(Warning! This is a lengthy post!)
I actually went back and forth in my head about even posting this, but our journey with our son, Brendan, has been a huge part of what has sculpted our family environment over the past four to five years. And I’ll be honest up front – we have not “tried everything out there” as far as finding help for our son and our family, but I feel like we have found something that we hope will make a huge difference in Brendan’s life as well as our every day family dynamics.
We’ve recently decided to take the Brain Balance plunge, which is a huge one given the financial cost of it (which was honestly the biggest factor in us not pursuing it earlier than we did)! But when you read on, I think you’ll understand why we felt like the proposed benefits would outweigh the financial commitment.
For once we feel HOPEFUL – hopeful for our son to feel “normal” and for us to actually be able to help our son be the best he can be! (This makes me tear up every time I think about it!)
When I tell people we’ve decided to take Brendan to Brain Balance, I get several questions. The first being, “How do you know he needs help? Has he been diagnosed? I had no idea!”
If you saw our family from the outside, you might not pick Brendan out has having any sort of behavioral disorders. And even his teachers say how wonderful, sweet and smart he is! But close family and family friends know what we’ve been going through since he was about 4 yrs old.
Brendan is a twin. He and his sister, Bailey, were only 3.5 weeks early and as far a c-sections go, I would have done it again in a heart-beat! WAY easier than my first two deliveries! And they didn’t need to go to the NICU at all. Everything seemed to be going well for my two sweet twinners! Very healthy!
By the time Brendan was around 2 years old, I felt like he wasn’t making eye-contact very well and because he was slower with his words, I wondered if he wasn’t hearing well. So I had him checked out at the audiologist – they said he could hear just fine.
As Brendan started speaking, I noticed he had a harder time talking and getting his words out than his sister. This turned into an almost stutter (more like he couldn’t get his first words out) by the time he got into preschool.
He also was prone to yelling when he couldn’t get his words out or communicate the way he wanted. I guess it was the quickest way to communicate especially when he didn’t like something or when one if his sisters were bossing him around! But it happened so much that I was worried about how he’d act in the classroom.
To my surprise, he did very well in the classroom and his teachers loved him! But he has also been a very smart kid. He would memorize things quickly and started to read at an early age. Even now, he just blurts out multiplication and division facts (they haven’t done that yet in 2nd grade).
So while Brendan was very smart (we nicknamed him “rain man”), he had a few other things going on that led me to getting him tested through the school system. These things included:
- a sensitivity to touch (he didn’t like the sand or his shirt being wet)
- his speech getting worse
- being stressed out in crowded or noisy environments (like at a birthday party, I’d have to take him into a room by himself sometimes)
- obsessing about things and not letting them go (like wanting the entire collection of Skylanders, video game characters, and talking about it NON-STOP!)
- asking me the same questions repeatedly as if he didn’t just ask it 2 minutes ago
- needing simple instructions repeated several times and maybe getting one part of it done or not at all
After being tested, we were told that he was “very high-functioning autistic” and had some auditory processing issues, but that visually he did pretty well. That was when we were able to get him an IEP and we now have yearly meetings at the school.
Academically, kindergarten and first grade were a breeze for him since he was good at memorizing math facts and remembering beginner words and reading those words. And thankfully, the kids in his classes didn’t seem to be bothered by or notice his speech issues. Last year we were told he might even test out of having an IEP but that we’d check into it at the beginning of second grade. This worried me a little. I wondered if differences might start showing up as he got older.
And I was right! Thank God they didn’t take away his IEP because this year, second grade, has been very difficult for Brendan and for us trying to help him! And it’s gotten to the point that my husband I felt like we needed to look elsewhere for help and quickly!
The differences we noticed this year were:
- low test scores
- lower reading class level than his sister (which is odd because he reads 4th grade level books at home and Bailey reads 2nd grade level books)
- struggles with fine motor skill like tying his shoes or his hand-writing, which is really bad, still with lack of correct spacing and punctuation
- struggles with peer interaction – they’ve started to look at him like what’s wrong with that guy? He doesn’t care if his peers are around when he “freaks out” or throws a fit – it doesn’t embarrass him or he doesn’t think about it.
- “freaking out” at home when anyone corrects him or if he gets in trouble – like a HUGE tantrum where he has to climb up “mad mountain” then come back down.
- gets angry easily and has a hard time controlling his emotions or his words
- has trouble with ideas like “opinion vs. fact” or how to form full sentences with a complete thought.
- lacks coordination with his body a lot
- still has a very hard time expressing himself verbally then gets upset when he can’t get his words out or he feels like people aren’t listening to him
- lacking social skills that should be more obvious at his age
The hardest thing we’ve had to deal with, really in just the last few months, has been his lack of self-worth and feeling “different” and feeling like he gets in trouble all the time. He’s been very down on himself and he feels like his peers think there’s something wrong with him. He comes home and says things like, “I’m so dumb! Everyone thinks I’m an idiot! Everyone hates me!”
But the thing that broke my heart and really made me feel desperate was when I went into his bedroom a few weeks ago and saw he had written “YOU SUCK” on his own mirror! I asked him about it and he said, “What? It’s about me, not someone else.” And I once again went into how he should never say those things and how much we love him and how God made him special, but what do you really say that they’ll listen to if they already feel that way about themselves…and he’s only 8!!!
So that’s where we were a few weeks ago with Brendan, and that’s when we started to feel desperate about getting him help. I started to feel like there had to be something out there that would be more than just “coping” with Brendan’s “issues” (for lack of a better word) and teaching him tactics for his behavior.
Now it was not only affecting our family with his constant anger outbursts, but also his self-worth and it has been hard to see my very smart boy struggle in school.
I was talking to a friend around this same time who told me about how her daughters had been tested at chiropractor’s office for “primitive reflexes” and went into what they are and that there are exercises to do at home to help get rid of them. She recommended the book “Disconnected Kids” by Dr. Robert Melillo that talks all about the reflexes and exercises. So I immediately went out and bought the book!
“Disconnected Kids” was so eye-opening for me! Everything Dr. Melillo was talking about described what we had been dealing with and how Brendan was probably feeling, and the biggest idea was that it can be FIXED, not just coped with!
The main concept of the Brain Balance Program is that there are two sides to your brain: the LEFT SIDE and the RIGHT SIDE. These two sides should work together equally and compliment each other, constantly communicating with strong neuropathways. But if one side is stronger than the other, the strong side gets tired out and the weak side lags behind. The signals between the two sides are weak and signals are missed and erratic. This causes an imbalance in skills (extreme strengths and weaknesses) and starts to affect the ability to learn, make friends, control emotions, coordinate motor skills and comprehend the “big picture.”
After reading the book, I realized Brendan was LEFT BRAIN DOMINANT, RIGHT BRAIN WEAK. There were so many symptoms that described how Brendan was behaving! I also wondered if he had any “primitive reflexes” remaining (reflexes babies are born with to help them “survive,” but should be released once the brain is strong enough, usually within the first year of life). If primitive reflexes are still present, the brain cannot mature as well.
My husband and I talked it over and decided to take Brendan in to our local Brain Balance center for a commitment-free evaluation. It was $200 but we thought at least we’d get some answers then we could check around into our options. (And I could give up buying a few things at Target for that price! )
The results were very eye-opening for both me and my husband! As I suspected, they said that Brendan was RIGHT BRAIN WEAK. But here’s what they told me that we didn’t know:
- Thankfully all right-side dominant (right foot, right hand, right eye, right ear)
- Several primitive reflexes are still present, three of which are strong, three that are moderate (out of 8 possible).
- His visual perception is functioning at 42% (his visual focus at only 7%! This is not about eye sight – we just had his eyes checked and he’s 20/20)
- His visual processing at 55%
- His hearing/auditory processing only at 38%!
- His sense of smell is at a 68% processing level
- His math fluency is that of a 6th grader! But his listening comprehension is that of a Kindergartener!
They told us over-all, Brendan’s Left Brain is functioning between 8-10 years old, while his Right Brain is functioning like a 4-5 year old.
After hearing these results, and also looking into the positive testing results of the program (85%!), my husband and I decided to go for it! We looked into doing exercises at home or even at a chiropractors office that specialize in the primitive reflex exercises, but we felt like the Brain Balance Program would be the most effective way to go, and hopefully the quickest results for Brendan. So we signed him up and started the program the very next week!
The program includes //
- going into the Brain Balance office 3 x’s a week for 1 hour sessions
- doing at-home primitive reflex exercises 2 x’s a day, 6 days a week
- transitioning over into a balanced diet – whole/clean foods, gluten free, sugar free, dairy free (at first then trying to add back in)
- only 1 hr of screen time a day (up to 2 hrs a day on the weekend)
- 1 hr of being active a day (Brendan loves the trampoline!)
Our goals for Brendan using the program //
- Control over emotions and behavior, not being angry all the time and short fuse
- Feeling “normal” within peer interaction
- Better academic performance (at least on-par for grade level)
- A calmer family atmosphere and not having Brendan interrupt family time with outbursts
It’s only been a week and a half having Brendan on the program, but so far he LOVES it! And he is very good about doing the exercises. He even woke me up this morning so we could do them before school! (Waking up at 6:00 am is NOT my favorite thing!)
I’ve seen some small improvements already, like Brendan not fussing and whining while we were mulching the gardens the other day. He actually asked how he could help! And he’s been less apt to pitch a fit (but still does).
One thing that we’ve figured out, though, is that Brendan gets tired after his sessions, like his brain is exhausted. I tried to let him play with friends after we got home from a session and it did not go well! Then he ran to his room and fell asleep for the rest of the night! So we’ve had to feel out how he’s doing and feeling as we go. And the nutrition program is nice because it tells you how to ease into it and not feel like you have to change eating habits over night. Brendan has been responding well to this and likes the lunch box they gave him!
I’ll keep posting updates as we go along in the program. Again, we feel a little bit like we’re taking a gamble, but we also feel hopeful – for Brendan and our family!!!