Parents searching for information on child development and answers for their children who struggle with developmental problems are faced with many options. Especially today, when so many people have jumped on the “brain plasticity” bandwagon, it can be difficult to sort out the experts from the pretenders.
One of the most common questions we get is “What makes the REACH Family Institute’s method (Holistic Brain Development) different from other approaches to child development”? There are many ways in which our approach is different but here are five significant differentiators that separate REACH from everyone else.
The REACH difference starts with experience. Charles and Conceição Solis, the directors of REACH, are pioneers in the field of child brain development. Long before former President George H. W. Bush declared the 1990’s as the Decade of the Brain, Charles and Conceição were teaching parents how to transform their children’s lives by taking advantage of the phenomenon of brain plasticity. For 40 years they have guided parents all over the world.
Their work with children spans the entire range of functional ability, from the child in coma to the above average child, and includes work with such diagnoses as profound brain injury, cerebral palsy, autism spectrum disorders, Down syndrome, developmental delay, learning disability, dyslexia, epilepsy, ADD/ADHD and many others. While most of their work involves infants, children and young adults, they have, on occasion, worked with adults, the oldest being a 75 year-old grandfather of a child on program. With their help he regained the ability to walk after two years of immobility following a stroke!
They have taught parents of every social class, from uneducated and poor families in the worst slums of South America to highly educated and well-to-do families in cosmopolitan cities like Rio de Janeiro and Paris. They have consulted for a former President of Venezuela in La Casona (the Venezuelan White House) and members of Pope John Paul II’s Swiss Guard in Vatican City.
In addition to teaching parents, Charles and Conceição also trained more than 200 professionals in the REACH Method. These professionals include doctors specializing in Pediatrics and Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, Physical Therapists, Occupational Therapists, Speech Therapists, Psychologists, and Special Education Teachers. By training other professionals Charles and Conceição’s work has reached many thousands of very poor families who had no hope for their children.
The achievement of each child’s highest potential through the development of the whole brain is our one and only goal.
All children can benefit from the REACH Method. When children function well, it enhances ability and accelerates development, increasing a child’s chances of success and decreasing the possibility of developmental problems developing later in life. When children have developmental difficulties, it often enables them to overcome their difficulties and achieve their highest potential.
We are only interested in transforming children’s lives. We have no interest in teaching a child with difficulties how to live within the confines of his/her problems. That is simply not good enough. It’s a disservice to the child and the parents, it’s negative and pessimistic, and it is woefully self-limiting.
We have too much respect for the amazing miracle of the human brain and the incredible potential within every child to waste even one minute doing anything but shooting for the stars. Living up to that standard is a pretty hard thing to do. But, quite frankly, we have no choice! When we shoot for the stars we might not make it there… but we know we will go much farther than if we do otherwise. Our kids and families deserve no less.
Focus on the Brain
Here at REACH we have a laser focus on one thing and one thing only, the development of the human brain. The reason for this is simple – all physical, intellectual, and social ability is the direct result of the natural and orderly development of the brain. Therefore, optimum brain function is a prerequisite to the achievement of one’s potential.
The REACH Method takes advantage of brain plasticity, the human brain’s extraordinary ability to change its anatomical structure and functional organization (physiology) in response to experience. While Charles and Conceição Solis have taught this principle to parents for decades, the medical and education communities are just now beginning to appreciate its significance.
The importance of brain plasticity is incalculable because it means that functional ability can be created where it does not exist and improved where it does.
- Children with learning difficulties can become successful learners.
- Children of below average ability can become children of above average ability.
- Immobile children can learn to move and, eventually, to walk.
- Cortically blind children can learn to see.
- Neurologically deaf children can learn to hear.
- Well children of average ability can become children of exceptional ability.
It means that every child born has vastly more potential than we ever dreamed possible!
We, along with parents, create these changes often. We see brain plasticity in action. Obviously, we cannot guarantee success; nevertheless, we know the potential for it exists. Which means there is always hope, even for children with profound brain injuries. To deny this hope is to deny biological reality.
Because the REACH Method is directed at the development of the human brain, it applies to children across the spectrum of functional ability from the child who is comatose and therefore has no ability to the child who is above average in physical, intellectual, and social ability.
Children are Children First
When we evaluate a child with developmental difficulties our focus is on ability rather than diagnosis. The entire purpose of our evaluation process is to discover that child’s level of functional ability in six areas – vision, hearing and understanding, tactile ability, mobility, language and manual ability. We want to know what the child can do, how that compares to what we might expect for his/her age and how we can help him or her to do more.
In a world where children are regularly labeled with a long list of diagnoses and where the focus of attention is on disability rather than ability, parents are usually greatly relieved to discover that we waste not one minute compiling a list of all of the things their child cannot do.
The reason for our focus on ability is really quite simple – it’s how the process of brain development works. Babies are born with certain primitive abilities. As the baby uses these abilities, the brain changes. As the brain changes, higher levels of ability emerge. As the baby uses those abilities, the brain changes. This is an elegant illustration of how function (seeing, moving, feeling, etc.) determines structure (new neurons, dendrite growth, etc.). It’s a basic law of nature.
So, for us, children are children first. How they measure up in terms of their level of functional ability is simply a reflection of their degree of brain development and organization. Every child sits somewhere on a “continuum” of brain organization depending on how well developed the brain is. When seen in this light, the limitations imposed by labels disappear and are replaced with a positive outlook based on the dynamic nature of brain organization.
Of critical importance to mothers and fathers is the sense that they have some measure of control over their child’s well being. This is so deeply engrained that it is part of the very nature of being a parent. Whether caring for a sick child, helping with a difficulty in school, dealing with a problem in behavior or teaching a child how to throw a ball, parents naturally want to be involved.
However, for parents of a brain-injured child, this natural desire to be of help is frequently suppressed. Consequently, a difficult situation becomes worse as the parents, perhaps for the first time in their lives, feel completely powerless and, therefore, can only see themselves as inadequate. There is nothing in the world more painful or more frustrating.
Here at REACH, we turn that typical situation on its head. By design, the REACH Method empowers parents with the knowledge and confidence they need to transform their child’s life. We do this for two reasons. First, it is the family’s responsibility to develop, educate, and care for all of its members. Second, because parents are the first and most influential teachers any child will ever have. There is no greater or more dynamic learning team than that of the family.
There is a very simple reason for this. Parents love their children more than anyone else in the world. We, at REACH, have loved, in our own way, virtually every child we have seen. But the quality of a parent’s love is different from our love. It is not very scientific to talk about love. You can’t measure it with a ruler; you can’t put it on a scale and weigh it. Nevertheless, we have watched it work miracles for many years. It just makes good sense to take advantage of something like that!
Hopefully, this post helps to distinguish the work of the REACH Family Institute from other organizations working with children. We firmly believe that our approach and results stand head and shoulders above the many options parents must weigh. Perhaps you see the world of children the way we do. We’d love to welcome you to our family.
Vive la difference!