Thursday, January 22, 2009

Parents with Purpose

As Henry mentioned, I spent the day at a seminar on brain development. I don't even know how to begin to summarize the day.

So here are a few concepts:

1) Children need lots of opportunities to move their bodies so that their brains can develop. Things that limit mobility, like allowing a baby to sleep in a car seat (when not necessary for safety), putting toddlers in an ExerSaucer or playpen, putting newborns to sleep on their back, electronic babysitters like the TV and video games are bad for brain development.

2) A healthy diet and circadian sleep patterns are vital to brain development.

3) When a child is struggling with learning, programs that focus only on cortical learning (like special reading programs or tutoring) can be very frustrating to children whose brains are sending jumbled information. Occupational Therapy and spontaneous play that involves crawling, running and so forth will stimulate the midbrain to function the way it should and then learning will happen spontaneously. It is kind of ironic. The more time a child is confined behind a desk, the harder it can become for him to learn.

The speaker, Donna Bateman, founded a company called Parents with Purpose. We hired her to do an evaluation on Baby Bop and to create an occupational therapy program to help him.

Her evaluation matched our own conclusions. Baby Bop's brain did not develop properly during the 2-8 month stage when much of the mid-brain develops. He spent much of that stage strapped into a car seat and suffering from malnutrition.

This kind of deficit manifests itself in some quirky little ways. Donna made a loud noise unexpectedly with a boat horn and Baby Bop didn't even flinch. He obviously could hear the sound, but he didn't respond to it. When she rang a bell on the right or left side of his head, he would turn his head. However, when she rang a bell over his head, he would not look up until she had rang it 5 or more times. Again, he could obviously hear it, but he didn't respond. I want to be clear. This is NOT about hearing. This is about how the brain processes input.

Baby Bop had trouble following a two part command without hand gestures. At first, I wondered if he was just being a "terrible two." A few minutes later after we had moved on to something else, he completed one of the commands. Donna explained that this is again an auditory processing issue. Without visual cues like pointing, it took Baby Bop 2-3 minutes to process the request. This wasn't him being disobedient. This was a brain function issue.

While Baby Bop is 28 months old, she gave us a "neurological age" of 18.7 months and a ranked him as having a "moderate bilateral extensive brainstem and midbrain injury." As a side note, his neurological age is almost the same number of months he has been in foster care. I call his time before foster care the "black hole."

Donna then mapped out a 5 module OT program to help his brain develop the functioning he missed. I really worried about this. We have friends whose children are on this type of a program and the father does an hour of OT every day before he leaves for work. I wondered how could I fit that into my life.

Well, I really like how Donna implemented the program. The first two weeks we are to do nothing but get ready.

The second two weeks we do only the first module, which in our case is a daily foot and body massage for reflex patterning.

The third two weeks we continue with module one and add module 2 which has a short exercise 10 times a day for audio processing.

Every two weeks we add another module until we are doing all 5. As he progresses, she will then increase the complexity of each module, or dropped modules that are no longer needed and add new ones that focus on another brain function.

Donna also does OT as a family plan. All my children are involved in the OT process.

I image we will end up at the hour a day mark, but in a way that should not put me over the edge. Because we homeschool, we can also spread out the OT over the whole day.

I would say more, but it is late and I've got to get to bed.

Bottom line: This has really changed how I look at behavior and brain development.

Technorati tags: brain, development, damage


Shez said...

An hour of OT a day seems daunting at first, but when you break it down the way you are planning, it is easily attainable. My now nearly 8 year old son was diagnosed with a severe developmental delay at age 9 months. At that stage he was unable to roll, was a stiff as a board and developed intentional tremors when we held a toy at his midline. He was able to grasp the toy if it wasn't at the midline, but at the midline he could only put up his hands and shake. I was told that I needed to do 2 hours of PT with him a day.

I worked out that much of what the PT wanted could be turned into play. It's easy to play with a tiny tot for 2 hours a day, so it was easy to do two hours of PT a day.

It's a tough road but hopefully you will be as successful as we were with our son. Ben is now considered gifted and is a whizz at gymnastics. 7 years ago I was told to redo my home as he would probably never walk. Talk about a change.

I would have loved to have attended that seminar. I'm fascinated by the brain. Have you read "Brain Rules" by John Medina? I have used so much of that information in our homeschool. Likewise with the books by Jane Healy (

Marni said...

I'm really interested in this, too bad it's not closer to home. I've got a 10 year old son that I know processes things differently. We talked to a neurologist once that after a few minutes of examination told me he is very right-brained, that things like math would always be hard for him (they ARE), but that we would be surprised by what he does artistically (we ARE). :) I've seen other things like brain gym, but it would be nice to have something specifically prescribed for him.

Janine Cate said...


It is nice to hear from someone who has been there and done that.


I would email Donna. Sometimes she will travel to do an evaluation or will give you ideas of things to do by email or over the phone.l

Tiffany @ As For My House said...

First off, may I say that you are beautiful people for the care and love you're giving Baby Bop.

I was also really excted to hear about the brain science, as I have recently been reading about that myself. Check out my review of the book Brin Rules (and a chance to win a free copy!) here:

jessica said...

Janine, I really liked the brain information! I think every young mother should know about brain development. Thanks for the info! I'm going to try and do some more reading on it later, if you have any recommendations, send them my way! :)
-niece Jess

Crimson Wife said...

Did you travel to Texas or was the evaluation done while Ms. Bateman was in the Bay Area?

My 2nd is in speech therapy and in general seems very "young" for his chronological age. He also was the one of my babies who absolutely LOVED being in the swing and later the Exersaucer. Your post has got me wondering if maybe an OT program might help him.

Janine Cate said...

Yes. We had the evaluation done in the Bay Area.