Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Automatic Negative Thoughts (ANTs)

I wanted to write about this topic of negative thoughts because we all seem to have these types of thoughts. These types of thoughts can be devastating to anyone. I often see this pattern of thinking with students I work with on a daily basis. By the time they come to me for help in strengthening their ability to learn, they have lost all faith in themselves. They will easily give up and state they cannot do a task because they are stupid. Part of my job is to educate the student about negative thought patterns and how they can turn them around into positive statements. The following information is taken from Dr. Daniel Amen and his explanations around negative thought patterns. I summarize what Dr. Amen goes into great depth about in his many books.

Did you know that every thought we have releases chemicals in our brain? If we have a happy positive thought, we literally feel good because of the chemical released. Just the same, if we think bad thoughts, we will be impacted on a physical level to some degree. That is why we here students who are anxious or depressed complain about feeling ill. Their head hurts or their stomach aches. Most of the time, this painful cycle of physical symptoms are initiated by the very thoughts in their own minds.

Monitoring our thoughts is often recommended by doctors who tell us we have too much stress in our lives. Watch how you talk to yourself. Catch those bad thoughts they are not good for you. So, what do you do with these thoughts once you catch them running endlessly in a never ending loop inside your head? Dr. Amen came up with the idea of the acronym ANTs and made an analogy of our negative thoughts being like ants that invade a persons picnic area. If you do not "stomp" them out when one or two are present then the entire ant population comes to feast on your picnic.

Dr. Amen goes into detail on categorizing the different types of negative thoughts one can have according to types of ants. The following is a listing of the types of ANTs from Dr. Amen taken from Healing Anxiety and Depression Books.

ANT #1: All or Nothing Thinking. This is the black/white thinking of extremes. It is either yes or no and nothing in between. If I cannot answer this one question than I am stupid. End of story!

ANT #2: Always Thinking. I participate in this thinking quite often myself. :-0 So, if you use words like always, never, everyone, every time, no one and everything, these are examples of statements that shape the always thinking negative thoughts. For example, my favorite saying is "This (whatever the situation) always happens." Husbands might catch themselves stating “My wife is always yelling at me" or Wives might catch themselves saying “You never listen to me.” If you reshape this statement and talk back to it as Dr. Amen suggests, you can write down the statement and then rewrite or just verbally talk back to it. State instead of You never listen to me to "I understand things are a bit crazy right now for, (whomever the person you claim never listens) so they have a lot on their mind. They really are trying." Something to this type of talk back will help you to calm down and lessen the negative thinking cycle.

ANT #3: (RED ANT) Here is an example of categorizing the ANTs by types. Focusing only on the negative. A lot of students that I work with end up in this type of thought process. Until I intervene and help them see concretely that they are capable of learning, the student only focuses on their weak skills and how they cannot learn. A good technique is using the POLLYANNA approach. Dr. Amen points out that if we can find the good in anything negative we will overcome the negative thought. So, where you find yourself in distress because - lets say - a shopping cart just smashed up the paint job on your car ... you say ... well it could have been worse ... I could have been in a car accident, etc. Then you recognize you are not so bad off after all. The release of the positive chemicals overpowers the negative thoughts.

ANT #4: (RED ANT) Another Red Ant is called Fortune-telling. This is where we believe we are predicting the outcome of our fate and the outcome is always the worst possible situation. For example, a person believes without a doubt if they do a certain action the result will be disastrous. They just know it - they can see it and sense it. For this type of thinking an adult can challenge the prediction through logically reasoning and requesting proof. Talking back to the thought and requiring a fact to state the outcome will play out as predicted. For children, usually taking them through what they predict they will not succeed in completing is the best solution. The children I work with often refuse to work through exercises because they predict failure. By helping them understand and observe themselves being successful, their confidence builds and they start believing in their own ability. The will begin to doubt the negative prediction next time it surfaces.

ANT #5: (RED ANT) This next type of Red Ant is called Mind Reading. I often see this with students when they are trying to communicate with others. They often "mind read" what the other person is thinking and how the other persons thoughts will impact the outcome. When I point out that I did not know they were psychics and eagerly ask for a reading they start to giggle. Usually, I will the student understand what they are trying to ask of the other person. If they are so sure about the other person, I ask why is that the case? They will explain to me their "perception" of the other person. Then, together we shape the request in a way that allows for flexibility and options. The student asking feels less negative and more positive going into the conversation with the other person. So, a little social skills training and communication strategies can help in this area. We do not know what other people are thinking and 9 times out of 10 they are not thinking what we assume.

ANT #6: Thinking with your feelings. This type of negative pattern is a tough one, in my opinion. I state this because in this type of ANT we think only with our feelings. Therefore, if one is depressed, anxious, stressed, or in any other less than positive state, the impact can be an endless loop of physical symptoms from all the negative chemicals released in the brain. Here, again, as Dr. Amen points out, a great strategy for overcoming these thoughts are to write them down and talk back to them. If a person is feeling bad and needs to feel better than perhaps a good meditation or a journal entry on what the person is grateful for that day is in order. :-)

ANT #7: Guilt Beatings. Guilt is a useful feeling if you use it like a foghorn, to keep yourself off the sandbar or rocky shoreline – it is a navigator emotion. When guilt becomes the primary feeling it is not useful or helpful. One needs to explore what is behind the feeling of guilt and not get stuck at guilty feelings. When you hear the words ‘should’, ‘must,’ ‘ought to,’ or “have to’ one can recognize they are at a point of guilt and they need to move forward. Rephrasing what is in the negative guilt mode into a positive is a helpful quick remedy. “It’s in my own best interest to do my homework and make it the best work I can do.”

ANT #8: Labeling. In this case a person places a label on another person or even on themselves and begins to believe in the label. This is why labeling, relative to special needs, is always a debatable topic. Students will label one another when they do not know how to proceed in a situation. For example, instead of agreeing to disagree, you can hear children calling each other names because one or both are not getting their way. Here, I usually have the children write out the difficulty through the use of charting their options. Seriously. I will have children who cannot figure out what they want to do create charts with what they individually want to do. This way the inability to communicate using language is taken care of through the charts. Then, they need to "negotiate" to merge the charts into one agreeing on which activities will be done and when. Usually this helps solve the problem.

For adults, labeling can be dangerous if you tend to label yourself or worse your child. If we hear a negative label long enough, we begin to believe that we truly consist of the deficits represented by the labeling. Remember, if we think the negative thoughts we are releasing chemicals that do not make us feel good. We begin a downward spiral with physical symptoms and eventually we give up on ourselves. Take step back ask yourself why you, the adult, is even assigning said label to yourself or the child. Begin to understand what weaknesses you believe exist that are bothering you. Prioritize the weakness and begin to work the weakness into a strength. Instead of avoiding issues and assigning a label, take action and do something about the situation.

ANT #9: (THE MOST POISONOUS RED ANT) Blame. Dr. Amen states this as the most poisonous of the red ants because once you neglect to take responsibility or your actions, you are now powerless. If you did something and then blamed someone else, you are powerless to the overall outcome of the situation now. You, ironically, not the person you blame, become the true victim.

The next time ANTs start invading your picnic, remember to STOMP them out before the whole ANT hill arrives. Maybe you might want to rent POLLYANNA and watch it one night for some tips! The best takeaway from this article is that you have control over your thoughts. We can literally make ourselves feel good as every thought we have releases chemicals in our brain which then impact our physical well being. Think positive my friends!

Here is a link to .pdf from Dr. Daniel Amen detailing ANTs


The Amen Clinic - Day 3

The last day of our visit to the Amen Clinic was pretty emotional for me. My sister stayed by my side through the whole consultation. The child psychiatrist that met with us was wonderful. He took us through the basics of the brain, the specifics of the brain, Shannon's overall report findings and of course the brain SPECTs.

The good news is that Shannon's findings are all manageable and no psychiatric issues prevail. We left the clinic feeling satisfied because we could concretely view the functionality within Shannon's Brain. We were also able to zone in on her cerebellum and determine that this area did not have huge blood flow rather lower blood flow. This for us, based on research, indicates Shannon's recent bout of OMS was not a new "active" case rather her ongoing battle. In other words the same bad antibodies are what we are dealing with and not that the body produced brandy new teams of bad antibodies that need to be put to rest.

Presently, we are in the beginning stages of implementing Shannon's overall care program. We are working on changing her diet, adding exercise and supplements and much more. So far, we believe we are heading down a good path.

I hope this series of articles on the Amen Clinic was found to be interesting, helpful and insightful. For more details and questions feel free to contact me at

The Amen Clinic - Day 2

On day two we came into the clinic to take pictures of Shannon's brain "at rest." Required for this to be successful was an other IV contrast and calm. Hmm? Yes, Shannon was required to sit in a calm, quiet room with sunlight as the major light source and a sound machine providing cricket ambiance. That's it. Do not talk, lay down, walk, or anything. Just sit on the couch quiet and rest. Okay, sure. Once the clinician left, within 5 seconds Shannon grabbed several stress balls and began juggling them. Then she tried to bounce them. Then she started bouncing her own leg so hard and fast I thought she was going to drill her leg straight through the floor. This was going to be very tough and uncomfortable for Shannon. In fact, the whole exercise proved to be painful. She wanted - almost needed - to jump up, open the office door and engage with another person. I was there with her through this but we were not supposed to talk or engage - just rest.

After a good 20 minutes or so, the clinician came back and was still in "quiet" mode. No talking just quietly follow her to begin taking the brain SPECTs. Shannon's body was twitching even more now because of all the pent up energy. I knew we were in for a difficult SPECT session. After several retries, we final got what we needed. We were then released (I think the clinician was happy to see us go) until tomorrow.

Obviously, laying still on a SPECT table that is very thin is difficult for folks with movement issues. However, the Amen Clinic offers sedation options out of the California location. We chose to get through this SPECT the best we could without sedation because that's another beast on its own for Shannon's issues. But I digress ...

We ended day 2 peacefully frustrated (oxymoron?) and on our way back to the local shopping areas. I treated Shannon to a new book each day she successfully completed the task presented. She purchased a new book and then we went home. I began to mental prepare for the final consult the next day. I don't think I slept very much this night. I was very apprehensive about the results.

For more on Dr. Amen and his clinics visit

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

The Amen Clinic - Day 1

The first day at the clinic was surreal. On one hand, I was so thankful we were there to finally get a glimpse into Shannon's brain. The MRI's and CT's that we had done were more structurally based where the Amen Clinic provided a more functional base of activity levels based off of blood flow amounts into areas of the brain. We really needed the SPECTs because of OMS coming out of remission. We needed to see if blood flow was high or low in cerebellum. I was very happy to finally be getting an answer. On the other hand, I was a bit nervous to hear the results. I was not sure what to expect and was past the denial stage at this point. I wanted to finally see something concrete but then I knew hearing bad news would still send shivers down my spine.

When we were finally called, the first test Shannon had to perform was a concentration test. Now, Shannon has been off all medications that help her focus and concentrate so this was not going to be an easy task. Shannon basically focused on everything but where she was supposed to be paying attention. Poor kid.

Next, we had our IV contrast ready and were off to get our Brain SPECT pictures done in our "concentration state". I have to say, getting the pictures done was a bit of a challenge for Shannon because part of her issue is movement. She twitches here and there and rarely is she ever still even during sleep. Her body is on the move all the time. We had to do our best to get through the SPECT without sedation. Shannon was a real trooper and did manage to complete the task.

After we did these two things, we were then called into another office to meet their "Historian." This person took all the information from my head and files of documentation about Shannon's history. She then compiled this into a nice manageable file for the child psychiatrist to review for our final consultation in two days.

Once we completed these three things, we were free to go home and we only needed to confirm our appointment at the clinic for the next day.

I would recommend bringing someone with you if you plan to take your child to the clinic. If for anything else, to have a backup and a support person to get you through the appointments. A lot of information is exchanged, discussed and created. Having another person can help prompt information that you may have otherwise neglected to bring out to the staff. I even had my husband dial in for a conference call set up when I walked into the Historian's office. Together, myself, my husband, Shannon and my sister gave input and support to the overall process. The staff at the VA Amen Clinic was extremely supportive, patient, understanding and friendly.

For more info on the Amen Clinic ...

Saturday, December 6, 2008

The Amen Clinic - My Personal Experience and Opinion

If you have not read about Dr. Daniel Amen and the Amen Clinics then this article will be an eye opener for you. If you have heard about the clinic, it most likely has been controversial. The type of science behind the Amen Clinics is considered by some to be futuristic. Yet others think the science behind the clinics is not necessary in the medical world at all. This article is my opinion of our overall experience. There are subsequent articles depicting the daily visits and what we experienced as we sought to obtain a targeted intervention for my daughter's struggles.

My 11 y/o daughter, Shannon, went through the Amen Clinic, as a patient to receive a Brain Single Photon Emission Computed Tomography (SPECT) and treatment plan for help with her Opsoclonus Myoclonus Syndrome (OMS). The OMS had caused brain injury at age 11 mos. but now at age 11 y/o we were once facing this monster straight between the eyes. We wanted to know if the OMS we were seeing now was active or chronic. We needed to know if there was any inflammation of the cerebellum. If there was inflammation, increased blood flow, we would know her recent OMS was an new active OMS attack that could lead to further brain injury. If we did not find swelling, rather decreased blood flow, we would know the OMS was flaring up in a chronic state. The brain injury from her OMS had also left her brain very unbalanced and not in a healthy state. We were looking for a targeted intervention.

We decided to travel to the Reston, VA. clinic location because my sister lives in Maryland. We stayed in MD and drove to VA each of the three days we had appointments at the clinic. The preparation time for the overall visit was tremendous for us. We took no shortcuts with the requested paperwork and medical trails from Shannon's long history. Coordinating medical files from every department a child is seen through relative to a neurological disorder and also Cancer can be a bit overwhelming. We managed to get all the information we needed down to every last name of medicine Shannon had to use over her 11 year journey thus far. Considering there is not much known on OMS, that means Shannon went through a lot of different medical trials. We also had to gather up the recent documentation from visits just completed.

Since Shannon was coming out of remission from her OMS, we were off to the big city of Philadelphia again to visit her docs at Children's Hospital. We usually see them once a year or as needed but now we were back in full force begging for help for Shannon. So, all of these visits, including MRI, blood work, etc. needed to be gathered and sent to the clinic as well. We were given approximately 2 months to data gather and prepare our documentation for the visit. However, with Shannon having a relapse, that meant I was basically putting this all together within 2 days of the visit.

The clinic staff was friendly and accommodating. They listened patiently to any questions or comments. They were supportive and respectful. The appointments were basically on-time and ran smoothly. The final consultation was very informative and helpful for us. They provided us with nutritional, physical and supplementation recommendations based on Shannon's results. We felt the trip was worthwhile and helped us to concretely see under the hood, if you will, of my daughter's brain. The results enabled us to understand and plan for the psychiatrist's targeted intervention of treatment for Shannon. The clinic presents you with a very nice, informative, organized binder of output information relative to your appointment and consultation findings and plan.

You can find out more about the Amen Clinic by visiting

Sunday, November 30, 2008

All Natural Supplements for ADHD and Nutrition

This morning I found myself typing away with great passion in response to a dear friend who asked a question about supplementation. Supplementing is part of overall brain health as is nutrition, exercise, sleep and brain training. My friend wanted to know how a person figures out what is needed for their child? A great question to be asked by a parent. I think every parent I have worked with over the years has asked me the same question. One misconception, I think, is that parents think that supplementing is based on the primary goal of the parent(s). For example, some parents ask what can be done for nutrition. Others ask what can be done for behavior? Still others ask what can be done strictly for ADHD? The list goes on and on.

A person must be in touch with your doctor relative to your plans to begin using supplements with your child.
Most people do not realize that all naturals can be toxic if misused or combined with certain existing medications. Perhaps your pediatrician or even a naturopathic doctor can guide your choices and monitor progress in symptoms.

The following paragraphs will list out the supplements that we have found to be beneficial in our home. To understand healthy supplementation, I have included several resources for parents to research and gain a better understanding. You can find these resources at the bottom of the article.

  1. Liquid Nutrition - Body Balance - whole food supplementation (has vitamins, minerals, essential fatty acids and more) I used this to help primarily with nutrition concerns because my children were not getting good nutrition. Neither child would take a pill either so liquid vitamins were a good solution. I take these vitamins, too.

  2. We recently found Melaleuca Unforgettables to aide with ADHD and weak memory symptoms. These have Omega's EFAs and other ingredients that aid in memory and antioxidants for overall brain health. I take their Vitality for Life Vitamin/Supplement Packs and have noticed a positive difference in my energy, well-being and even sleep. I do not need to take sleep supplements anymore.

  3. Nature's Way EFAs for Children is a big hit with us, too. Soft gel caps that you can easily put within thick and creamy yogurt (yoplait) and then they are easy to swallow.

  4. Yummi Bears are a favorite here, too. There is a whole line of Yummi Bear products all natural, no additives or dyes, wheat or gluten. They cover calcium, fiber, minerals vitamins, whole food supplements, omega's, and more.

  5. We also looked into Juice Plus for daily fruits and vegetable intake. My children did not like their overall taste so we went to Yummi Bears for fruits and vegetables.
As promised, here are some resources you can use to further research supplementation. Most of these resources are backed by research either by the doctor promoting the supplement or industry research. Good Luck and remember to work with your doctor.

The following two documents are from Dianne Craft. She offers these free from her website.
  1. The Biology of Learning and Behavior (Part 1)
  2. The Biology of Learning and Behavior (Part 2)
Natural Supplement Research link is provided from Dr. Daniel Amen.

This next link is for supplementing during traditional cancer treatment.

An article on using supplements safely in your everyday nutrition can be found here

Colleen Bain, M.A.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

50 Brain Dos and Brain Don'ts

50 Brain Dos and Brain Don’ts
A Summary of Ways to Optimize Brain Function and Break Bad Brain Habits by Dr. Daniel Amens. This was taken from Dr. Amens Blog. Very Interesting overview of good habits to follow relative to keeping your brain healthy.

Based on Dr. Daniel Amen’s research and the research of many other neuroscientists here is a list of brain Dos and Don’ts to optimize your own brain function.

Brain Dos:Edit Posts

  1. Wear a helmet in high risk situations
  2. Drink lots of water
  3. Eat healthy
  4. Take gingko biloba, Vitamin E and ibuprofen everyday
  5. Think positive healthy thoughts
  6. Love, feed and exercise your internal anteater to rid yourself of ANTs (automatic negative thoughts)
  7. Everyday focus on the things you are grateful for in your life
  8. Watch the Disney movie Pollyanna
  9. Spend time with positive, uplifting people
  10. Spend time with people you want to be like (you are more likely to become like them)
  11. Work on your people skills to become more connected to enhance limbic bonds
  12. Talk to others in loving, helpful ways
  13. Surround yourself with great smells
  14. Build a library of wonderful experiences
  15. Be nice to others
  16. Exercise
  17. Eat in ways specifically tailored to your brain
  18. Learn diaphragmatic breathing
  19. Learn and use self-hypnosis and meditation on a daily basis
  20. Remember the 18/40/60 rule
  21. Effectively confront and deal with conflictual situations
  22. Develop clear goals for your life (relationships, work, money and self) and look at them everyday.
  23. Focus on what you like a lot more than what you don’t like
  24. Collect penguins, or at least send them to me
  25. Have meaning, purpose, excitement and stimulation in your life
  26. Do not be another person’s stimulant
  27. Use brainwave biofeedback or audio-visual stimulation when needed
  28. Notice when you’re stuck, distract yourself and come back to the problem later
  29. Think through answers before automatically saying no
  30. Write out options and solutions when you feel stuck
  31. Seek the counsel of others when you feel stuck (often just talking about feeling stuck will open new options)
  32. Memorize and recite the Serenity Prayer daily and whenever bothered by repetitive thoughts (God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.)
  33. Don’t try to convince someone else who is stuck, take a break and come back to them later
  34. Use paradoxical requests in dealing with cingulate people
  35. Make naturally oppositional children mind you the first time (through a firm, kind, authoritative stance)
  36. Strive for wonderful experiences
  37. Enhance your memory skills
  38. Sing and hum whenever you can
  39. Make beautiful music a part of your life
  40. Make beautiful smells a part of your life
  41. Touch others often (appropriately)
  42. Make love with your partner
  43. Move in rhythms
  44. Use a skilled psychotherapist when needed
  45. Use an EMDR therapist to deal with trauma
  46. Take head injuries seriously, even minor ones
  47. Take medications when needed
  48. Take herbal remedies when needed to optimize brain function
  49. Look for underlying brain problems in substance abusers
  50. Do full brain evaluations for people who do terrible things

Brain Don’ts

  1. Isolate a developing baby
  2. Use alcohol, tobacco or drugs or much caffeine when pregnant
  3. Ignore erratic behavior
  4. Lie around the house and never exercise
  5. Ignore concussions
  6. Smoke
  7. Drink much caffeine
  8. Drink much alcohol
  9. Do drugs (NO heroin, inhalants, mushrooms, PCP, marijuana, cocaine, methamphetamines (unless in prescribed doses for ADD)
  10. Eat without forethought on what foods are best for your brain
  11. Drive without wearing a seatbelt
  12. Ride a motorcycle without a helmet
  13. Ride a bicycle, skateboard, roller blade, snowboard, etc. without a helmet
  14. Hit a soccer ball with your head
  15. Bang your head when you’re frustrated (protect the head of children who are head bangers)
  16. Bunje jump
  17. Hang out with people who do drugs, fight, or are involved in other dangerous activities (unless you are looking for brain damage)
  18. Allow your breathing to get out of control
  19. Think in black-or-white terms
  20. Think in words like always, never, every time, every one
  21. Focus on the negative things in your life
  22. Predict the worst
  23. Think only with your feelings
  24. Read other people’s minds
  25. Blame other people for your problems
  26. Label yourself or others with negative terms
  27. Beat yourself or others with guilt (very ineffective)
  28. Personalize situations that have little to do with you
  29. Feed your ANTs
  30. Use sex as a weapon with your partner
  31. Talk to others in a hateful way
  32. Push people away
  33. Be around toxic smells
  34. Be around toxic people
  35. Focus too much on what other people think of you (odds are they aren’t thinking about you at all)
  36. Allow your life to just happen without you directing and planning it
  37. Take the “stimulant bait” from other people
  38. Allow thoughts to go over and over in your head
  39. Automatically say no to others, think first if what they want fits with your goals
  40. Automatically say yes to others, think first if what they want fits with your goals
  41. Argue with someone who is stuck
  42. Isolate yourself when you feel worried, depressed or panicky
  43. Allow naturally oppositional children to be oppositional
  44. Listen to toxic music
  45. Blame substance abusers as morally defective
  46. Refuse to take medications when needed
  47. Self-medicate, when there are problems get help from professionals
  48. Deny you have problems
  49. Refuse to listen to the people you love who are trying to tell you to get help
  50. Withhold love, touch and companionship to those you love as a way to express anger

Monday, November 24, 2008

Brain Gym - Exercises to Improve Learning

When I was pursuing my Master's in Special Education, a major research project revolved around Educational Kinesiology. One of my roles on this project team, besides leading the overall project, was to provide the background on Brain Gym. Our team which had members in Japan as well as across the country, decided to work with a class of students in a Japanese classroom. The goal of the study was to implement successful teaching strategies resulting in effective learning in the selected 1st grade self-contained classroom. Achievement of the goal was demonstrated through the increased measures of reading abilities of the children in the class. The following is an introduction to what Brain Gym is all about along with an embedded youtube video of a set of Brain Gym Exercises.

Brain Gym is a program of physical movements that enhance learning and performance in all areas (Brain Gym International, 2005). Brain Gym includes 26 activities that promote whole brain learning resulting in rapid and often dramatic improvements in concentration, memory, reading, writing, organizing, listening, physical, coordination, and more. Brain Gym develops the brain's neural pathways through movement. Dennison Laterality Repatterning is a specific set of Brain Gym activities that helps the brain link information that the person takes in and makes the data useful (Hannaford, 1995, p. 111).

Brain Gym began in the 1970’s with the work of educators Dr. Paul Dennison and Gail E. Dennison (Hannaford, 1995, p.113). Dr. Dennison was struggling with his own dyslexia and visual difficulties. He put together the Brain Gym in the Valley Remedial Group Learning Center in California. Dr. Dennison has been helping children there for over nineteen years now.

For more than seventy years, early researchers in sensory-motor training, applied kinesiology and developmental optometry have provided statistical research relative to the effects of movement to learning (Hannaford, 1995, p.113). Dr. Dennison adapted this research, as it related to children with specific language disabilities into quick, easy, task-specific movements that help any type of learner.

Today Brain Gym supports people with or without learning disabilities. This program is making huge changes in many lives. Brain Gym is used in more than 80 countries and is taught in thousands of public and private schools worldwide and in corporate, performing arts, and athletic training programs (Brain Gym International, 2005).

An example of a Brain Gym movement from the Energy Exercises is called the “thinking cap.” Prior to doing it however, turn your head to the left and see how far you can look and notice if there is any tension in your neck. Now turn your head to the right and notice how far you can look and if there’s any tension in your neck. Massage your ears by unrolling the fold of them by beginning at the top and going all the way to the bottom. Do this three times. (In Brain Gym, we call this the “thinking cap.”) Now, turn your head to the left and notice how far you can look and if there is any tension in your neck; and repeat with your head towards the right. Most of you (98%) will notice a very positive difference in your ability to turn your head. You’ve just relaxed your mind/body system so that you are better able to organize yourself as witnessed by your body’s ability to subconsciously organize itself so that turning your head is easier (Koester, 2004.

Personally, I have begun to incorporate Brain Gym movements into my Brain Training sessions. Especially working with children who are weak, below their peers, in the areas of reading and remembering, reading and comprehension, spelling, listening, attending and processing both auditorily and visually.

About brain gym. Retrieved May 12, 2005, from
Hannaford, C., Ph.D. (1995). Smart moves: Why learning is not all in your head. Salt Lake City, Utah: Great River Books.
Koester, C., M.Ed. (2000). A summary of a brain gym research project on reading. Brain Gym Journal.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

How Enhanced Learning Skills for Kids Came into Existence

Mrs. Bain owned Kids of the Kingdom Tutoring since 2005 but due to her own children with special needs and her student's inability to transition into independent learners, ELSK was born into existence. The following tells the story of her journey with her daughter's brain injury and the quest to find solutions to help her daughter and others become independent learners and not just compensate for their weaknesses.

On April 26, 1998, Colleen and Thomas Bain rushed their 11 month old baby girl, Shannon, into Children's Hospital of Philadelphia (C.H.O.P.). Shannon was sent there from her pediatrician after the doctor witnessed Shannon's eyes literally "dancing" around. Shannon had a very bad cold, double ear infection and was starting to lose balance whenever she moved around.

After being in C.H.O.P. for two weeks, the neurologist came in and informed Mrs. Bain that if someone was to have Cancer, than Shannon had the better kind of Cancer!! The docs informed her that Shannon most likely had neuroblastoma. The fact that Shannon's eyes were dancing around probably meant she also had Opsoclonus Myoclonus Syndrome. The two usually pair together but the docs wouldn't know for sure until they found a tumor. They did find a tumor after looking for it for two weeks and the tumor was quickly resected. We would later find out that OMS is 50% paired with a tumor and 50% viral based.

Colleen and Tom would unfortunately discover that the OMS was worse than the cancer itself. Being a very rare disorder that impacts only a handful of children around the world each year, little was known about OMS other than it would cause a brain injury if not treated immediately. Apparently, there were only two doctors in the world, at this time, that were researching and studying OMS. C.H.O.P. was privileged to have a doctor on staff that was familiar with OMS and had seen it a few times before Shannon. They were quickly assigned to their first of many neuro-oncologists at C.H.O.P.

OMS turned out to be an auto-immune disorder where Shannon's B and T cells (antibodies) were attacking her brain on a daily basis whenever she had a viral or bacterial infection. The doctors used immunosuppressant therapy to stop the attacks and successfully placed her "bad" antibodies into remission within three years of treatment using ACTH (steroids) daily injections. However, Shannon's brain did suffer from injury but Colleen and Tom would not know the extent of the injury as OMS is thought to injure at the synaptic level. In other words, even if Tom and Colleen requested a picture of Shannon's brain, the injury would not be visible because the injury is so deep within the brain structure. Functional MRIs could tell us cognitive measures but doctors are not supporting these tests other than clinical trials. We are going to the Amen's Clinic in December for SPECT imaging. That is another blog entry :-)

Shannon was treated with speech, occupational and physical therapies immediately because the OMS completely stripped Shannon of all her learning skills. Once a child that was able to speak, crawl, stand, sit and communicate as little ones do, Shannon was now held captive within a small body that lay lifeless unless she had great assistance from those around her.

Shannon made great strides from the onset of OMS through the years to learn to sit, talk, walk, run and even ride a bike! Her disability is considered a hidden disability because in most areas Shannon looks and acts like any other girl her age. However, once Shannon needs to use her learning skills to read, write and do math (memory, visual and auditory processing, logic, attention) Shannon then exhibits the impact of her brain injury. She is considered to have a Language Learning Disability - Mild that impacts her academically and in every day life.

Like every other parent of a child with disabilities, Colleen and Tom sought after every possible therapy that might "cure" Shannon's brain injury and allow her to learn to read, write and do math. They did help Shannon compensate through individualized programs that worked her strengths and avoided her weaknesses. At age 10, Shannon resided at about a first grade level in reading and beginning second grade level for math. Shannon had no fluency in reading and could not do any math mentally. Tom and Colleen, like other parents, wanted to blame the school. They could not understand why the school was not "teaching" Shannon and why they were not helping to "close the academic gap". Later, they would realize that the teachers were teaching but Shannon did not have adequate learning skills (memory, attention, visual and auditory processing) to internalize, retain, and retrieve new concepts or material. Shannon currently has a 4yr. academic gap and is being homeschooled as of October 16, 2008.

Colleen had tutored Shannon for years but never saw true independent progress. Shannon was not retaining and recalling information easily and sometimes not at all. This prohibited successful progress in learning because her knowledge base was sparse and scattered. For Shannon, her entire educational journey has been with the use of prompting and she never became independent of needing the supports of an adult. Because she did not show strength in any of her learning skills, she could not initially use the support of an adult to introduce material and then promote her own learning skills to build upon that newly acquired knowledge.

Colleen recognized that Shannon required cognitive and processing training. She discovered a researched based program called Processing and Cognitive Enhancement (PACE) and became certified as a provider and trainer. Shannon continues through this program as medical challenges continue to present themselves and delay completion. At the time of this posting, Shannon has experienced another setback medically and is being treated. Shannon is mid-point through PACE and beginning the Reading Program called Master the Code. Both of these programs support educational establishments. Neither compete with teachers. In fact, they help to make the teachers more successful in helping the student to learn.

Shannon will be the first to tell you that PACE has helped her learn to read (fluency). This is because the program has strengthened her auditory and visual processing and memory skills. She is able to remember and recall words. She is processing her auditory and visual perception much better now and her visual acuity (eye teaming) has been strengthened. Shannon was able to read "Enjoy the Show" on the movie theater screen. She screamed out "I just read that all by myself!!"

Shannon has a way to go yet and the important message for her to internalize is that she is perfect the way she is right now. She is no "less" than others because she has an academic gap and that strengthening her learning skills will improve her academic abilities. She will still have to close the gap after the cognitive training but with the skills to learn she will progress and show success academically. Because her skills needed to read and comprehend, read and remember, listen, attend, focus, spell, visualize and others are being strengthened, Shannon has the chance to become an active participant in the learning process at school and in life.

Shannon's present skill levels reflecting mid-point in the program . Pre-test measures reflect initial assessment from 1/08 prior to beginning the program. The Post-test measures reflect her recent assessment (taken in august). You can see the gains made in her learning skill set.

All Scores
Test NamePre-TestPost-TestChange
Processing Speed GCTB79.9+2.9
Working Memory GCTB9.914.5+4.6
Visual Processing GCTB8.410+1.6
Word Attack GCTB7.38.8+1.5
Auditory Analysis GCTB518+13
Logic-Reasoning GCTB610+4

shannon status

A Child's IVIG Experience - Help is on the Way!

Thanks for your continued prayers for our family - especially for Shannon's well being. We appreciate everyone's support and understanding. Shannon is such a trooper !! She is so brave and courageous. She sat on her daddy's lap for the IV (needle) portion and even joked to the nurses that perhaps they should secretly get daddy with the needle instead of her? LOL ... Nurses found that hilarious - daddy - not so much. :-)

I got a bit nervous while waiting for IVIG MEDS to arrive because another little girl was so scared she ran away from nurses and parents screaming in horror. Shannon was the shade of a ghost by now .. so I found humor with it and no sooner had Shannon chuckling up a storm. The little girl was fine by the way. Behaviors like this are normal when their little bodies are not well. Shannon calmed down a bit and got a little color back in her face :-0

Next, we all hunkered down for what turned out to be 4 hours of IV drip within a total 6 hour day at the hospital. Children's of Philly is great and provided Shannon with whatever she wanted - we were even allowed to walk her and her IV pole to a computer room and set up shop there for a bit - so Shannon could play her webkinz online for a while. When she was just sitting in the chair in the pictures (via links below) they gave her a personal TV so she could watch a movie, play video games or watch cable TV. So, they really, really try their best to keep the kids minds off the discomfort. Of course, the water main break back home did not help and we tried not to show panic in front of Shannon while coordinating coverage for Sean who was getting let out of school with no prior notice. We got him home safely - Thank you Kathy (our sitter/teacher/tutor/the list goes on).

We had all the nurses and even the cleaning folks laughing hysterical at one point. I really do enjoy family like atmospheres ... we got all the people going with Tom does all the cooking and cleaning .. which Tom loved and the ladies were so jealous ... at first they looked at tom and laughed hysterically but Shannon made me come over and I admitted Tom does a lot of cooking and cleaning .. I did not say I have to tend to Shannon 24/7 but I know they could figure it out .. I did not want to add to Shannon's thoughts right now ... Thank God Tom steps up to help out. So then, I just took advantage of the humor for Shannon's sake and started telling the ladies what he can cook and they were like No Way? Get Out of Here! Tell me More! so you had to be there but we had everyone around "us" at one point which was great for Shannon. We got a good 30 minutes of belly laughs and by the time we left everyone was wishing we could stay just a bit longer. Call me a sap but I enjoy people and making a family wherever I go!

Blessings to all --- we will keep you updated on Shannon's progress. Thanks for continued prayers!