In case you haven’t been following this blog for long, 2 of our boys are adopted. 4 year old N has cerebral palsy, and many “quirks” we could never explain. He has mild asthma, allergies, chronic nasal congestion, frequent nosebleeds, stiff muscles, and a very short attention span. He also cries at anything and everything. 4 (almost 5) year old A was likely exposed to meth in utero. He may have mild seizures (docs disagree), has major balance issues, and does not understand or learn easily. He is confused and overwhelmed by change, and will mentally “shut down” as a result. Throughout their lives, both boys have spent many months going through all sorts of therapies, medical tests, chiropractic care, and naturopathic care, all in an attempt to help them reach their full potential. Unfortunately, none of this effort has helped me learn how to “deal” with their issues, as doctors and therapists have been unable to find reasons behind their many issues, so most doctors and therapists simply explained them away with “it’s probably related to N’s CP” or “it’s probably just a symptom of the drugs we think he was exposed to.” Since the professionals couldn’t figure out the root problem, they also couldn’t advise me as to how to best handle the boys in order to keep the day-to-day peace in our home when N loses control of his actions and/or A goes into his “shut-down” or tantrum mode.
Last year, friends recommended a new therapist who had a different focus. After reading up on her works, best summarized in her book, “Miracle Children” by Anna Buck, we were intrigued. Unlike the professionals we had seen previously who focused on treating symptoms or evaluated the main areas of the brain, Anna’s work focuses on neurological issues originating in the brain stem. Essentially, the main idea behind her work is that many, if not most, neurologically-related developmental delays and learning difficulties can be attributed to a lack of proper development of the brain stem itself. The brain stem is the first part of the brain to develop, both in utero and during an infant’s first year of life. As it matures, it then signals other parts of the brain to begin maturing. On occasion, however, something will go a little wrong in the early development and prevent the brain stem from maturing completely. As a result, the child will continue to develop, but he/she will begin to compensate for deficiencies in other ways, which mask the problems. This explains why A and N are both able to ride a 2-wheel bike with no training wheels, but can’t recite their alphabet. In reality, they never fully outgrow infantile responses to circumstances (ie, the morro reflex). Eventually, however, the immaturities will catch up, and delays will be seen in areas such as academic learning problems, balance issues, behavioral issues, and many more. Although a bit different than mainstream therapy, her work is quite fascinating, and actually makes a lot of sense–especially when, like in our situation, there have been no other explanations for the issues we encounter on a daily basis.
She is booked several months out, so it has been a long wait for our appointment. This past Friday, she finally evaluated the boys to see if her therapy could help them. The results were very interesting. We get used to seeing our boys on a daily basis, so I guess it’s natural that we justify and explain behaviors and quirks as them just “being who they are.” In reality, though, watching her evaluate them, and witnessing their responses to the exercises she asked them to do, we were able to see their behaviors through new eyes. It didn’t take long for us to realize that we were not watching 4-year-old boys play. Rather, we were watching 12-18 month-olds play, and they just happened to have big bodies. The more testing she did, the more clear it became.
It. Explained. SOOOOOO. Much! We realized we were seeing our toddler daughter, R, last year.
N’s constant crying and A’s temper tantrums are exactly how R acted when she didn’t get her way 8 months ago, as an 18 month old. Their inability to focus on a task or follow more than one or two instructions is where R was just a few months ago. Their lack of self-control and impulses are exactly the way a one-year-old responds to things. Our eyes were opened so much, and suddenly, puzzle pieces just “fit” together. I realized that many of my daily struggles were being self inflicted as a result of treating my 3 youngest like 2 pre-schooler and one toddler, when in actuality, I had 3 toddlers.
TRIPLETS!!! Who knew?! Somehow, this wasn’t good news to me, though. It totally explains why A, N, and R seem to speak baby-talk to each other on a regular basis, why A and N prefer playing with R’s toys over M’s and JR’s, and why they are no closer to learning phonics or counting higher than R is. They are literally on the same level, if not slightly behind in some areas, than R.
The good news is that Anna felt it was very treatable, and with specific exercises that target the brain stem, she felt N could possibly catch up within a year or two. She feels A also has a great chance of catching up, though it may take longer. There are different therapeutic exercises that will be prescribed over their time in treatment, but all can be done at home. The one we are working on first, based on their greatest ares of deficiency, is called the “Burrito.” I will post a video and explanation at the end.
Of course, there was bad news too. First, she explained how A’s inability to control his bladder during sleep can be directly attributed to the immaturity of his brain stem. She said we are likely looking at many years of bed-wetting yet, as it may be one of the last symptoms to disappear as his entire neurological system catches up. She explained that N’s allergies, asthma, and particularly his bad nosebleeds may not improve when we move (a big reason behind the kids and I moving early as a doctor thought the lower altitude and increased humidity would help), as they too may or may not be connected to his neurological development. She feels those issues have a good chance of improving as his brain matures and catches up though. Finally, probably the worst news I could have received at this point in time, was that the simple therapeutic exercises we do each evening will possibly cause things to get much worse before they get better. N fights the exercise a lot when we are actually doing the therapy, but seems unaffected otherwise. A, on the other hand, does well during the exercise itself, but has been affected quite drastically the rest of the day. Every day since we started, his entire mood has changed for the first half the day–for the worse. She warned us this might happen, because essentially, the exercises, ridiculously simple as they are, are extremely fatiguing to the brain (to put it VERY simply). The brain stem is literally being faced with its own shortfalls and trying to figure out where to improve the neurological connections (or something to that effect), and therefore, can temporarily cause all sorts of “misfiring” and behavior issues. As I type, A is once again screaming his head off in his bedroom. We have gone through phases of “shut down” where he won’t talk or play, phases of being extremely tired and just wanting to sleep, phases of aggression and acting out, and phases of almost inconsolable crying and screaming.
That is NOT what I hoped to get out of this therapy. It was hard enough to keep the peace before hand with A, and now this. It is a little overwhelming, and I can only pray that God will bring us through this stage quickly and smoothly, and give me the patience and endurance I will be needing this coming year as the boys work through all this. If it will help them in the long run, I am willing to try. Honestly, after everything we have tried so far, I am afraid to hope that such simple exercises will help them the way they need, but Anna seems confident, her research and case studies seem to support it–not to mention the fact she treats children from all over the world and does have such an incredibly long waiting list. I am trying to be positive, to not expect any major changes for at least a year (since an infant normally takes a year to mature this area of the brain stem properly), and to just take it one day at a time with A, reminding myself constantly that even though these phases are hard to deal with, he is not doing them intentionally. Again, he is simply a 12 or 18 month old acting out, just in a 5-year-old’s body. Believe it or not, somehow, that last concept makes it a little easier to deal with. These changes also show, according to Anna, that SOMETHING is happening with his brain because of these exercises, and that is a positive in itself, even if we temporarily seem to be going the wrong way. It is all a process of his brain having to figure out where it is lacking, where it has been covering up and compensating, and trying to re-develop properly this time.
In the event you are interested, the exercise we are working on now is called “Burrito”. I honestly don’t fully understand how it works for the brain, but apparently it does something to cause all sorts of nerve firings and brain stem stimulation, as the body is slowly moving and compensating for the angle and sensations it feels. First, the boys lay on a soft, stretchy blanket, with their head sticking out one side, and their feet out the other. Their arms are beside their body. I began rolling them slowly….VERY slowly…in the blanket, transitioning from their back to their belly, and then returning to their back. The whole exercise takes about 4-5 minutes. If at any point in the roll their body stiffens or otherwise “fights” with certain signals Anna told us to look for, then I stop rolling and just allow the brain to work through its issue. Once they relax again, I resume rolling. At the end of the exercise, I have to use sensations of squeezing, rubbing, and “poking” to stimulate other nerves. One day, we roll one direction, and the next day, we roll the other direction. Again, I don’t fully understand how it works, but I’m willing to try.
In this video, you’ll notice we are quiet. I cannot explain what we are doing, or the boys could begin to force what they perceive to be what I desire, rather than allowing their brain to figure it out on its own. At the same time, to minimize distractions, we try not to have the other children being too noisy or distracting. Notice that N LOVES this exercise, and is all smiles the whole time. Notice, also however, how squirmy he is, how his head is constantly moving, and how he just can’t seem to keep his arms down at times. Even when laying on his belly, his little bum keeps bouncing up. Those are all signs of his fighting whatever issues his brain stem is trying to deal with. According to Anna, the brain has to work through a lot of insecurities that have developed as a result of his learning to compensate for deficiencies in the brain stem. Sounds totally confusing, I know. Anyway, maybe that gives you some idea what you are seeing in the video.
For more information on therapist Anna Buck, or the work of Anna’s House LLC, click here.