is rewarded, his brain secretes such neurotransmitters as dopamine and acetylcholine, which help consolidate the map changes he has just made. (Dopamine reinforces the reward and acetylcholine helps the brain “tune in” and sharpen memories.)” When we are working with our children, we need to remain positive and REWARD their efforts. We need to be very creative in our efforts to motivate them. It is very easy to become negative and just want them to “get it done.” We have hard scientific research that teaches us to focus on appropriate rewards, such as increased affection and lots of WAHOO and other privileges. I’m not a fan of children getting “stuff” for their efforts. After all, what all children really want is the undivided attention of an adult who loves them. I cannot over-emphasize this in what I’ve experienced. Thanks to Merzenich, I can understand why.

From chapter 4, “Acquiring Tastes and Loves”:
“The plastic influence of pornography on adults can also be profound, and those who use it have no sense of the extent to which their brains are reshaped by it.”
The word reshaped is very powerful here. Those who peddle this insidious product say it is a harmless pleasure. It isn’t. It is literally changing the shape of a brain. Perhaps this fact will help others avoid it.

From chapter 7, “Pain”, conclusions from Ramachandran:
“Pain is an opinion on the organism’s state of health rather than a mere reflexive response to an injury.”
Completely changes how we see and understand the pain response!!!

“Think how remarkable this is—for a most excrutiating, chronic pain, a whole new treatment that uses imagination and illusion to restructure brain maps plastically without medication, needles, or electricity.” For those in chronic pain, this is revolutionary and life-changing.

From chapter 8, “Imagination”:
” . . . a part of the brain devoted to one sense had become devoted to another.”
The implications could be far-reaching! Could we recruit another area of the brain to restore vision if the visual cortex is physically damaged? This supports Merzenich’s work that brain plasticity is allocated on a use it or lose it basis.

“Each thought alters the physical state of your brain synapses at a microscopic level.” I guess they understood this principal at some level back in Old Testament days, As a man thinketh in his heart, so is he . . . Proverbs 23. The positive mental attitude guys will attest to this also.

From Chapter 9, “Turning Our Ghosts Into Ancestors”:
“Kandel’s work shows that when we learn, our minds also affect which genes in our neurons are transcribed. Thus we can shape our genes, which in turn shape our brain’s microscopic anatomy.”
I sometimes hear people comment about particularly-accomplished students, that they are smart like their parents. In its simplest application (perhaps a bit over-simplified), if you want “smart” transcribed into your dna to be inherited by your children, LEARN. It works.”

From chapter 10, “Rejuvenation”:

“Recent research shows that exercise stimulates the production and release of the neuronal growth factor BDNF.” My 17-year-old son, a Varsity football play in Football Heaven, aka Texas, would say this fact is HUGE. Athletes have long been chasing something to help them achieve maximum growth in height and muscle strength. They have, unfortunately, gone so far as to try to chemically replicate human growth hormones. Many, many substances are banned from competitive sports. There have been hearings in Congress about the abuse of these substances in high school, college, amateur and professional sports. There is, however, GREAT news for everyone with a brain. There is a LEGAL activity which will stimulate the production and release of a BRAIN GROWTH FACTOR. That legal activity is exercise. Your brain literally grows and organizes as a result. Simple, inexpensive, and effective way to protect your brain from the ravages of disease and age. Much, much better than sudoku or crossword puzzles. Plus there are cardiovascular and other benefits as well. Nike was right when they said, “Do it”.

In conclusion, I will say once again, I looooooove this book. It should encourage every one of us to strive for a better, healthier and more productive life for our children and ourselves. For many of the years I have been trying to share the principles of brain growth through stimulation, people have said, “Show me the research and I’ll believe you. Until I see scientific research, I won’t.” Well thank you, Dr. Doidge, because I can point those folks to a book that is widely available and is easy to read. This is written for everyday folks in language we all relate to.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I want to go re-read it!

Being Thankful

With Thanksgiving having just past and the Christmas season in full bloom, I had to post about a recent conversation I had with a dear friend whose child had been on the program for a few years. We were discussing all the things she had been through over time so that her child has now arrived at being practically well. There have been many ups and downs. There have been times of clear progress, times of “status quo”, and times of regression. But she stayed the course and continued completing the program each day with her child. (only 5-ish days per week)

What struck me about our conversation was when she said she was grateful for all the time she spent creeping & crawling with her child. Not too many parents have fond things to say about creeping & crawling so I had to hear more. She talked about time spent pretending they were in different battles of the American Revolution. She told me how they crawled and crept their way through many of the battles and fended off the Redcoats to gain their independence from Great Britain. There were hilarious stories of ways in which her child had interpreted different events. The Revolution through the perspective of a child is indeed very interesting.

She also spoke of how it had focused her time with her child. Without needing her to pay undivided attention to creeping & crawling, it would have been very easy to be distracted by phone calls, email, social events, television, etc. But because her efforts HAD to be focused, they were. She was exclusively focused on her child, his perspective in accomplishing his creeping/crawling distances, and the goal of a well-organized brain.

She also talked about what it taught her child. When her child needed her, she was there. She placed this priority above all others. She stayed with her child when it wasn’t so much fun to be creeping & crawling. She was there when it was exciting to re-enact the battle scenes, and even when it wasn’t exciting. She gave her child the confidence of knowing that his mother was on his side—always—even when it was hard. She would always hang in there–and her child had the wonderful security of knowing it.

For these and other reasons, my friend was grateful for the time she spent creeping & crawling with her child.

I have had wonderful adventures with my son during our creeping & crawling time. When he was younger, he was a Thomas the Tank Engine fan(atic), so we played endless games. I always had to be Diesel 10 with the jagged claw (at his insistence), while my son would be various other characters racing to escape my evil character. I would talk in a crazy voice and even used the BBQ tongs as my jagged claw. My son very favorably remembers the Thomas games. He also said it is how he knows that I know how to play.

As Dawson grew older, his interests evolved to animals (especially dogs). So I would walk behind him as he crept and crawled, reading novels to him. I was able to expose him to literature that was more sophisticated than he was able to read on his own. One such book was “Where the Red Fern Grows”. We loved the adventures and were able to compare earning a pair of hound dogs to working hard to organize a brain. We sat down and cried together when Old Dan and Little Ann died. We had similar experiences with “Old Yeller”, “Swiss Family Robinson”, “Lassie Come Home”, “Bridge to Terabithia”, “Tale of Despereuax” and many others.

Because my son has four older brothers that are all super athletes, he felt he couldn’t be as cool as them because he can’t run fast (yet). But now he has confidence that he CAN do hard things. He runs his own races and has equated creeping & crawling with long-distance running. He accomplishes a marathon distance each month on his hands & knees. His brothers really respect how hard he works and tell him they don’t work any harder during football workouts. The respect has gone both ways—he adores his big brothers and they honor his diligence, persistence and tremendous effort.

After talking with my friend, I realized that I, too, am grateful for the time spent creeping & crawling. I’m grateful that in my busy life I have taken (and still take) time to focus on the goal of my son being well—WITH MY SON. It has been overall a sweet experience. We have had our tough days, but we worked through them and stayed the course. We learned together that we do what is right even when it’s hard.

I have come to see the challenge of creeping & crawling as an invitation to be focused on your child, to work together to achieve a lofty goal, to manage your time better, to prioritize your commitments, and especially to maintain perspective on your desired outcome—a neurologically well-organized child.

A big “thank you” to my friend who expressed her gratitude. Her focus and persistence shows up in the neurological organization of her child. She is a terrific example for me and I hope by sharing a bit of our conversation, you will be uplifted also. We can do this. The way has been trod before us and we can get the same prize.

I’m ready!!!

Is Your Child Worth It?

Tonight I attended a performance of the Plano Senior High School Chamber Orchestras. There were three different ensembles of four musicians each. They played pieces by Mendelssohn, Ravel and others. The pieces were 9 to 15 minutes long and they were gorgeous! The musicians were very talented and skilled.

As I listened to this beautiful music, I began to wonder about how much practice time it had taken for these musicians to come to this moment in time prepared to play these difficult pieces so beautifully. I began to guestimate that a violinist would practice a minimum of 2 hours a day (although most practice much more than this). I supposed they would begin to practice in the 6th grade, since that is when the school orchestra program begins (although I personally know many of these violinists began to play as early as age three). Since these students are now in 12th grade, I estimated 2 hours per day for six years giving a total time of 4,380 hours. This is roughly the equivalent of working a full-time job for two years. This is a very conservative estimate, but WOW, that is a lot of time and effort! I haven’t even considered the investment of time from their parents—making sure they practice, driving them to/from lessons and performances, attending their performances, etc. The amount of money invested is also considerable—lessons and instruments are certainly not inexpensive.

Was this significant investment of time and money worth the return? It was certainly wonderful for me as an audience member, but it wasn’t MY time or money. I began to look at the parents of these musicians. Amongst the crowd, it was OBVIOUS who they were. They were positively radiant with joy. They were the first ones out of their seats to give a standing ovation. They were hugging their child at the reception after the performance. I even saw a few misty-eyed parents. They were very animated in their conversations. I heard comments such as, “You were wonderful!” “I am so proud of you!” “That was the most beautiful music I’ve ever heard!”

The musicians themselves were beaming. They had done well and they knew it. They were basking in the praise and attention they were receiving. They were enthralled with the music as they performed. This was the culminating performance for their high school career—and they nailed it.

I would have to say the musicians and their parents would whole-heartedly say “Yes, it was all worth it. We paid a price and the return is glorious.”

This was a very enjoyable experience, but it was only twelve musicians. What about the other orchestra members? What about the children who didn’t make the orchestra? What about the children who couldn’t begin to handle such a commitment because they are struggling just to barely make it through their classes? Is someone investing in them? If so, is the return worth the investment?

So many children are not enjoying the glow of success enjoyed by the PSHS Chamber Orchestras. Some of them are barely surviving their classes. They aren’t receiving praise from their parents and teachers. They are hearing “You just need to apply yourself.” “I know you can do this, you’re just not trying hard enough.” “You’ll never get anywhere in life if you don’t learn how to knuckle down and work.” “All the other kids in class can do this—why can’t you?” It goes on and on and on, day after day, week after week, year after year. Just as the cumulative effect of years of practice produced a beautiful result for the chamber orchestra, years of negative messages can produce a child who is downtrodden, self-doubting, or perhaps even angry. The contrast is heart wrenching.

Where are the parents of the struggling children? They’re probably feeling as hurt and negative as the children themselves. They had high hopes and dreams for their precious child. They know in their hearts their child has tremendous potential, but try as they might, they have not been able to unlock that treasure chest. They have been the recipient of many negative messages themselves. Their devotion and parenting skills have been insulted countless times.

Is there a way to bridge the gap between the children who are doing beautifully and those who are suffering? Is medication the only possible way to help? Is the medication even helpful? Isn’t there SOMETHING parents can do? Some way they can invest in their child just as the orchestra parents did? I believe there is. I see it happen every day with families who are working very hard to give their children every opportunity in life to succeed. It is demanding of family resources—just like orchestra or band or football or soccer or Student Council, etc. It requires devotion and investment in the same way EVERY activity does. We just need parents and others working with these students to see that THEY ARE WORTH THE INVESTMENT! The potential IS there and CAN be unlocked—but the work and diligence come before the reward. The practice comes many times before the concert. It is the same principle.

So what do we do? How can we possibly help? I believe the first step is to focus on the root cause of the problem, and that is in the brain. The brain is responsible for auditory processing, control of movement–both voluntary and involuntary, visual processing culminating with reading, understanding unspoken communication, retrieval of information, etc. These are all very important skills for success in the classroom and in life.

We need to focus on stimulating the brain in an orderly and EFFECTIVE way to provide these skills for children who are struggling. We need to invest time and resources into making sure these children have the possibility of succeeding.

Is your child worth it? Can they work two hours per day to achieve these goals of being able to be academically successful, physically coordinated and socially gracious? Will we, as parents, put forth the same effort for them? Will we make sure they are “practicing” and getting the instruction they need? Will we stay in the game when they are not yet succeeding, but making small bits of progress? Will we remain positive and focused on that culminating performance?

Those are questions you must answer for yourself. Is your child worth it?

How Do I Know . . .?

Parents have often asked me questions that begin with, “How do I know . . .?” They finish the question with various phrases such as, ” . . . if I should be worried about these problems in preschool/kindergarten?” ” . . . if the teacher is being fair to my child?” ” . . . if they’ll just outgrow this?” Regardless of what they ask, it all boils down to the same question. “How do I know if I should take action?”

Usually, the answer lies within the question itself. If you are feeling unsettled enough to seek an outside opinion, often you already know you need to pay attention. As parents, we often know deep inside that perhaps our child is not thriving in the way we had hoped. Because there are many variables in classroom settings, we often look at other possibilities as the root cause of the problem. Perhaps the teacher doesn’t like our child and she is nit-picking about behaviors. Perhaps the expectations are unreasonable for attention span and the appropriate behaviors. Perhaps there are too many children in the class, or too few. Perhaps this school isn’t a good fit for our child’s learning style. Perhaps our child is surrounded by children who are exceptionally gifted, so our child doesn’t seem to shine. Perhaps the other children’s parents are over-achievers who push their child.

Too many of the parents I counsel say, “I knew back in preschool something wasn’t going quite right. Looking back, I should have been more pro-active at that point. Now I’ve got a bigger problem on my hands.” “I didn’t believe there was a problem until I was forced to visit my child’s classroom. I can’t believe I didn’t see this sooner.” “Truly our child has the same issues at home, we have just been denying it.”

If you are concerned, that’s how you know. Certainly there are occasionally circumstances that are unfair, or disagreeable teachers, or poor schools—-but those are generally the exception. If your child is not keeping up with his peers, you know. If your child is struggling in social situations, you know. If your child is not as physically coordinated as the rest of the class, you know. If you child is struggling academically, you know.

The REAL question is, “I know something is going awry, what do I do about it now?” That is a question that can really begin to get you on the pathway to improvement. That is the question I can help you answer. Those other questions—you already know.

How Dare They!!!

I attended a baby shower on Sunday. While there I saw a young woman I’ve known for several years. She is now a neuroscience major who works part time as a scribe for physicians in an emergency room. She is very excited about becoming an emergency room physician and shared some of her favorite work experiences.

She said that her saddest experiences are when she has to tell families that their loved ones are brain injured and there is nothing that can be done for them. I suggested that perhaps there are things that can be done. She vehemently disagreed—insisting the brain is irreparable. I tried to explain some of the work I do every day. She said it couldn’t possibly be true—in the arrogant sort of manner that one can only learn in medical school. I remained calm and asked her if she would be willing to entertain the notion of brain plasticity if she could be shown supporting research. She replied that she would, but re-emphasized that she was certain that any such research is probably flawed or misinterpreted.

I am going to send her “The Brain That Changes Itself” by Norman Doidge. I will also send her a reading list that will include Magic Trees of the Mind by Marian Diamond, The Emperor’s New Mind by Roger Penrose, Brain Plasticity & Behavior by Bryan Kolb and The Mind & the Brain by Sharon Begley. Believe me, there are many more titles worthy of the list. But I am ONLY sending book titles that are available in our local public library.

So this is where the “How Dare They?” title was born. This young lady’s ignorance and arrogance was taught to her in one of the country’s leading brain research universities. May I repeat “leading brain research universities”!!!!! HOW DARE THEY?

They are teaching this compassionate, sweet, bright, motivated young woman to write people off like yesterday’s garbage. They are teaching her to routinely and callously remove any hope families may have for their loved ones to recover. And it gets WORSE—they are training up AN ENTIRE GENERATION of new physicians to practice medicine in the same manner!!!

How could this possibly happen? Are they just missing the information—it just hasn’t gotten to them? I don’t see how this could be the case—-remember all those books are available in the local public library. Also, The Brain That Changes Itself by Norman Doidge is a New York Times Best Seller! Every day, Google Alerts brings to my inbox a LOAD of the latest research and every single new study SUPPORTS the principles of brain growth as a result of stimulation—and that the growth brings improved function and can even be helpful in preventing such maladies as Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s disease. Don’t those neuroscience professors read the journals publishing this research?

Temple Fay began exploring the brain’s ability to heal and improve before World War II. He was figuratively tarred and feathered and forced out of Temple University’s Medical School. But that was decades ago. Since that time scientists such as Merzenich, Diamond, Neubauer, Harch, Klovoski, Taub and many more have proven through the countless hours of obeying the Scientific Method that the brain can and does change and improve.

So, how dare they? Not only are they willing to dash hope and deny potential, but they are disregarding the proven work of dozens of scientists—their colleagues!

I can’t say why this is happening—I do have my theories, but that is a blog for another day. But I can say that it is still happening right before my very eyes.

I can also say this—-if anyone ever tells you your loved one is NEVER going to improve, grow, progress, change, etc.—-DON’T take their word for it. Do your own research. Find out about the people who are succeeding in helping people recover. According to one of the leading brain research universities in the country, you have nothing to lose. According to a large part of the scientific community (and me), you have everything to gain.

Why Should I Pay Attention?

Many times when I invite parents to attend the Brain Development Seminar, I get responses such as: “My child is doing fine, I don’t have any reason to take a class like that,” or “That sounds like an interesting topic, but my children don’t need any extra help.” “Gosh, my baby isn’t even born yet, why would I need to learn that kind of stuff.” It is to this line of thought that I address my post today. Initially, I had a difficult time understanding how someone would miss the relevance of brain development as a vital topic for everyone. Then I thought back to my way of thinking BEFORE my youngest child was born and I had an emergency need to learn about brain development—when I had ONLY seven children. (I know, not too many people say “only” and “seven” followed by the word “children”. LOL!) When I had ONLY seven children, they were all “wonder buckets”. They succeeded fairly easily in school overall—some were the very top of their class but we’d had a brush with “ADD” issues with one child. Still, everyone was very intelligent, very athletic and adept in social interaction. They had lots of friends, made good grades, succeeded on sports teams. It was tempting to think I knew the mothering game better than most because I had seven great kids to prove it—-and I fell to that temptation, sorry to say.

Then Dawson was born. I truly believe he was sent to our family to show us what we didn’t know (which was plenty). After I took my first seminar in brain development (it was five 12-hour days and I had to fly over 1300 miles to get there), I began to see what I had been missing.

#1–My children weren’t doing as well as I thought they were. As I learned what normal brain development really looked like, I learned some of the “personality quirks” or “this just isn’t his/her strength” or “he/she can do it sometimes, just doesn’t apply it all the time” or “they’re just bored so they’re not performing” were REALLY areas where I could help them do better with orderly, organized stimulation for their brain. I also saw some things I’d labeled as normal “phases” of challenge were really a sign that I needed to pay attention.

#2–Even if my child is doing well, there is no reason to withhold the chance for them to do even better. One of my daughters taught herself to read and is now graduating with a GPA over 4.0. But there were some areas I could have helped her in. I wish I would have known how fantastic it is for young children to learn foreign languages. It grows the brain in the language processing centers in a fantastic way. Exposure as a young child lays down neuronal pathways that can benefit them for the rest of their life. Wish I’d known. Another daughter is an excellent student—an especially good writer. She has a singing voice that is phenomenal and she is able to relate to people very well because she is good at reading social cues. However, she is not as good as physical skills as she would have liked. Learning to drive was another big challenge for her (AND for the white-knuckled parents in the passenger seat!!!). Once I understood brain development, I learned that these challenges rooted back to her cerebellum and spatial awareness. I learned that she cried when, as an infant, we tossed her in the air and put her in the swings because she needed MORE vestibular stimulation, NOT less. We could have helped grow those pathways with a very simple and FUN program. Wish I’d known. This list could go on for a long time because I have two or three “Wish I’d Known” items for every single child. Cutting to the chase, though, my kids were doing well, but I could have helped them do better. I could have helped them broaden their horizons and taken away some of the limits on their choices. It would have been fairly simple—Wish I’d Known!

#3–You never know when a challenge may arise. My third daughter (sixth child)was born as one of the brightest, most motivated, go-getter-type of children I’d ever seen. She was determined to keep up with her older siblings from the moment she got home from the hospital–and surprisingly, she usually did just that. It wasn’t until she was in Kindergarten that signs of dyslexia could no longer be ignored. Her Kindergarten teacher said she was the smartest little girl she’d ever known, who couldn’t read. This came totally out of the blue for us. Emotionally, it was catastrophic for my daughter because she shared a room with her older sister who taught herself to read before age 4. Her older sister stayed almost every night reading wonderful and exciting books. Daughter #3 wanted so much to have this same love of reading and tried with every ounce of might she had. The good news was that her parents already knew how to approach the brain, how to pinpoint the root cause of the issues, and who to turn to for advice on continued stimulation for her brain. We could have been in a crisis situation, but had confidence because we already had the information.

#4—Understanding how the brain works, helped me begin to understand other adults and even myself. There are some adults that have trouble making decisions, causing stress in certain situations. Once I learned how this related to having uniform hemispheric dominance, I began to be more understanding. I also began to present choices in less confusing ways and even presenting fewer choices. There are other times when I feel especially irritable and emotional. After I learned about the limbic system (emotion is housed mainly in this area of the brain) and that it is 80%+ water, I did a better job keeping myself hydrated and reaped more calm for me and the family. After I learned about the amygdala and the role of smells in emotional processing, I was more careful about having constant air freshener smells in my home.
I look at people so much differently now. I am much more respectful of their intelligence and abilities. I am much more compassionate for their struggles.

#5—I learned about my own health. Some of the most terrible diseases that affect us in our golden years originate in the brain. Parkinson’s Disease, Huntington’s Disease, Alzheimer’s Disease, etc. I learned about ways to develop “brain reserve” as a way to help avoid the terrible tragedies families endure when these diseases strike. Understanding my own role in the health of my brain was very empowering. This is not just rolling the dice. I can be pro-active and make simple changes to invest in a healthy future.

#6–Fill in the blank As I attended classes with dozens of other parents, I saw each of them gleaning knowledge for their own lives. Because their lives and their situations are different than mine, they were focusing on different pieces of this information that was especially applicable for them. As I now teach classes, I see this same process happening. One person really relates to emotional development, while the other sees a real opportunity for how physical development changes the brain. As they hear the information, they filter it through their unique place in the world at this time. Without exception parents remark that they have been looking for or wondering about a solution to a particular problem and now they have a new perspective. Now they have a solution. So will you.

These are a few things I hope you will consider when opportunities arise to learn about how brains grow and develop. There is a LOT of information coming out every day. Don’t be overwhelmed by trying to sift through and understand every word of it. But don’t avoid learning more about one of the most important pieces of equipment you and your children are blessed to have—the brain. I’m here to help if you’ll let me.

How Can Your Stomach Affect Your Brain----REALLY???

There is a regional dairy chain where I buy milk, butter, cheese, sour cream, yogurt, etc. for my family. It is an extra stop on my grocery run, but the milk has no added hormones and is from a regional, local dairy which grows its own feed—and they don’t charge an arm and a leg for their products. I think they actually taste remarkably better than grocery store brands. Again, it’s out of my way, but I think it’s worth it. (For those of you who live near me, it is Braum’s. I plug them because I think they’re pretty good at what they do. They don’t pay me—they don’t even KNOW I plug them. But give them a try—plus you can get some decent ice cream while you’re there!)

The cashier on my last visit was a very young, and I will say, inexperienced young woman who asked me why I would come to a special store just to buy dairy products. I replied with the reasons I’ve just listed for you. She said, “So.” I then explained to her that my vocation was a brain development specialist and that quality foods were very important from a neurodevelopmental perspective. She responded, “How can your stomach affect your brain?” I nearly fell over. Really? Really?? Was there still someone left on the planet who doesn’t watch the news about how important nutrition is to your brain? I was stunned even further when she asked me how food affected your brain since food went down and your brain was up. It would have been hilarious if it weren’t so tragic.

So I am writing today with some basic information that is widely available and accepted. I know and subscribe to some “out there” nutrition, but what I’m sharing today is VERY foundational. This is the preschool of brain nutrition information.

#1 Artificial stuff is not good for you. Artificial colors, flavors, and preservatives are NOT GOOD FOR YOU. When you read the list of ingredients, if you can’t pronounce it, or it has a # on it, it probably shouldn’t go in your mouth. Artificial sweeteners are neurotoxins—aspartame, Nutrasweet, Splenda, and any of their cousins are frankly detrimental to your brain. Artificial sweeteners have been shown to INHIBIT weight loss. Your digestive system was not built for them and must work overtime to process these—all the while having to steal nutrients from other tissues in order to do the digestive work, since a lot of the artificially manufactured stuff is often nutritionally bankrupt. Oh yeah, artificially manufactured “enriched” vitamins aren’t too great either. Vitamins/minerals from their natural source are exponentially better at the job than their man-made counterparts. Again, artificial stuff is not good for you.

#2 Convenience food is NOT really convenient. I’ve lived a long time on a typical American diet and I have experimented with the changes I’m recommending. I KNOW that you can scramble 10 eggs in the same amount of time it takes to toast ONE frozen waffle. I KNOW that I can make my own tacos, hamburgers and burritos in less time that it takes to start the car, drive to the “restaurant”, wait in line to get our food and then get home. I admit that I order significantly large quantities because of my family size—-but that means I’m cooking those same quantities and the cooking is still faster. Microwaving your food changes it at the molecular level and it makes the food taste differently. Can that be good? We’ve learned that steaming vegetables takes just about the same amount of time as microwaving. The steamed vegetables taste sooo much better (like they were intended to taste) and the kids eat double portions now. We’re wondering how we ever thought that frozen waffles, microwaving food, and fast food drive-thru lanes were convenient. They’re NOT—they take just as much time and MORE money. Convenience food is not convenient.

#3 Drink water. Your brain is up to 70% water. Your kidneys need water to purify your blood and use that same water to excrete toxins through sweat and urination. When you drink anything else—juice, coffee, tea, milk, soda, or alcohol—you are adding extra work to the load of your kidneys. This is especially a problem if you’re ignoring #1 and your kidneys have a LOT of toxins to filter. Your kidneys will have to filter out all the stuff in what you’ve been drinking to get to the component of water. Then they still have their original job to perform—filtering out toxins. Your entire body is estimated to be 60-70% water and EVERY system in your body depends on water. There is an easy formula to remember for how much water you should drink each day. Take your body weight in pounds. Divide that number in half. Drink that number of ounces as a minimum each day. Example: If a person weighed 100 pounds, they should drink a minimum of 50 ounces of water each day.

#4 Don’t drink soda. It contains artificial EVERYTHING. The acid in soda is very powerful—save it to clean your golf clubs and dissolve the corrosion off your car battery. Many people drink soda with artificial sweeteners. I know lots of great people addicted to diet soda. If you are addicted to something, that could be one of your first clues that it’s NOT good for you.

#5 Please eat complete proteins—especially at breakfast. The 21 amino acids that make a complete protein are the building blocks for brain tissue and muscles—-among other important things. Some people go days without eating a complete protein, yet they expect their bodies and especially their brains, to work tirelessly and efficiently. I have seen the best source of complete proteins to be from animal sources. It is very difficult to get enough complete proteins for growing children from vegan diets—especially if you do your research about soy. Because of this difficulty, it makes variety even more difficult. I believe variety is important for a wide nutrient base. This may not be a popular position, but it is the position I have seen be effective and produce the best health.

#6 Limit sugar. Insulin responses are linked to Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease. High blood sugar levels are complicit in high blood pressure, stroke, heart disease, obesity, etc. Sugar is absent of any nutritional value and thus must steal nutrients from other tissue to do the digestion work. Stevia is a good, natural sweetener that does not have a negative insulin affect. Honey actually contains nutrients so it supports its own digestion. There are a lot of other sweeteners out there–agave nectar, evaporated cane juice, cultured cane juice, etc.—but they are usually still nutritionally negative. Do your own research, but please limit sugar.

#7 Make 60-80% of your diet vegetables. They are delicious, versatile, affordable, healthy, colorful and friendly. Okay, they’re not really friendly, but they’re sooooo good for us that I just had to throw that in there. If organic vegetables are not in your budget, please wash them VERY well. You can add fruits to this category, but they should not be a large part of your veggie portions. Fruits are wonderful, delicious and a GREAT way to replace processed foods. Don’t substitute fruits for vegetables, just ADD fruits.

One important fact needs to be discussed which makes the above 7 suggestions more relative to brain health. Fifty percent of your neurotransmitters are manufactured in your digestive system. Half of the chemicals carrying messages around your brain are made in your gut!!! Do you really want those swimming around in an ocean of chocolate pre-sweetened cereal in hormone/antibiotic laden milk? I certainly don’t.

It is my opinion AND experience that many children with symptoms of Attention Deficit Disorder and/or Hyperactivity would see significant improvement if they JUST made the above-listed changes. Would it take extra work on the part of the parents? YEP! Would the parents get dirty looks from friends, teachers and grandparents by restricting bad foods? YEP! Will people have to return to cooking meals and not eating out? YEP! Will your child scream, yell, and throw a ballistic fit to get their favorite junk foods? YEP! Will some children even refuse to eat for a short time if they don’t get the food they want? YEP! All these obstacles can be overcome with a backbone, a kind tone and patience. I’ve seen it work hundreds of times. And is the return worth the investment? DOUBLE YEP!!

Take one change at a time and in a few weeks you’ll have a new and improved healthy family!

Disclaimer: Special occasions are special for most folks. Some children are so adversely affected by foods that they cannot ever make exceptions. However, that is NOT most children. Consider using the 90/10 rule. Ninety percent of the time we eat what is best for us. Ten percent of the time we have holidays, celebrations, treats. It’s reasonable and it’s so very do-able!

Remodeling Our Bathroom

For Christmas last year, I asked my husband for a new floor in the upstairs bathroom. It was beyond awful and replacing it should have been done long ago. I must add here that this bathroom is LARGE—100 square feet. This would not be just a job for a few little tiles.

To begin the job, we asked a friend with a LOT of construction experience to come over and give us his opinion. After he arrived, Construction Friend and hubby went into the bathroom. When Construction Friend left, the floor was ripped up—and the SUB floor, and the walls around the tub, and the wainscoting (1970′s ugly paneling), and the built-in cabinets, and the toilet, and the mirrors, and the wallpaper. It was basically gutted—exposed wall studs and floor joists! The tub was still in place, but that was ALL. Needless to say, I was a little overwhelmed. My husband is not a DIY kind of guy and I have no experience with bathroom remodeling.

Well, it’s rolling up to one year later now and we’re ALMOST finished with the bathroom. We have learned sooo much—a lot of it by doing things wrong. We now know how to measure for tile correctly—including the spacers. We also know how to use the wet saw, re-set the toilet, re-texture a wall, install light fixtures, and that granite is VERY heavy.

I’ve had grout dust, paint dust (sanding walls), grout, primer, paint and joint compound in my hair, in my eyes, under my fingernails and up my nose. My back and head have both had frequent aches.

All the members of our family have spent time helping with the ripping out, measuring, re-measuring, grouting, tile setting, holding spacers for tile setters, etc. We’ve laughed, cried, kicked walls, and learned some bad words in various languages. We also talked a LOT.

Now the bathroom is GORGEOUS!!! We even had enough granite left over that it inspired us to replace the kitchen counters. We had enough tile left over that it inspired us to re-tile the downstairs shower and put in a new floor (ha!ha! we’ve come full circle back to the idea of a bathroom floor). Seriously, when people visit our home now I want to take them upstairs to see our bathroom. It’s so pretty, so functional, I’ve worked so hard there—-surely they want to see it!

So there is the “Remodeling Our Bathroom” part of the story. If I’d known how hard, time-consuming and expensive it would be I’m not sure I would have done it. But if I’d seen how beautifully it turned out, I would have done it five years earlier.

Now for the second part of the title, “Brains”. Well, our experience remodeling the bathroom is much like the experience of brain stimulation in order to improve function.

Just like inviting our Construction Friend over to guide us, it is a VERY good idea to consult a Neurodevelopmental Specialist to help you evaluate where you are and guide you on where to go next and how to get there. Please note that Construction Friend gave us guidance and expertise and even loaned us tools, but WE had to do the work. In much the same way, I’ll give you guidance and expertise and even some tools, but the work of growing and organizing your child’s brain is yours—gloriously yours.

Just like my feeling of being overwhelmed when I saw just exactly how much work needed to be done, many mothers feel overwhelmed when they learn just what a program for their child may entail. But because of his experience, Construction Friend knew we could it if we would just take one step at a time. I know YOU can do it if you’ll just take one step at a time and work patiently and consistently.

Just like my experience with the remodel, I learned setting tile, texturing walls, priming walls, installing new light fixtures, and grouting are not really that difficult. They take some planning and work, but are do-able with patience. In the same vein—creeping, crawling, teaching sound location, stimulating the sense of smell, stimulating the sense of touch and others—are not that hard. They take some planning and work, but are very do-able with patience.

Just like the less-than-fun sensations of having grout dust, mortar, primer and paint under my fingernails, in my hair and up my nose—sometimes doing a program is less than fun. Sometimes you just want to take a hot bath and get away. But we all know the finished product absolutely WILL NOT HAPPEN without all the less-than-fun stuff that has to happen first.

Just like our remodel, if you would have asked me in the MIDDLE of the job if it was worth it, I would have said NO WAY. But now that we have the finished product, I wish I had done it sooner. Sometimes in the middle of a program, it feels like it’s not worth it. Sometimes in the middle of a program it seems like it will never end. Sometimes it feels like the finished product will never be achieved. But the bathroom DID get finished and programs do, too. Children’s brains DO respond in a great way to stimulation and those same children grow up. The finished product is a child who is ready to spread their wings and become an independent adult. It’s an awesome sight—way better than my new bathroom. And once you catch the vision of that finished product, you’ll wish you would have started sooner.

Just like catching the vision of newly updated rooms inspired working in others rooms, stimulating brain organization and seeing results will change how you see EVERY child. You will understand what a little investment could do to unlock their potential. You will look past the struggles they may encounter and see how a well-organized neurological system could help them soar.

It’s great to be able to look back and see that we worked hard, pulled together as a family, and achieved something we didn’t think we were capable of. And you will have that same sense of accomplishment (times 100!) as you look back to see the road that led to the brain inside your physically coordinated, socially gracious, academically successful child.

I Know It's Hard

I have a forum for folks to post questions and get answers and where they can also “associate” with others doing a brain development program for their children. I was recently checking on that forum and came upon a post I made a couple of years ago. The message is so true that I just had to post it on the blog—-so here it is. BTW, you can find the forum at www.parentswithpurpose.com/forum or by clicking forum from www.parentswithpurpose.com . Memberships are free, but must be approved—which means you’ll have to complete the registration form.

Without further delay—- “I Know It’s Hard”

I’ve been emailing and chatting with parents a lot lately (there are several parents who will think this is written about them individually, but relax, it’s a universal thing!) and there is a common thread that I’d like to explore a bit—this program is hard. And some days, it’s even harder. Amen to that!!

Unfortunately, though, parents seem to have the idea that if they think the program is hard, then they are not good parents somehow. This couldn’t be further from the truth. Good parents have bad days. Good parents get tired. Good parents want desperately for their child to be well—TODAY. Good parents forget how far they’ve come. Good parents need support to keep on keepin’ on.

I want everyone to know there have been days I have personally said, “To heck with it,” and gone to the movies or out for ice cream. I have had days when I have been impatient with Dawson when he dawdled around or whined. I have had days when I thought maybe Dawson was well enough—everyone has their challenges, right? I have had days when I thought I would cry if one more person told me I was a) crazy, b) too tightly wound, or c) a neurological “pushy stage mom.” And, of course, there have been days that I did just cry.

After some time deliberating on the things other parents have said and my own feelings, I’ve come to some conclusions. Mind you, these are NOT final conclusions—just some thoughts.

The first was wisdom given to me by a dear friend. She said, “Brain development is not a sprint, it’s a marathon.” Wow! It’s really okay that my son isn’t completely well yet. I haven’t failed because we’re still in the battle. None of us get to choose how long this will take or how hard it will be—-I would have skipped this challenge altogether if given a choice 9 years ago. We can’t run so fast that we don’t have enough stamina to finish the race. But we also can’t run so slow that we’ll never finish the race. We have to pace ourselves according to our child’s needs, our family’s needs and our own strength. When my children run track, I’ve seen runners completely fall, but still get right back up and finish the race. This doesn’t happen with sprints, but certainly does with long distance races. We can get back up, and we have to if we want to finish the race—the journey to wellness for our child(ren).

The next one I learned through the encouragement of a person whose name I cannot remember. On the days when you are completely overwhelmed and life is caving in and you think you just cannot do program today—-do just one thing. Don’t let one day go by without SOMETHING for your child’s brain development being done. This was true inspiration for me. #1–If I did just one thing, it was still something for his brain. I didn’t ignore the problems we have, I did something. It kept me in the race, even if it was at a slow crawl. I didn’t get out of the habit of working with him and thinking of brain development. #2–Often just breaking the ice and doing ONE thing, led me to realize I could do much more. I learned that getting started was often the hurdle I had the hardest time navigating. I often began days saying, “I can only do one thing today,” but then said, “Well, I can do two, or three or four,” until I realized I’d done most, if not all, of his program that day. So, do at least ONE thing every day. If that’s all you can do, it’s all you can do—but you’ll find it often leads you to do more.

A very wise man (Emerson) once said, “That which we persist in doing becomes easier for us to do; not that the nature of the thing itself is changed, but that our power to do is increased”. It is very amazing to watch the growth of our children AND ourselves. Of course you can’t get it all done every day AND clean your house AND cook dinner AND do laundry AND teach Sunday School AND write your Congressmen today. But you can start small and get a little better each week. This is the reason for distances and sessions to start small in the beginning—both you and your child need to build up your stamina and capacity. You will figure out how to overlap and dovetail important tasks, and you will also figure out what is and is NOT important. However, this will take your patient practice and perseverance. Your power to do WILL increase.

Matthew Newell is to be credited for the next gem. Keep the problem the problem. The program is not the problem, the program is the answer to the problem. It’s so easy to get a little discombobulated and wish we could make the program go away. We could make the program go away, but we would still be stuck with the problem. It’s important to keep the program in our minds as an answer—not a challenge. So keep repeating this in your mind, “The program is not the problem, the problem is the problem. I am solving the problem.”

I know it’s hard—doing the program is a whole new lifestyle if your child is struggling. But I’ve had children (a few ) who are “well” and I’ve found that PARENTING is what’s hard. I signed up to be a parent 24 hours a day 7 days week and to do my best to get them to be healthy adults who can contribute positively to society. That’s a hard job no matter who your child is.

Lastly—-call, email, or whatever (except text) when you need help. I’m here to help. Don’t worry about interrupting my busy life. I’ll let you know if another time would be better for me—-I promise. I WANT to help you and support you. For those one the forum, there are also some pretty great folks there that will give you a virtual hug and a pat on the back. Everyone needs support and we need each other. When support and love are shared, both the giver and the receiver are enriched. Allow others to give those gifts to you—reach out and let us know when we can help.

Hang in there! You are the most amazing and awesome parents around. I am a better person for rubbing elbows with you and am blessed to be in your company.