Saturday, November 8, 2014

"Thank you for teaching me."

There I sat in my office, with a teenage girl I’ll call Sherry in the opposite chair, and her mother sitting not far away. Sherry was not happy to be there.

She had struggled for years with academics despite much special help, and now, as a junior in high school, Sherry was thoroughly discouraged. It took huge amounts of effort for her to accomplish a minimal amount of schoolwork. Her mother had arranged for this session. 

So, there she sat. I did my best to engage her in light “getting to know you” kinds of conversation that I typically use at the beginning of a first session with a young client, but she refused to be drawn out that way. Her attitude was distant, and her answers were monosyllabic.

Finally, I simply asked the question that I often ask children when parents bring them to my office: “Do you have any idea why you’re here?”

“No,” she said.

“OK,” I said. “Let me tell you a bit about myself and what I do, and maybe you’ll have an idea why your mother set up this appointment.”

And I proceeded to tell her about my background: I taught school for 23 years, and every year there were children in my class who I could tell were intelligent, but who couldn’t demonstrate it through their reading, writing, or math. Every year I did my best to work with these children, many of whom got extra help from special teachers, but it was never enough for them to finally have learning be easy and fun. I was frustrated and disheartened, seeing all this intelligence going unrecognized, and seeing children so discouraged and sad.

I took a leave of absence from teaching, and bumped into this thing called Brain Gym®, a system for understanding ourselves as learners, and helping ourselves (and others) learn more easily. Everything in the courses I took made so much sense to me. I finally began to understand the challenges I’d experienced in my own life as a learner, and the challenges I’d been observing in my students for all those years. And not only did I begin to see where the stuck places came from, I found that the tools and processes of Brain Gym can help un-stick the learning process, so reading, writing, and other kinds of schoolwork can be so much easier.

I suspect that you cannot imagine your schoolwork ever being easy. I want to tell you that, with a few simple shifts, it’s possible that this could be so.

Throughout this entire time, Sherry’s gaze was down at her lap, and she barely moved. She didn’t look like she had much interest or faith in anything I’d said. I had a feeling that she was listening, though, so I carried on.

I switched gears, and said, “Could I check your eyes?” At that, she looked up. I said, “I’d like to find out whether you’re right- or left-eyed. I think it would help us discover why you’ve had such a challenge with your schoolwork.”

She agreed to do this. My simple eye check determined that she was, as I suspected, left-eyed.[1] 
Left eye tracking
on its own

I drew a little diagram, and then explained it to her:

Our eyes seem to be such a matched pair that it often surprises people to find out that they don’t operate identically. One eye takes a leading role, and the other eye offers supplemental information.

Our right eye most naturally tracks left-to-right, the same way we read. The left eye, however, most naturally tracks right-to-left, opposite the way we read. If a person is left-eyed, and if their two brain hemispheres are not sharing information easily, then the left eye most likely will end up operating on its own, without help from the right eye. Then reading could end up being a struggle, since it will take energy and focus to make your eyes track the "right" way. This is really tiring, and it's hard to maintain for long.[2]

You’re left-eyed. I also suspect that your two brain hemispheres aren’t easily communicating with each other. Your mother told me that when you were a baby you skipped the crawling stage, so your circumstance makes sense to me. Crawling helps to teach our brain how to use both hemispheres at the same time, which is necessary for reading to be easy. You didn’t get that lesson early on. This is not your fault.

I think you’ve had such challenges with school because your brain hasn’t been organized in the right way for reading.

This has absolutely nothing to do with how hard you try, or how much you care. It’s like all your ability has been locked up in a box, without any way to show the world how creative and intelligent you are.

I paused for a moment, to let these words sink in.

Anyone who’s stuck like this has a huge uphill battle in regard to schoolwork. I suspect that it’s been incredibly challenging for you. I actually can’t imagine how you’ve managed all these years. The fact that you’re still going to school, doing your best every day while struggling in this way, is absolutely amazing to me. I think you deserve an award simply for showing up.

Connecting with hidden abilities
At this point, I paused again. Sherry had given me a couple of slight glances while I explained these things, but was back to looking at her lap. Then I continued:

An important part of my work is to help people connect with their hidden abilities. We do this by setting an intention about the change we want, noticing how stuck we feel about it, and then using simple physical movements that help us to release stress or take on new, more helpful patterns. 

I expect you can’t imagine how in the world this could help. My experience is that it typically does help, and you’ll see some kind of difference right away.
Both brains communicating;
the right eye now teams

with the left, so both
easily track left-to-right. 

I drew another diagram.

Our Brain Gym session could have the effect of teaching your two brain hemispheres how to communicate more easily with each other. Then, your two eyes would work more easily together. Your right eye would be able to help your left eye track left-to-right, same as the way we read. This could make reading much easier.

Whatever process we do will probably take about twenty minutes. You’re here right now. You’ve probably never done anything like this, and it could seem like a really strange thing to do, but it will probably help. Would you be willing to take these few minutes to find out?

Sherry nodded her head, and we began our balance process. She did begin to engage with me a bit at this point, briefly answering questions, but not volunteering much information beyond that.

The Cross Crawl
I led her through PACE, the four-step Brain Gym warm-up. Sherry found one element of this warm-up, the Cross Crawl, particularly challenging: it took focus and effort for her to bring her elbow down to the opposite knee. I told her that for the Cross Crawl to be easy, both our brain hemispheres need to be talking to each other. I reminded her of what I'd said earlier, about experiences in infancy being so important for creating patterns for using both sides of our brain and body at the same time, and that it was not her fault that she had gone so long without this kind of inner wiring. 

Then together we set a simple goal: “I read easily.” When I invited her to say this out loud she could hardly speak the words.
Lazy 8s
She said, "This seems impossible." I nodded and said, "I believe you. You've struggled with reading for a long time. It would be crazy for these words to seem true right now." 

For a pre-check of her reading ability, Sherry made a selection from my shelf of kids’ books, choosing a one at about her comprehension level (fifth grade). She read a page from it, haltingly and mechanically, in a flat voice.

Sherry’s balance called on two Brain Gym movements, Lazy 8s and the Double Doodle, and then the Dennison Laterality Repatterning process. She was surprised to find that after the DLR her Cross Crawl was suddenly effortless and natural. 
The Double Doodle 

"Wow," she said, "this feels easy now!" 

I'm reading!
When these activities were complete, Sherry said she felt “done,” and I invited her to read again from her book. This time her voice was resonant, and flowed from one word to the next. She looked up at me, stunned, and said, “I'm reading! And I understand what I’m reading! How did this happen?” I said:

I don't have x-ray vision, so I'll make an educated guess about what just happened. It seems to me that your brain is now organized for reading, in a way it never was before. Your two brain hemispheres are evidently working together more efficiently, and that is what is making your reading easier.[3] 

Sherry was now happily looking up, finally daring to smile. She still said very little, but I was content knowing that she’d experienced a significant change – one that had the potential to make a huge shift in her schoolwork, and her feelings about herself as a learner, and in life.

My fleeting thought at this point was that I had never talked so much during a Brain Gym session, and I felt a bit awkward about that. Then I recognized that this was the only way this particular session could have proceeded. 

My focus throughout the balance had been on Sherry, but I’d also been aware of her mother, who was sitting nearby. She had previously come for her own Brain Gym session, so she knew a bit of what to expect. Even so, she was clearly stunned with the change in Sherry’s reading, and shared her amazement with us.

By now Sherry was opening up, and she participated more fully in the conversation. Our session concluded with Sherry selecting some of the Brain Gym activities she’d experienced as daily “homeplay,” to help deepen the experience of her new learning. I reminded her that she could choose to do PACE and any other Brain Gym activities before she began her schoolwork, her sports activities, or at any other time throughout the day. Her mother bought a copy of Brain Gym® Teacher's Edition, which fully describes the 26 Brain Gym movements, so they could begin to learn them all. 

Finally, Sherry and her mother gathered their things in preparation for departing. As they neared the door, Sherry paused, looked up at me, and with great feeling said, “Thank you for teaching me.”

I told Sherry she was most sincerely welcome, that I loved sharing Brain Gym with her, and that I wished her well in her studies. I bade them farewell, and closed the door behind them. 

Then I paused where I stood, rather stunned, reflecting on what Sherry had said: Thank you for teaching me. I think it’s one of the greatest compliments I’ve ever received.  

Warm regards to you all,

[1] I share one method of determining “leading eye” in my book, Educate Your Brain. See Chapter 11, “Ready for Reading.” As I explain in that chapter, however, some people develop compensations that may make it appear that they're right-eyed when they're not. Brain Gym® Consultants are trained in how to do more in-depth checks using kinesiology (muscle checking). All this said, which eye a person leads with is actually irrelevant, except for purposes of understanding himself as a learner. If he experiences any kind of reading challenges, Brain Gym balancing has the potential for supporting transformative change. 
[2] About 70% of people are right-eyed, and 30% are left-eyed. In my experience, about 90% of children in special education classes are left-eyed. How much of their “learning disability” is the fact that their two brain hemispheres are not working together in an integrated way, and how much change would they all experience if their hemispheres were an integrated team? However - just being left-eyed is not a problem, as long as the person's two brain hemispheres are easily sharing information. Many left-eyed people are fine readers!
[3] This is a very simplified description. Chapter 11 of my book Educate Your Brain, mentioned above, holds a much more complete description of all the interior changes that are occurring as someone finally shifts to fluent reading. You may be surprised to know that a key element has to do with the ability to listen to your inner voice, so you can "hear" the text you're reading. 
Click here for a link to the website for my book, Educate Your Brain
Copyright© 2014 by Kathy Brown. All rights reserved. 
Brain Gym® movement photos © Laird Brown. All rights reserved.
Eye-lead sketches © Kathy Brown. All rights reserved.
Clipart image of girl © All rights reserved.
Brain Gym® s a registered trademark of Brain Gym® International, Ventura, California •

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Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Henry and Reading - Revisited

I came across a treasured artifact the other day: a piece of paper with eleven simple words on it.

In 2001 a mother brought her young son to my office for a Brain Gym balance, and the words on this paper played a significant role in his transformation. I've been telling the story of his remarkable session ever since.  

Here is the story, as it appeared in my book, Educate Your Brain:

Henry had had challenges his whole life. He’d had surgery to correct severe cross-eyes and had worn a patch since age four to strengthen his weaker eye. Clearly intelligent and highly verbal, he still was not able to read at all, despite two years of special-education services in school, plus reading tutors and clinics. His mother said, “He just doesn’t get it. We even took him to a vision therapist who has helped him so much — but he still can’t read. Not a good start for a second grader.”

Henry’s mother had attended a meeting where I presented information on Brain Gym. When she heard me mention the importance of crawling and how Brain Gym movements and processes could support children’s reading, she immediately recognized Henry in my description because he had completely skipped the crawling stage.

Indeed, when Henry and I went through the PACE warm-up, he had a tremendous challenge with the Cross Crawl. Even with modeling and help, he continually reverted to bringing his elbow down to the same-side knee.

As Henry and I chatted, he expressed how very much he wished he could read. “It would make everything so much easier,” he said. I wrote out in large print, “Today is a hot day. It is a hot summer day” — typical first-grade words. I said, “Henry, would you look at these sentences and tell me if there are any words you know?” He struggled across the two lines, miscalling every word except “a” — and I believe he was guessing at that one.

Henry’s Edu-K balance called for Dennison Laterality Repatterning and a few other Brain Gym movements and processes, with lots of fun and chatting in between. This took a total of perhaps forty-five minutes. By the time we finished our movement activities, he was now Cross Crawling easily and fluidly.

At this point, I asked Henry to look at the page again. He instantly spotted the words that appeared in both sentences and said, “Look at this! This says day, and this says day. . . . This says hot, and this says hot....a——is....” and he used his thumb and index finger to link the word pairs, reading them correctly and without hesitation. His mother, astonished, asked, “Henry, can you read that?” I said, “Let’s see.” The only support I offered was putting my finger under each word; he read both sentences on his own. I glanced over at his mother, who had tears running down her cheeks.

Over the next two weeks, I received the following emails, notes, and phone calls from Henry’s mother:

• “What an experience that was today. Henry just seemed the normal Henry except when it came to reading to me tonight. There was no struggle. He read One Fish Two Fish Red Fish Blue Fish [a Dr. Seuss book] like an ol’ pro. It was amazing.”

• “Henry is still improving! I have him going to the reading clinic just to learn all the consonant and vowel sounds he missed last year. And he’s tearing up the turf.”

• “I’m still seeing improvement. Henry tied his shoes yesterday with no problems. He just acted like it was no big deal—never mind that it has been.”

• “Henry loves rhyming books now. He used to hate them, as he couldn’t hear the rhyme and thought they were just nonsense. Now he can hear the rhyme, and he loves it!”

• “Henry’s occupational therapist says he’s writing like a real second grader now instead of a kindergartner. He’s like a different child.”

• “Henry seems to be hearing all the sounds of his words now. Henry’s school speech therapist didn’t believe me when I told her about his progress. She said that it just wasn’t possible and insisted on testing him. When she saw the improvement for herself, she asked, ‘What have you been doing with Henry?’

The answer, of course, is Brain Gym. Yet, this balance did not teach Henry to read. Evidently, he had already learned the individual “bits” involved in reading, but he’d had no way to make a cohesive whole out of his knowledge. This, I believe, is what his balance achieved.

I was amazed at the learning that Henry accomplished that day, in a single session. Vital pieces for this major shift all seemed to come in the package of this one balance, although he will certainly benefit further from more sessions over time. Children sometimes need several sessions to see the kind of change that Henry made in one day, and we may work and work with a child and see much smaller gains. But sometimes, that one shift is just what the child has been waiting for.[1]

How could ability become available so suddenly?
I don’t have before-and-after brain scans or any other sophisticated evidence to show what changed for Henry. I have:

• what I learned from Henry’s mother: About to enter second grade, Henry still could not read, and could barely form his letters. He’d had two years of remedial work (occupational therapy, vision therapy, speech therapy, reading clinics, and special-education class at school) to no avail, despite precocious language skills, boundless curiosity, and obvious intelligence. And (when I inquired) she said he’d skipped the crawling stage.

• what I observed about his movement patterns: Henry was unable to accomplish the Cross Crawl movement, and consistently reverted to the "elbow to the same-side knee" movement. 

• what I know (a): Fluency with the Cross Crawl movement may indicate that the brain is patterned for simultaneous use of both brain hemispheres; preferring the "elbow to the same-side knee" movement may indicate a more "homolateral" patterning, where the learner is ready to use one brain hemisphere at a time.

• what I know (b): It takes simultaneous contributions from both sides of the brain in order to read fluently (left - phonics, and right - comprehension of what the words and symbols mean[2]). As we grow and develop, our repeated cross-lateral movement experiences are what help us to develop the "wiring" patterns for coordinated communication between both brain hemispheres. 

• what I’ve experienced: Numerous young clients who struggled with reading had been described by their parents as having crawled only briefly, not at all, or “oddly” (backwards or sideways, for example); and after Brain Gym balancing, often including Dennison Laterality Repatterning (DLR), these children consistently read much more easily.

• what I observed in Henry’s balance, and learned later: At first he struggled to Cross Crawl, and he struggled at reading. After his balance session, he Cross Crawled easily and fluidly, and he could suddenly read what he’d been unable to read moments before. Within the next two weeks he had tied his shoes for the first time and was “writing like a real second-grader,” as well.

Clearly, Henry had arrived for his session without efficient wiring patterns for key academic and physical coordination tasks. I can only assume that his Brain Gym session had had a positive effect on the state of his internal wiring.

"Plugging in a lamp"
Once efficient wiring is in place, tasks that previously might bring a child to frustration, tears, sullen defeat, or even angry outbursts, may now be experienced as simple, and accomplished easily.

How many children struggle with their schoolwork (and how many parents struggle making them do it) when the issue really is the child’s lack of internal wiring?

If a child has incomplete wiring, the effort required to manage certain tasks may a) require extraordinary effort that’s difficult to maintain, or b) be all but impossible, as reading was for Henry. Once the wiring is complete, abilities may appear, seemingly out of nowhere.

A friend of mine describes this kind of pivotal new connection as similar to “plugging in a lamp.” If a lamp is unplugged, what happens when you flip the switch? How much good does it do, to tell the lamp to “try harder”? 

Yet, once the lamp is plugged in, the electrical circuitry is complete. The switch works perfectly and the lamp efficiently provides light.

We’re very understanding if a person has had a brain injury; their abilities are now limited because their wiring patterns have been interrupted, and are now incomplete. We're compassionate about their re-learning process. 

I believe it’s time to start recognizing that many learning issues are the result of incomplete wiring patterns, as well. This is not the fault of the learner, but may be the result of lack of certain kinds of physical movement during infancy and childhood (long hours in such equipment as car seats, walkers, etc., don’t help) or specific developmental issues.

Our job, then, is to support the challenged learner in developing new, more efficient patterns of connection. 

The Cross Crawl
For some learners, this is a longer process, especially if they're dealing with multiple challenges. What's most important is to begin -- with patience and understanding. 

Supporting this kind of change
What does it take to support children (or people of any age) in developing more efficient wiring for tasks such as reading?

A good place to begin is with the Brain Gym® Midline Movements, which call on both sides of the brain simultaneously. Three of my favorites are the Cross Crawl, Lazy 8s, and the Double Doodle. You can learn about these movements in my book, Educate Your Brain, and Brain Gym® Teacher’s Edition, by Paul and Gail Dennison.
Lazy 8s

My experience is that, over time, movements such as these support learners of all ages in developing greater ability to use “both brains” at the same time, to more easily perform their cognitive and physical coordination tasks.

And my experience also is that a Brain Gym balance session, perhaps including the Dennison Laterality Repatterning process, often produces these same results even more quickly. For this, you’ll want to contact a Licensed Brain Gym® Instructor/Consultant, or take the Brain Gym® 101 course.
The Double Doodle

I would love to see all children experience playful, integrating movement that leaves them prepared to enjoy the cognitive and physical activities of life. Let’s support children in early, efficient wiring for success, from the inside out, through movement. 

Warm regards,

[1] Brown, Kathy. Educate Your Brain. Phoenix: Balance Point Publishing, 2012. 129-130. 
[2] This is an extraordinarily simplified version of the roles of different regions of our brain for the purpose of reading. I have shared about this topic in much greater depth in my book Educate Your Brain, in Chapter 11, "Ready for Reading."
Click here for a link to the website for my book, Educate Your Brain
Copyright© 2014 by Kathy Brown. All rights reserved. 
Brain Gym® Photographs copyright Laird Brown. All rights reserved.
Clipart copyright © All rights reserved. 
Brain Gym® s a registered trademark of Brain Gym® International, Ventura, California •

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