This Grad Took a Village!
Congratulations to my son Dan! To see him in a cap and gown marching as part of the Class of 2014 brings more joy and pride than I imagined possible.
Hope Allows for Possibility
Four years ago, when Dan was 13, I gave serious thought to Dan’s future. A vocation would be fine, but what? He was bright at disparate skills, but missing the real-time thinking speed needed for most careers. The changes I saw from week to week with clients allowed me to believe more was possible. We kept plugging away with the hope of a healthy and active Dan would re-engage his brain somewhere along the way. Lo and behold it did!
In seconds, our lives changed in unfathomable ways. Suspecting six-year old Dan had pneumonia, we paid the ER a visit one April weekend. When told us they had called the oncologist, we inadvertently stepped onto a different track in life moving at warp speed—learning medical terms and living hour to hour, day to day. For many years, we lived a life of medication schedules, lethargic fatigue, brain fog, social failings, and roller-coaster behaviors. Keeping up at school was a nice thought, but keeping him alive had a higher priority. The count down to the end of chemo was in months—38 months (that’s really 3+ years, ouch.)
A huge milestone, this ending marked the beginning of a less defined journey—recovery.
Child Cancer Survivors Are Different Than Adults
In addition to the typical challenges adult cancer survivors have of fatigue and chemo brain, children have more complex nuances to every aspect of their being since their development was impacted. They have yet to develop physically, metabolically, hormonally, cognitively, socially, and emotionally. The children had their “pause” button pushed while their peers marched onward.
In our case, Dan’s frustration mounted as the gaps grew over the years. Professionals were able to assess these gaps and we received an IEP for accommodations at school. Unlike the rigorously defined protocol for cancer treatment, there is no protocol for catching up in life. We had to create our own.
Late Effects of Childhood Cancer
In addition to the daily academic challenges of quirky processing and academic gaps, there are health concerns specific to cancer survivors. Metabolic syndrome, secondary cancers, and cardiovascular issues related to the chemo drugs are a top concern.
Other common long-term effects of chemo are fatigue and poor coordination. What a paradox! He needed exercise to improve his long-term health prognosis, but the effects of the chemo made it genuinely hard to move.
For kids, “chemo brain” is worse than bad. While trying to add new academic skills, chemo created holes in foundational knowledge and memory processes. Dan’s very odd gaps in function perplexed everyone. His teachers complained constantly of him sleeping in class after 20 minutes of work, not realizing his brain’s capacity for learning was 20 minutes. Reading tired him out faster since the visual processing is also a brain task. He hated to read, a problem for work in grades 5 and above.
Recovering His Movement; Recovering His Brain
Years of limited activity left his muscles shut down which impacted circulation which impacts brain development. I’d like to say I was able to put Dan back together in a handful of sessions. That doesn’t honor the complexity of what happened to him, nor the brain development that got messed up along the way. Although his bone marrow was producing blood cells commensurate with being cancer-free, the rest of his body was more like a toxic swamp. We needed help.
Keeping Dan calm and energetically balanced has been the realm of Cynthia at Spark of the Heart. A few visits with Kerry at Healthy Foundations to address metabolic function perked up Dan’s neurotransmitters. With better neurotransmitters, I could begin getting his muscles to remember to talk to each other and work together. Dan began to be more active with his friends.
The next roadblock was with his posture. There were two specific aspects of his cancer treatment that left him very rounded in the back and hunched at the shoulders. Work from Physical Therapists Mimi at Re:Fit Glenview and Theresa at CARE Physical Therapy helped him open upward. I was finally able to get his core to function and his head to sit on top of his shoulders. (There are dramatic photos but he won’t let me post them.)
Reading at Last!
As his posture and movement changed Dan began to read voraciously. In one year he read more books than he had in the past 8 years. Important things were beginning to change! Processing time was improving and he was getting more homework done. (Those of you with homework completion goals on your IEP should talk with me.)
There were still gaps, but they were getting harder to figure out. I enlisted the expertise from Marlo at 2E Consulting Services in Colorado. (Dan had originally tested gifted before first grade, but lost nearly 20 IQ points after chemo.) Through educational assessments, we were able to tease apart specific areas and skills still holding him back overall. Dan functioned like someone with a Traumatic Brain Injury.
This was helpful knowledge for school since they could begin to relate to the TBI label. We had specifically actionable information allowing Dan to feel validated and let the school address concerns from different avenues. The terms “defiance” or “uncooperative” became less used in school feedback.
More brain recovery was needed. Healthy Foundations helped with brain function related biochemistry and CARE PT helped me restore micro-movements related to Dan’s head. He lost the nickname of “Turtle” as his rounded shoulders went away.
Better Movement Yields Better Social Life
Show me a teen whose first concern isn’t for something related to their friends. A vibrant social life is the most important thing at this age. The “old” Dan had a few friends; they weren’t friends who were concerned about school or societal norms.
The “new” Dan who moves better and thinks more clearly also has better his social skills. New friends are calling and hanging out; friends who are planning futures in college or military service, are generally thoughtful, respectful, and fun. The single greatest desire of parents for their children is to have friends. I can begin to rest; Dan has friends!
As Dan’s health, behavior, and cognitive abilities improved, so has all of our planning horizons. We can plan for semesters instead of weeks at a time. After six years of special education out-placement, Dan was able to successfully transition back into the regular high school with regular classes this past year.
In the course of his IEP meetings it was clear that his improvements are the exception and his transition back is seldom seen. The schools were used to vocational placement planning, not academic transitions to college. (Personally, I think this is a colossal failure of our educational system; a topic for discussion over coffee.)
Dan is looking forward to college in the fall. Talk about emerging organizational skills and taking responsibility—he coordinated all of the contact with the school, scheduled testing and orientation, and got all the paperwork completed on time. His room at home is habitable and he has figured out how to do a project at school, despite never having done one in all of his years in special ed. Yay!
By analyzing and integrating emerging research on early movement development, it is clear that specific early movements are essential to cognitive skill development. The joy of children mastering skills they’ve struggled with or the clarity of thought adult clients gain, each happens consistently when micro-movements are restored. Sometimes it takes a village, but the most amazing part is that it happens!
From infants to adults, we restore your micro-movements quickly returning you to the activities that define your life.
A Note from Cara
Congratulations to our clients who are celebrating a major milestone in life—graduation!
I’m so proud of my son Dan and his accomplishments as he graduated from high school this week. Many students are receiving recognition for special accomplishments ranging from academics to sports to arts, and I want to recognize Dan for his unusual special accomplishment.
Dan’s special accomplishment was recovery—recovering physically, emotionally, and cognitively from his three years of leukemia treatment (ages 6-10.)
With help from a bigger village, Kinetic Bridging® was a cornerstone to some pretty amazing changes. It’s been a labor of love and he’s doing great in every aspect of life!
I like to believe anything is possible; it may involve expertise from others and the sessions may spread out over months or years, rather than weeks.
What has changed in Dan over the past few years is both awesome and inspiring.
May it inspire you too!