From My Heart to Yours
Donna Weston, Founder and Executive Director
Collateral Beauty – the Gifts in the Midst of Pain
Isn’t it astounding what life can sometimes throw at you? You think you have gotten a rhythm down. Sure, life is still complicated, but you think you know what to expect, what is considered within the range of your “normal”. Then comes the “curve ball”!
Our “normal” for our son Ryan’s medical issues have been mostly centered around his heart. (To learn more about our story go here). So, imagine our surprise, when, at 5:30 am one Monday morning not too long ago, we find out that Ryan had a mass in his brain!
There is a movie coming out this month called Collateral Beauty. I have not yet seen the movie, so am not endorsing it; but, the title caught my attention. So often, when awful things happen, we notice the collateral damage – unintended harm that is done to individuals or property as the result of a catastrophic event. But what about collateral beauty – the unintended gifts inside the pain?
So, as we are waiting in our local hospital’s Neuro ICU for a transfer to a larger medical facility that can handle Ryan’s level of complexity, he and I go for a walk down the corridor. We are having to walk arm in arm (collateral beauty #1) as the mass is causing pressure in his brain which is affecting his vision, making him unsure where items are in space…or even where the floor is. He then starts to imitate Monty Python’s Ministry of Silly Walks (collateral beauty #2). I will never forget the smiles and giggles of the nurses as they watched this young man with a mass growing inside his brain acting so silly and with such apparent joy of life (collateral beauty #3).
It got worse before it started to get better. The pain in his head grew as the mass increased in size and the swelling increased, with us waiting for days for a bed to open up in the larger, better equipped hospital. The pain continued after the neurosurgeon drained what turned out to be a massive abscess in the parietal lobe of his brain. The swelling actually continued for days in response to the trauma of surgery. Then there was the painful insertion of a PICC (intravenous) line in his arm to make possible the weeks of IV medications that would be necessary.
While Ryan was being treated in the hospital post-surgery, I met another mother with her son in Neuro ICU. He had a broken neck from a car accident caused by his twin brother falling asleep at the wheel; a tragedy in multiple dimensions. When I told Ryan about my encounter with the mom, he expressed tremendous compassion for this suffering family. Oblivious to his own trauma, he insisted that the next time I saw her I needed to pray for her out loud because “it would make her feel better” (collateral beauty #4). He got out of the hospital late the Tuesday evening before Thanksgiving (collateral beauty #5). Though dealing with a PICC line and staples in his head, Ryan went to church that Sunday with a big grin on his face, just happy to be there and enjoying being with others (collateral beauty #6). He is the most resilient person I know (collateral beauty #7)!
Each one of these collateral beauties were gifts in the midst of the pain and difficulty. Other gifts: a neighbor who took care of our dogs, friends who brought me lunch as well as their companionship at the hospital, regular communication from those concerned with Ryan’s progress, and a completely cooked Thanksgiving meal provided by good friends and co-workers at Discovery Therapies. That last gift took me off guard. It was the day before Thanksgiving. We were home from the hospital and I was in the midst of trying to coordinate meal preparations, Ryan’s new medicine regimen, and settling back in at home after being gone for several days with Ryan. It was a kindness that triggered the reality of what I had just been through and that I didn’t need to continue being strong and do, do, do. It gave me the moment I needed to grieve before I had to be “on” again to give Ryan his next IV antibiotic.
I know that there were even more incidences of collateral beauty, just as there continues to be more today. What I want to leave you with is a quote from the Collateral Beauty trailer: “Just be careful to notice the collateral beauty. It is the profound connection to everything” - life, love, and joy in the midst of the chaos. Have a blessed Christmas season…and look for the collateral beauty.
So, I am sitting here thinking about being thankful. Sometimes, I can get so bogged down in the day to day tasks of life that I don’t remember what I have to be thankful for! Raising a child who is a struggling learner impacts the whole family (as teaching a class with struggling learners impacts the whole class). His pain becomes my pain. His behavior makes me wonder if I am doing the right things and if there is something – anything – that I can do differently to help him. My eyes turn inward and downward. It is easy to get frustrated and discouraged. I am also aware that negative thoughts lead to negative thoughts. So how do I get unstuck? How do I see the positive in the midst of the negative? How can I learn to be thankful in the midst of the complications of life?
The Apostle Paul gave some wise advice in the book of 2 Corinthians writing, “…take every thought captive to make it obedient to Jesus Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:5, NIV). One application of this is to take each thought and apply truth to it - something well worth practicing. Dr. Archibald Hart in his book, The Anxiety Cure, refers to it as the “happy messenger”. He explains that many times our irrational fears or negative thinking can be addressed by asking ourselves what the truth of the matter we’re thinking about really is. Here are some examples:
I hate doing laundry I’ve got a washing machine
Gross! Poop is leaking out of the diaper My boy is smiling at me as I clean him up
My boy can’t read He is amazing on the soccer field
I hate staying up so late to prep for tomorrow I am so excited to see the fruit of my labor
My son is seriously ill I have supportive friends/family loving on us through this
When I practice this, I find that my heart lifts. I am less irritable with the little things and a bit more patient with the big things. So, while the poopy diaper may be gross, it is a fact of life, and I can focus on enjoying my boy and think about the fact that I won’t have to deal with it once my little guy is potty trained – another application of positive truth!
My boys are grown now, including my struggling learner. Life has been filled with ups – and plenty of downs. Practicing perspective has become easier over time. It is now a habit (most of the time!). It has been very helpful in dealing with the frustrating (to overwhelming) events that get thrown at me.
An excellent resource for developing a positive mindset in the midst of chaos is One Thousand Gifts, by Ann Voskamp. In it, she explains the practice of being thankful. She has also written an accompanying book that helps by providing sixty days of practicing recognizing the positive things around us.
So, what are your examples? Take a few minutes to write down the things that are pulling you down. Reflect - what is the positive in this situation? Those things that you cannot find anything positive to say about, bring to a friend or someone you trust who may be able to help you see it from a different perspective. Hey, if nothing else, you have someone to talk to about this stuff! And, that is positive. That is something to be thankful for!
FOODS FOR A HEALTHY BRAIN AND BODY
Children and teens have developing brains. In general, the best foods to nourish brains and bodies are fresh vegetables and fruits, raw nuts and seeds (like sunflower, flax and chia), and beans. These food choices supply the body with vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and phytochemicals which are building blocks for healthy cells and help the brain get rid of if its trash each night while we sleep. Plant foods also contain healthy protein, carbohydrates and fats. They contain fiber which slowly releases their carbohydrates in the body, providing a constant supply of energy.
Dr. Joel Fuhrman, in his book, Disease-Proof Your Child, considers plant foods essential for building the brain. He states that, “Throughout life, what a person eats affects the levels of neurotransmitters and structure of cells and regulates all mental processes that affect how well we think and feel”. Unfortunately, Dr. Fuhrman notes that children in America usually get less than 5 percent of their total calories from the plant foods we have mentioned, and that “This dangerously low intake of unrefined plant foods guarantees weakened immunity to disease, frequent illnesses, and a shorter lifespan”.
A large portion of many American diets is addictive refined foods--fast food, packaged snacks, breakfast cereals and other convenience foods. The nutritional value of these foods is less than the original product and the fiber has been removed which causes blood sugar to rise and energy to crash. Sugar, artificial sweeteners, and flavorings (sometimes referred to as “spices”) in processed foods are neurotoxins which overstimulate nerve cells to death or interfere with their communication. Food colorings and preservatives can cause tumors and also hyperactivity in children.
You can make mealtime more nutritious by phasing out the refined foods and introducing more fruits and vegetables into your families diet. Make it fun by trying out a new recipe each week and get the kids involved!
Check out some of these websites for recipe ideas: draxe.com, wellnessmama.com, thewholejourney.com, traditionalcookingschool.com, and mommypotamus.com. For articles on nutrition, look at the “Library” section on drfuhrman.com.
Sue Faulk, Holistic Nutrition Consultant for Discovery Therapies and Educational Therapist
Summer is almost over and preparations for the new school year are in full swing! Teachers are thinking about setting up their classrooms and looking forward to seeing new faces. Parents are shopping for school clothes and supplies. Kids…they aren’t thinking! They just want to enjoy the last few days of “freedom”! Struggling learners? Well, many of them are dreading that first day of school, as if it is a jail sentence, while still others are looking forward to seeing their friends and ignoring the fact that they are going to have to work on activities that can be overwhelming for them.
Kristi Wilson, our new Program Coordinator at Discovery Therapies and a certified special education teacher, has some insights for all of us as we (parents and teachers) look ahead to this school year.
Donna Weston, Founder and Executive Director
Do you find it way too easy to carry your past experiences into your future? For example, I still say to this day that I am bad at math and I am forty-something years old! I get stuck in that classroom from long ago where I couldn’t for the life of me figure out how to solve that Algebra problem. My mind is fixed on what was. I perceived, and still perceive at times, that my knowledge in the area of math will never change – even though it already has! My perception of my abilities from the past impacts my performance and motivation in the present.
“People with a growth mindset believe that they can improve with effort. They outperform those with a fixed mindset, even when they have a lower IQ, because they embrace challenges, treating them as opportunities to learn something new.” Dr. Travis Bradberry, Author
I did some research and found that one of the key factors for progress in any area is having a “growth mindset”. This is especially important for students who struggle. With so many advances in brain research, it is now known that growth and knowledge is not pre-set or fixed. In other words, the brain can change and growth is possible by altering one’s perception of how one performs at school, at work or in any other problem area. To me that means, if I think I can still learn, then I can and I can get better at that Algebra! And so can anyone else who is willing to work at it. So, I know that I need to apply this to my own life. But how?
I read further and discovered some advice I can apply. First, I need to identify the areas of my life where I feel stuck. I need to “buy-in” to the idea that change and growth is possible by taking small steps to try new strategies and ways of tackling new things.
Second, I need to be aware of any situations or subjects that trigger a negative reaction. Ha, I guess hiding in the closet when one of my children asks for help with a math problem would be a good indicator for me! But seriously, any type of anxiety would be a clue.
Additionally, my reading advised me to switch my “fixed mindset thoughts” to “growth mindset thoughts” even if I have to rehearse it over and over to myself. I might say, “I can figure out how to do that. I can try a new way to learn how.” After all, that is how educational therapists are trained to think and help their students with overcoming their learning difficulties.
August is here and I am excited about putting these new ideas into practice. What about you? Growth is possible. Are you willing to try something new and change how you think about how well you perform in your problem areas? How can you help the struggling learners in your life grow?
Having a good support system is helpful, too. Can you find someone to challenge or hold you accountable? And while all parents need to be part of a team for their kids, struggling learners especially need to know they have someone who can help when they don’t know how to advocate for themselves or overcome their difficulties. Discovery Therapies can be an important part of that team for your child. Feel free to contact us to discuss how.
I feel inspired - maybe I will sign up for that Trigonometry course at Midlands Tech!
Travis Bradberry. (n.d.). BrainyQuote.com. Retrieved July 29, 2016, from BrainyQuote.com Web site: http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/quotes/t/travisbrad734869.html)
Never heard of DYSCALCULIA?
You're not alone.
"Dyscalculia is a learning issue that causes serious math difficulties. It isn’t as well-known as dyslexia. However, some researchers now think it is almost as common." -Amanda Morin,Understood.org
Want to see for yourself? To experience what it's like to have a math (or other) learning disability, click here. You may be surprised!
Listen to Line Rothman, a recent graduate from the creative business and design school Kaospilot, Aarhus, Denmark. Her dyscalculia prevents her from sensing or counting the passing of time, but her quirky adaptations have given her a renewed strength and resilience.
Want more info? Visit our Dyscalculia page on the Discovery Therapies website.
Becky Ansley, Mother of Discovery Student
Becky Ansley is our wonderful office manager and my dear friend! We met because of the learning struggles of her youngest daughter, and she was so affected by the changes in her daughter that she has dedicated her considerable talents to Discovery Therapies for many years now. She is a marvelous example of how not just learning challenges, but also learning victories affect the whole family!
-Donna Weston, Founder and Executive Director
Our journey into the world of education was not always an easy one. After I withdrew my first child from public school following her third year, I taught her and my next daughter starting from the beginning. Reading, math and all the rest seemed to progress well. We all had fun and they were learning.
Just as I thought I had a handle on what I was doing, however, I got thrown a curve ball. I began noticing things that seemed “odd” to me with our third daughter when I was trying to teach her to read and write. “What is it?” I would ask myself. Something seemed wrong.
As I began to ask questions and seek answers, I was assured that she would “just outgrow it”. But as a mother, I knew something wasn’t right. At this point, there were tears, both hers and mine, as I watched this happy, curly haired little girl become angry and more distant. It wasn’t until after I went to a home school support group meeting and saw a demonstration of educational therapy that I knew we had found our answer.
At the beginning of therapy, my daughter was withdrawn, held a low level of self-confidence and was unable to read or perform at grade level. Reading out loud in front of her peers was out-of-the-question. Through educational therapy, she was gradually led to a much higher level of academic performance, but much more importantly, her therapist was able to show her that working through her learning disabilities was indeed possible. The structure of the program continued to challenge her while her therapist was sensitive to her limitations and frustration levels.
That little girl will be turning twenty-four this month and would tell you now that educational therapy was hard work, but it well worth it. This confident, well balanced young woman has insights into life that I never dreamed she would have. She designed her own high school program and graduated “on time”– something, at one point, I wasn’t sure would happen. She considers her therapist a good friend, someone she has kept in touch with all these years, and is still known to come hang around the office to help out on occasion and visit her mother.
Yes, I would say Discovery Therapies holds a special place in our hearts. That’s why I’m here. I believe in what we do and I know it can change the life of a child. It did mine.
Gretchen Bolen, Discovery Therapist
Friendship Follies, or Making Friends is Hard to Do?
Imagine a scrawny 4th grade girl with lopsided pigtails and bruises all over her legs. Now imagine her standing up at bat, dreading the inevitable
embarrassment when she will miss the ball and find herself in the midst of the groans and complaints of her classmates. She is often the last one to get picked for any team, physically awkward, and
In the classroom, despite her best efforts, her grades are low. She knows it. Everyone knows it. She wishes she could just find a place to hide. Her confidence is nearly non-existent and this has created a super sensitivity and anxiety in her young life. She is an easy target for teasing and those who don’t tease are hesitant to befriend her.
She’s shy and spending time with her is difficult. She’s so used to people poking fun, she sometimes misreads cues and thinks good-intentioned classmates are mocking her. It’s hard to have fun with her when you feel like you have to walk on egg shells to be her friend.
Fast - forward three decades and here I am. I’ve overcome dyslexia and can laugh at my lack of visual perception. I found success in high school and college and many friends and family members have helped to boost my confidence. My former super sensitivity has been replaced with compassion for students who struggle in the ways I once did. I’m thankful. I’ve met healing! I’m one of the lucky ones. My parents tried their best to understand and support me. Thankfully, I received the early interventions I needed to move beyond my learning difficulties. I’ve been granted an incredible support network. Despite all of these blessings, childhood was very painful for me. It left deep scars and it has taken a lot of love and many years to heal those old wounds.
Does my story sound familiar? Many students with learning challenges have similar experiences. They are smart but they can’t perform. They often misread social cues. Their confidence has been smashed and leaves them withdrawn or angry. Poor coordination makes them clumsy. Sensory issues may cause them to overstep boundaries or create boundaries that are too tight. They can’t take a joke and don’t know when to stop.
As a teacher, my heart broke for these children. I saw myself in them. They wanted to be a part of the group but just couldn’t break through. It’s a terrible feeling! If you hear your child’s story in mine, take heart. You are not alone and your little one or teen will make it through this - with your help!
Call us at 803-419-0126 to discuss how Discovery Therapies may be able to help YOUR struggling student.
On April 14, Discovery Therapies will be hosting a free nutrition workshop. Sue Faulk, Educational Therapist, Holistic Nutrition Consultant & Health Coach will be our speaker. Her nutritional journey is one that has inspired many of our staff. Below is an interview with Sue. It is just a short snippet of her story. We hope it gets you thinking about changes you can make to help you and your children learn and grow!
How did you get involved in health and nutrition?
Sue: My story begins when I was 20 years old and my mother had breast cancer. Later my father developed thyroid cancer. At that point, my family began to research about nutrition and we would implement what we learned into his diet. He would get better and then go back to his old ways of eating. We didn’t realize that he needed to permanently change the way he was eating for the maximum benefit. Or even that we should follow the same dietary changes. My mother is still living but my father’s health failed and he died from cancer after a ten year battle. We had lost him.
When my youngest child was one, I was about the age that my mom was when she was diagnosed with breast cancer. I felt like a sitting duck. Both my parents had cancer and my grandmother did, too. If there was anything I could do to keep myself from getting cancer- I knew I should do it. I knew from previous research and reading that nutrition could have an impact on cancer and health and that was the start of this journey for me.
How did you become interested in healthy foods and their affects on learning?
Sue: After my third child was born, I started feeling exhausted and having brain fog. One day, I was homeschooling my son and my nephew. I looked at my nephew and couldn’t even remember his name. I had an overwhelming feeling that something wasn’t right. Through improving my nutrition, I was able to get rid of some of these problems so, I could see how food was affecting my own brain.
The more I read and studied, I realized that there are some foods that can actually inflame the brain and keep it from functioning well. Conversely, there are some foods that can improve the ability to learn. As I was making these connections, more and more webinars, books and articles became available. Information written by medical doctors was confirming my suspicions, observations, and personal experiences.
As an educational therapist, I wanted therapy to be as effective as possible. I wanted families to know what I was learning - that they could help their student’s progress through good nutritional practices.
If you had one single piece of advice for parents, what would it be?
Sue: Feed your kids more fruits and vegetables, nuts and seeds! Phase out and stop eating processed foods filled with sugars, food colorings and other chemicals, such as pesticides, that have been shown to have poor effects on the brain.
Working with any student is an honor and a privilege. In Discovery, educational therapists long to have students long enough to see them through the whole process – growing from struggling learners to independent learners. Ian is one of those. His story is so inspiring, please take time to view his story: Ian and Dyslexia: A "1 in 5" Story
Ian was one of those students who was very dyslexic! Smart, smart young man, but reading was torture. His first two years were with another educational therapist and then she moved and I took over. What a trip! I had known that he was not thrilled to be on this journey…many students are not. He put up with it and did everything he was asked, but in his third year he went from going through the motions to taking full ownership of his learning. The joy on his face when we got the results of his last full psycho-educational evaluation by a psychologist is something I will never forget. He had overcome his dyslexia to the point that he no longer had that diagnosis! Not only had his test scores changed dramatically, but the effort to learn – his ability to learn – had improved. His IQ (which measures how easy or difficult learning is for the individual) had gone up as well as his academic scores! Oh, and by the way, he applied for college – which he had sworn he would never do – and was accepted.
By the beginning of 8th grade, we were fully aware that Ian was not an independent learner. Reading was extremely time consuming and required an extraordinary amount of effort for Ian. And then he was unable to remember what was read after the fact. So, we started to use audio books. He could write papers and yet was unable to determine what a complete sentence was! With Discovery Therapies’ encouragement, we decided to have him tested in order to pinpoint what his specific difficulties were. We needed to know if he had character issues or a learning difference that needed to be addressed. His diagnosis of dyslexia was actually a relief! Now that we knew what he was dealing with, we were able to come up with a plan to help him grow.
Before the diagnosis, we had felt like we were fumbling around in the dark; the diagnosis enabled us to be led to a solution. As parents we were hopeful in moving forward. And Ian himself was relieved to know of the reason for his struggling. His DTI (Discovery Therapies, Inc.) educational therapist did a beautiful job of building trust with our junior high boy – which is not easy to do! And my observations of sessions helped me to know how to help him at home. Progress took time. The first year he dictated reports to me and then we would edit them together. The second year he demonstrated greater independence, but still needed extra help.
Upon graduation of educational therapy, he had learned how to ask relevant questions and communicate in complete sentences. He learned to love debates, and usually won them! Educational therapy helped him gain confidence in every area. Because of this he was able to gain a higher score on the SAT, he lost his diagnosis of dyslexia, and he received an acceptance letter from Liberty University. The struggles that he was able to overcome resulted in him gaining amazing perseverance and great compassion. He will now tell you that his ultimate goal is to pursue psychology in order to help others.
From My Heart to Yours
Donna Weston, Founder and Executive Director
One of my sons (no naming names!) was an expert arguer. He knew exactly how to suck me into an argument. Before I knew it my temper was up and voices were rising. As young as he was, eventually I realized that he was learning how to control me! He knew exactly what “buttons to press.” In an effort to not be like my mom, whose favorite phrase when frustrated with me was: “Because I told you so”, I wanted my boys to understand the whys behind the rules and boundaries. However, they were not always mature enough to understand reason - thus the arguing.
This had to change! It wasn’t good for any of us.
Change took time.
I will share with you what I started to do, although what this may look like in your family may look very different:
Typically, through this process I was able to remain calm because they hadn’t gotten under my skin yet, and when they eventually returned, they would often apologize.
One thing I realized is that respect goes both ways. Not only did all three of my sons have to learn how to respect me, but I had to learn how to respect them. Yes, they needed to learn what were acceptable and unacceptable ways of getting my attention or speaking with me when disagreeing. But I needed to model that for them.
I had thought that I was a patient person…until I had children! I had to learn, even as they were learning. As challenging as they often were, I know that I am a better person because of them. I learned to listen – to them and to the Lord – and I learned how to love them with more than my intentions: with my ears, words, and actions.
My husband and I decided early on to make sure that we regularly told our guys (and each other) that we love them. I remember when they were young teens saying to one of them, when things were not going well and he had intentionally messed up, “I love you so very much. You are my son and I choose to do that. I have to love you. That is what families do. But you know what…? Right now I don’t like you very much! We need to work on that!” Love is unconditional and is a commitment. “Like” is an emotion that is contingent upon how we treat each other. And, no, I did not scar them for life! We talked that through so they understood what I meant.
To this day, every once in a while, one of them will turn to me and say, “Mom, I like you.”
I guess I did something right.
From My Heart to Yours
Donna Weston, Founder and Executive Director
This is my first Christmas in our new home. I loved putting up the Christmas tree, decorating the mantel, hanging a wreathe on the front door. All three of my adult sons will be able to be with us for Christmas…two of them coming all the way from LA! The Christmas season can be amazingly wonderful. It can also be amazingly complicated. Actually, life continues to be amazingly complicated!
One of my favorite Christmas songs of all time is “Breath of Heaven” by Amy Grant (a link to the full text is at the bottom). It is a musical version of Mary’s prayer when she was told that she was to carry the Son of God. I remember listening to the song with my hands lifted high as she communicated my heart, my concerns, my trust – or at least my desire to trust my Father in heaven.
“…I wonder what I’ve done
Holy Father, you have come
And chosen me now
To carry your son”
Of course, I make no claims! However, what I do believe is that God chose me to carry my son, Ryan. The Lord trusted me to love him unconditionally, to make wise decisions for him, to grow even as I was helping him to grow…to be Ryan’s mother. What a privilege!
“I am waiting in a silent prayer
I am frightened by the load I bear
In a world as cold as stone,
Must I walk this path alone?
Be with me now”
It is so ironic that in the middle of a family and church community I would feel alone. But raising a struggling learner, or a child with special needs of any sort, can feel isolating. I remember people with “average” or gifted children blaming me for my son’s behavior, as if I could control all of his choices and I was okay with his misbehavior or social gaffs. Add to that the hours of trying to help him learn…Ugh.
Privilege, yes. Easy, no. What I didn’t have then is a team. I needed others: teachers who understood (unfortunately rare), wise friends to listen and counsel who had been where I was, therapists to help him in ways that I could not because I had to focus so hard on being his mom.
“Breath of heaven
Do you wonder as you watch my face
If a wiser one one should have had my place
But I offer all I am
For the mercy of your plan
Help me be strong”
Ryan is now an adult. The raising part is over, but the loving is not! Much work and prayer went into the complicated family life we had. Today, Ryan is an amazing man, navigating the complicated life he has with honor, integrity, and great love for and from his family. He is a source of great joy.
I am confident that the Lord designed your child for your particular family. I am praying that through this season, you will grow in wisdom and strength, that you will stop and enjoy who your child is, and that you will find and take full advantage of the team you have. And, I pray you will know His presence in your life:
“Breath of heaven
Hold me together
Be forever near me
Breath of heaven”
Breath of Heaven goo.gl/dL93sC