United Nations Commission

In March of 2016, Conceição and Juliana were delegates at the United Nations for the 60th Commission on the Status of Women where they advocated for the right of families to be an integral part of the development and education of their children.  Conceição was a lead speaker at a special meeting on refugees on the subject of “Empowering Mothers to Parent with the Brain in Mind.”

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Conceição & Juliana at the United Nations

 

As a result of their conversations at the UN, Reach was invited to contribute to a compilation of articles focusing on specific targets of the Sustainable Development Goals discussed during the UN Commission.  These articles were recently published in a book entitled Family Capital and the SDGs: Implementing the 17 Sustainable Development Goals.

Reach’s contribution is below and serves as a great outline of “Parenting with the Brain in Mind™” during the first two years of life.

 


Using Family Capital to Achieve the Sustainable Development Goals

SDG #4 Quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities

#4.2 Quality early childhood development, care and pre-primary education

Purposeful Parenting – Parenting with the Brain in Mind™

Goal #4.2 of the Sustainable Development Goals is to ensure that all children have access to quality early childhood development, care and pre-primary education so that they are ready for primary education.

This lofty goal is particularly challenging because it includes children from all cultural and social backgrounds, many living in very difficult circumstances. Poverty and trauma negatively impact the developing brain. Children living in poverty experience higher levels of developmental, learning and intellectual disabilities. Traumatic stress results in more problems related to anger, aggression and lack of compassion and empathy.

Beginning with the assumption that basic needs like food, shelter and safety are being met, achieving this goal will require that we focus on two things, the magnificent human brain and the family.

The brain – More than any other stage of development, the early years of a child’s life determine who that child becomes as an adult. When we look at early brain development two factors stand out. First is that the young brain develops at an astonishing rate. By the age of 2 years old, the brain is about 80% of the adult size! Second is the phenomenon called brain plasticity, the ability of the human brain to modify its structure in response to sensory stimulation, the use of motor function and the presence of adequate nutrition. Recognizing the importance of proper brain development in the first years of life is a critical first step in ensuring that children will enter school ready to learn.

The family – Given the importance of good brain development, it is fair to ask who is best suited to accomplish this? Based on 40 years of clinical and teaching experience at the REACH Family Institute, I know without question that the answer is the family. Parents are the best coaches and teachers their children will ever have provided they understand how the brain develops and how to apply that knowledge in practical ways in their daily lives. Why are parents best at this? Because nobody else loves a child more than his parents and immediate family! This is the anthropological reality of the family bond.

In our work with parents throughout the world, we teach them how to parent with the brain in mind, an approach to parenting that we call “Purposeful Parenting”. When we combine parental love with knowledge about “Purposeful Parenting” the results are powerful not just for that child and his family but for the community and society in general.

Our experience teaching “Purposeful Parenting” shows that it is both effective and economical. In Venezuela, where we worked with families from the low end of the socio-economic spectrum, parents of children with developmental difficulties were highly successful at accelerating the development of not only their struggling child but also the development of their other children. So there is a ripple effect that begins with one child, extends to others and eventually reaches an entire community.

Parenting with the brain in mind is not as complicated as it might seem. After all, parents successfully raised children for millennia until professionals took over. But it does require that the needs of the child be placed first and that all other needs follow, something that is not always easy or common in our modern society.

Professor James McKenna, former head of the Anthropology department at the University of Notre Dame and a leading expert on SIDS, says “Selecting a pattern of social care for a baby is essentially selecting a pattern of physiological regulation for the baby. They’re one and the same thing. There is no distinction.” Which is Dr. McKenna’s way of saying that the child’s needs come first and how parents meet those needs matters.

Here are some simple, practical and easy to implement steps that will have a profound impact on your child’s development.

 

Purposeful Parenting Best Practices

Newborn to 3 months

Often referred to as the 4th trimester, the first three months of life are a time for parents to get to know and bond with their new baby. Newborn babies are completely dependent on their parents for the fulfillment of all biological and physiological needs. Nature simply assumes that the relationship between baby and mother, which begins in pregnancy, will remain throughout the first years of life. How a mother is able to fulfill her role as her baby’s physiological regulating system affects how her baby’s brain develops and thus affects the baby’s future. Modern culture tends to rule in favor of decisions that separate mother from baby and the consequences of this decision may be greater than we think. The following best practices are particularly important in the early months of life and, ideally, should be extended for at least the first year if possible.

Sleeping arrangements – Nature intends for mother to be in close proximity to her baby so that she can respond to the baby’s biological and physiological needs in a timely and loving manner. Sleeping close to mother provides for this and promotes brain development. Sleeping with or close to baby is normal. It has been done for nearly all of human history, is done throughout the world and serves important biological purposes.

Breastfeeding – Breastfeeding provides the ideal nutrition for babies. In addition, it is an ideal opportunity for emotional bonding that involves extensive touch as well as mutual gaze. Mutual gaze is the term neuroscientists give to that special moment when mother and baby’s eyes are locked in a dance of mutual admiration. Neuroscience research shows that the development of empathy and compassion is directly dependent on the number of mutual gaze experiences a baby shares with a primary caregiver (usually mother) during the first year of life. Think about it, every time you and your baby are looking into each other’s eyes you are growing his brain and helping him become more compassionate!

Skin to skin tactile stimulation – Touch is critical to the development of babies especially in the early months of life. Research shows that when premature babies are caressed or massaged frequently they gain weight faster, spend less time in the hospital and are less stressed. The most convenient time to provide this kind of stimulation is during breastfeeding. Infant massage is another great form of skin-to-skin tactile stimulation.

Respond to crying – The newborn baby’s way of communicating is through crying. That is how they express their needs! It is very important to respond in a timely manner when a baby cries so he learns that he is safe, loved and cared for. You can also communicate with your little one. Talk and sing to your baby. Let him know how much you love him, how tired you are and so on.

Tummy time – Human babies are designed to start moving on the tummy! Provide frequent brief moments throughout the day for your baby to spend time on the tummy. Every time your baby is awake and you are not changing, feeding or loving him put him on his tummy. As baby grows and gets stronger you can increase the time he spends on his tummy. Complete freedom of movement is important so make sure his arms and legs are free so he can easily move them. Make sure you are with your baby at all times while he is on his tummy. The first thing you will notice is that your baby will resist the force of gravity and try to lift his head. Do this often and he will very quickly strengthen his neck and develop good head control.

 

3 to 6 months

Floor time – By 3 months of age the baby should have good head control, enjoy being on his tummy, be looking around at whatever is at his level and be making lots of arm and leg movements trying to move. The more opportunity you give the faster and earlier he will learn to crawl. Baby’s arms, feet and legs should be bare and he should be on a smooth surface to make it easier for him to move. At this stage you can place your baby on a clean, warm, smooth floor or a firm, smooth mat. You should be on the floor with him, talking, singing, reading books and playing with him. As your baby gets stronger he will be able to play with toys while he is on his tummy. The baby will learn to roll from tummy to back and vice versa. Eventually, your baby will start to move. At first, your baby may turn in circles or go backwards but eventually he should learn to go forward. Now he needs the opportunity to tummy crawl a lot! This is a very important stage of development and should not be skipped.

Sensory Development – Continue to provide baby with lots of pleasant tactile opportunities like tickling, caressing, hugging and so on. Musical instruments are fun at this stage but if you don’t have them you can use whatever is around your house. Kitchen utensils, Tupperware and pots and pans make great instruments for you to play for your child. You should talk a lot to your child. The more you talk the earlier he will understand language. Everything around your child is new to him. So, the environment you are in provides lots of new things for you to teach. Every time a child sees a new thing his brain is developing. Take advantage of this!

 

6 months to 1 year  

Floor time – Now that your baby is army crawling a lot he should be very strong. The next important stage is called creeping. Creeping is when a baby is moving on his hands and knees! At this stage you want to give your baby lots of stimulation to develop balance – swinging, holding him close and spinning, rocking, etc. By now your baby should have good head control but make sure this is done in a safe manner. As balance improves he will get up on his hands and knees. At first, he might rock back and forth but once he feels confident he will begin to move forward. At this stage a carpet or a firm mat is the ideal surface but babies can creep on almost any surface. Now he needs the opportunity to creep a lot!

Sensory Development – As for the rest, continue following the previous advice for providing visual, auditory and tactile stimulation, gradually making everything more sophisticated.

 

1 to 2 years

Floor time – If you have given your baby lot’s of opportunities to crawl on his tummy and creep on his hands and knees he should be getting ready to walk. Keep doing lots of balance activities, rocking, swinging, spinning and so on. Your baby will walk when he is ready. It might be at 10 months, 1 year or 14 months. The important thing is not how early he walks but that he has he gone through all the important stages of mobility! If he has, from here on just keep giving him the opportunity to use his function. He will keep getting better and better.

Sensory Development – Continue reading to your baby, talking and playing. Just keep increasing the sophistication of everything you do and HAVE FUN watching and being part of your baby’s development!

 

Fit for the Brain: Buy this, Not that! – The best mat for tummy time

Coach John Wooden, former head basketball coach at UCLA, won ten NCAA national championships in a 12-year period, including a record seven in a row. Coach was fond of saying that it’s the little details that are vital to creating success on the court and in life. His wisdom also applies to the development of young children. I’ve got a little details tip for you today that can make all the difference in getting your little one’s mobility off and running… or should I say crawling? Assuming that the brain is functioning well, every newborn baby is an athlete in the making. The mobility pathway that eventually leads to elite physical performance begins at birth and what happens in the first year of life is critically important. I have written about this in a couple previous articles – Mobility – the Key to Brain Development and Olympic Performance and Brain Development.

In the early months of life the main mobility objective is to develop good head and trunk control and for your baby to become comfortable with being in the prone position (on the tummy). But the grand prize is crawling on the tummy for transportation. And this is where paying attention to little details can make a huge difference.

Crawling on the tummy is difficult work! Your baby has to move across the floor with the entire torso in full contact with the surface. Naturally, this causes a lot of friction, thus making movement more difficult. To the extent we can reduce friction, we can make crawling easier. Try crawling on a plush carpet compared to a linoleum floor and you will see what I mean. So, what to do?

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“It’s the little details that are vital.                       Little things make big things happen.”           Coach John Wooden

The answer lies in the little things. In order to facilitate movement we need to minimize friction with a surface that is smooth (like linoleum) and firm, but not hard. We’ve done the research and tried all kinds of surfaces in our work with children who have mobility problems. The best product we have found for them and for little babies is the Tumbl Trak Tumbling Mat. It is smooth, firm (but not hard), colorful, measures 4 ft x 8 ft and folds neatly for storage. The mat comes in two thicknesses, 1-3/8 in or 2 in. For little babies, the thinner mat is perfectly adequate. If you’d like to use the mat for tumbling when your child is older then the 2 in mat is the way to go.

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Many parents place their babies on cloth baby gyms or soft foam ABC play mats or tiles. These may be cute and comfortable but they are entirely unnecessary and make movement more difficult, not easier. Cloth baby gyms usually have a mobile overhead so parents tend to place their baby on the back so baby can see the mobile. That’s nice for vision but it interferes with mobility because babies move on the tummy not the back. A cloth baby gym is fine when your baby needs a break from tummy time and you can also use it in conjunction with the Tumbl Trak Mat to provide an incentive to move forward. Foam ABC play mats or tiles make for a cute room decoration and they cushion falls nicely but they also make movement difficult because they have a rough non-skid texture which creates friction. You have to be careful how you use this equipment. Our advice is don’t waste your money on things your baby doesn’t need especially if they interfere with good brain development.

The Tumbl Trak Tumbling Mat is not cheap. So, think of it as an investment in your child’s future. Nothing influences human brain development and organization more than mobility and how that happens in the first year of life is critical to everything that follows. Your investment will pay huge dividends for years to come.

Let us know how it works for you and feel free to write with questions.

Other related Posts:

Disclaimer: We are in no way affiliated with Tumbl Trak and they do not compensate us for recommending their mat. If you follow the Amazon link in this post we do receive a small portion of the sales via Amazon Affiliates. Any money made from those sales goes directly to supporting the mission of the Reach Family Institute.

2016 Annual Appeal

Dear friends and supporters of the REACH Family Institute,

Charlie and I hope you all had a great year, a wonderful Thanksgiving with your families and are looking forward to a healthy, peaceful and successful 2017! We are writing today to say thank you for your interest in our work, to share some wonderful results with you and to ask for your support.

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Our goal is for every child to reach their potential. We envision a world full of valued, capable and compassionate children. It’s a tall order and we need your help! We know that there are a lot of needs and many good causes to support. So, we want to share with you our children’s successes, our goals and our needs for the upcoming year. In the past, we have shared a story of one of our children with you to demonstrate what is possible. This year I want to give you a broader picture of our children’s results. Here are some reasons to consider supporting the REACH Family Institute.

At each visit we ask parents to give their opinion of their child’s overall progress since the last visit. This year they voted as follows:

  • Excellent – 36%
  • Very Good – 41%
  • Good – 18.5%
  • Fair – 4.5%
  • Poor – 0%
  • Zero – 0%

We track results in many areas. Here is the percentage of children with:

  • Improved Vision – 64%
  • Improved Reading – 32%
  • Improved Understanding – 68%
  • Improved Language – 50%
  • Improved Manual Ability – 54%
  • Improved Coordination – 73%
  • Improved Balance – 41%
  • Improved Reaction to Pain – 23%
  • Increased Strength – 41%
  • Increased Endurance – 36%
  • Decreased Hypersensitivity to Sound/Touch – 50%
  • Improved Health – 41% including decrease in seizures

In children with Social/Behavior issues:

  • Improved Behavior – 100%
  • Improved Social Skills – 86%

It is important to point out that this year in addition to the above results we have…

  • 1 child who was cortically blind who can now see
  • 1 child who could not read who can now read and
  • 1 child who started reading at the age 15 who can now read well at age of 17

REACH serves children with many diagnoses whose difficulties range from severe brain damage to mild learning difficulties. No child is ever denied help because of the severity of their problems. We empower parents with knowledge and how to apply it. The results are often dramatic!

There is nothing more rewarding and fulfilling than seeing a child thrive against all odds! What is sad and frustrating for us is when a family has financial need and we don’t have the funds to help them. Medical insurance does not cover our program and we do not receive funds from any governmental entities. We count solely on consultation fees and on donations from good people like you who believe in our work and want to be a part of the solution.

This year our Home Program population doubled from the previous year, for which we are extremely grateful. Our goal for 2017 is to keep the momentum going and double it again. We greatly appreciate your support and thank you in advance should you be moved to make a financial contribution. Please donate by check or online.

Wishing you and your family a Peaceful, Happy and Blessed Holiday Season!

 

Conceição and Charlie Solis

REACH Family Institute

It’s RESULTS that count!

This month, we are highlighting Rosalie Kisling, one of our Home Program graduates. Rosalie’s story is one of incredible transformation. We tell her story because everybody knows a Rosalie. You know a Rosalie! Most often, the Rosalies of the world suffer in quiet obscurity. They function just well enough to fly under everyone’s radar and yet poorly enough to fall through the cracks.

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We work with kids across the functional continuum from profound brain injury to above average ability. Most people think the kids at the low end of the continuum are the ones who have the hardest time of it. But that’s not true. It’s the kids like Rosalie who have the hardest time. The truth is society looks at kids with severe developmental difficulties and forgives them for their problems.  Society looks at a kid like Rosalie and finds her wanting. She looks like other kids. She can do everything other kids can do, just not as well. If she doesn’t perform as well it must be because she is lazy or dumb or a troublemaker, etc. etc. Eventually, those simple learning and behavior difficulties become major learning and behavior difficulties with complicated psychological and self-esteem issues that haunt her for a lifetime.

But, what if that view is wrong? What if the root cause of mild difficulties is the same as the root cause of severe difficulties? What if learning and behavior difficulties have an easily understandable cause, and what if that can be changed?

Read on and you’ll see what I mean.

Rosalie was born in April 2001, the third of four children. Rosalie’s mom was concerned about her development from early on.  At 18 months, a developmental psychologist evaluated her and concluded she was at a 9-month level physically and 11 months mentally. The psychologist recommended early intervention. So, Rosalie began early intervention and from 18 months to 3 years old she was followed by occupational and speech therapists and then discharged. At the age of 4 ½, still having difficulties, she was evaluated at Oregon Health Sciences University where they determined that developmentally she was within 1 month of her age. When mother asked about her learning difficulties she was told there was nothing to do about that until she was in school.

Rosalie attended 2 years of preschool and 1 year of kindergarten with children 1 year younger than her. Going into 1st grade, Rosalie was seven years old and behind her five year old sister in reading and math abilities.  So, before 1st grade started her parents asked for help from her school and were told once again that she had to wait. This time she would wait until she was in 3rd grade when the school would administer standard tests for reading and math. At that point the school could determine if she qualified for special services.

Outraged by the suggestion of once again waiting until her child became a bigger failure before getting help, Carrie reached out to the children’s doctor. He recommended they contact the REACH Family Institute as he had a patient diagnosed with Autism who was following REACH’s Home Program with impressive results. Carrie contacted us and we saw Rosalie for the first time in August 2008.

At the Initial Evaluation, her parents main concerns were her learning difficulties, her low self-esteem and her immature behavior. In our functional evaluation, we found Rosalie’s lowest area of function to be her level of understanding. She had no understanding of abstract concepts which explained her difficulties learning to read and learning math despite the fact that she had been kept back in school by 1 year.

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Rosalie’s behavior was very immature and unpredictable. She had major tantrums, what her mom called “meltdowns”, many times a day. Rosalie had very low self-esteem to the point that although she could speak she would not do so with people outside her home. Even in school she rarely spoke. Rosalie had very few friends and the friends she did have were all much younger than her. Finally, Rosalie had poor coordination and poor balance and often did all she could to avoid engaging in physical activities.

Rosalie followed the REACH Home Program for 5 years. We focused on the development and organization of Rosalie’s brain. Why? Because that was the problem. Rosalie’s learning difficulties, her behavior problems, her low self-esteem were all rooted in poor brain development. So we treated the cause. And Rosalie flourished. Learning became easier, she became a voracious reader (how about a Harry Potter book in one weekend?), the “meltdowns” diminished, coordination improved and along with these changes Rosalie’s confidence increased. It took time and hard work but gradually Rosalie blossomed. The big goal then became a successful transition from elementary to middle school, something that can be challenging even for kids who are doing well. In 2013, once Rosalie successfully made the transition to middle school we knew she no longer needed us and she was off program. It was such a great victory!

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So, where is Rosalie today? We asked her mom, Carrie, for an update so we could feature her in this newsletter. Here, in italics and unedited, is what she wrote:

Hi Conceicao and Charlie,

I’m not exactly sure what format you want this in, but I’ll just use descriptions and you can put it in paragraphs, cut and edit or whatever you want.

School – Rosalie is in 8th grade now. She has all A’s and one C (due to an assignment that all of the class did poorly on. She has the opportunity to re-do it, but we are working on getting her to do that. 🙂 ) Conferences were just a couple of weeks ago. All her teachers say she is a hard worker, good listener, and is very quiet. 🙂 Seriously – they all mentioned that she is very quiet – unprompted. I got a kick out of that. 🙂 She asks for help when she needs it, but is hesitant to engage in group or whole class discussions. (So was I at that age!) I am so proud of her! She’s gone from a struggling student to a competent, confident one who works hard and does well!

Band – Band is a class at school, but she is enjoying it. She plays the clarinet. She got selected to be part of the honors band! And is taking leadership a bit in this class. She is a peer tutor (8th graders help 6th graders after school one day a week.). She is also going to participate in the annual solo and ensemble competition. She’s doing a duet with a fellow clarinet player.

Ballet – This past summer, Rosalie decided to try ballet with one of her best buddies. She wanted to do it in the summer, because there was no performance involved. 🙂 At the end of the summer, she was enjoying ballet so much, she decided to continue, and will perform with her class in May in the showcase. It’ a pretty big recital! One would never know she used to lack coordination! She is so graceful, and just seems built for ballet. She says some of the new moves are difficult, and she has to work harder than her classmates to figure them out, but can laugh at herself and keep trying. 

Japan – Ever since Katie went to Japan in 8th grade, Rosalie has wanted to go. She interviewed for the trip last year, but didn’t get selected. We had pitched it as a practice year, so she was not in the least discouraged. This year, she once again applied for the trip. She had to write an essay about why she wanted to go, what she could contribute, and what she could bring back to tell her friends. She had to have two teacher references, and do an interview with a teacher, answering questions about the trip. She did a good job on all those, and she and her sister Natalie both get to go this year! 

Rosalie is very responsible! She does her homework right when she gets home, lays out her things for the next day before she goes to bed, and keeps her room clean. She loves to read – spends hours at it. One of her favorite things to do is to take her iPod outside, put on some music and dance away as if she hasn’t a care in the world, and as if no one is watching her. 🙂 I love to watch her – she really feels the music. She likes to dance in the vineyard. 🙂 She also loves to swing. Being outside is Rosalie’s happy place. 🙂

Sometimes it takes Rosie a bit more thinking to process something, or understand something (like a sports game), she still likes to know our plans (doesn’t like not knowing what’s going to happen) and she has teeny tiny silent tantrums when she’s not happy – usually because I’ve asked her to do something she doesn’t want to do at the moment. 🙂 (What 14 year old doesn’t quietly stomp their foot, slump their shoulders, sigh or roll their eyes once in a while?!) 

So that’s about it! Sorry if this is too long! And I hope it’s not too difficult to edit. 🙂

Thanks for all you do! We attribute Rosalie’s success to your caring, diligent work with her and us, and all we learned from you both! Yes, I know….you will say she and we are the ones who did all the work. 🙂 But we couldn’t have done what we did without your love, knowledge, support, wisdom and teaching. THANK YOU!!!!!!

Love, Carrie

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These are the kinds of changes that are possible for nearly all children who struggle like Rosalie once did. There is absolutely no reason why any child must endure the pain and suffering that goes along with learning and behavior issues.

We chose Rosalie to demonstrate what can happen when we focus on ability rather than diagnosis, when we work on changing the brain rather than treating symptoms, when we shoot for real progress rather than accommodation, and when we empower parents with the knowledge and tools they need to succeed as their child’s most influential teachers.

But, the important point is that Rosalie’s results are not unique. Every child who experiences difficulties in learning and behavior is a child who can benefit greatly from the REACH Home Program. All it takes to change the trajectory is to make the decision to focus on the right things and for parents to get involved. Surely you know a child who sounds just like Rosalie. Please share this story with that child’s parents. You may just save him or her a lifetime of frustration and failure.

World Congress of Families IX

The World Congress of Families (WCF) is an international network of pro-family organizations, scholars, leaders and people of goodwill from more than 80 countries that seek to restore the natural family as the fundamental social unit and the ‘seedbed’ of civil society (as found in the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights, 1948).

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Conceição and I have been actively involved in pro-family work since the early 1980’s. The reason for this is really quite simple. Much of our work involves trying to help children with developmental difficulties. Those kids need every advantage they can get if they are to overcome the obstacles that lie in their path. So we always shoot for ideal circumstances because they give us the best chance of success. Our experience working with children demonstrates clearly that the key element in successful physical, intellectual, emotional and social development is the family. There is something about the anthropological reality of the family bond that increases a child’s chances of doing well in life. Modern science teaches us much about the neurobiology that underpins this family bond. It tells us that each parent brings unique gifts to the table, gifts that cannot be replicated or replaced. We need to recognize that and celebrate it.

We defend every child’s right to life also for very practical reasons. Many people view the children we work with as drains on society. In a materialistic, utilitarian culture it just doesn’t make good sense to spend resources on those who do not produce. It’s true, many of our kids will never be productive citizens in the materialistic sense. Because of this our kids are on the front line of the “life” issues. They are the first victims of abortion and often are victims of infanticide. We fight against this for many reasons but primarily because it is based on a false premise. Life is full of mysteries and this is surely one of them. Despite functional difficulties, every child has a life purpose, every child has value.

IMG_5831Our families (parents, brothers and sisters, etc.) and their wider community get to see this on a regular basis because they change along with their child. The growth experienced through working with a brain-injured child is, I suppose, unique to each individual. Although I have been under its spell for four decades, I still find it difficult to describe exactly what happens when one works nose to nose with a brain-injured child. It is not an earth shattering event, but rather something that happens quietly, beneath the surface of the daily activity. It is an experience that somehow makes one a bit more human and a bit more humane. I like to think of it as food for the soul – spirit nourishing spirit. Truth is, in one of life’s great paradoxes, I think the brain-injured children of the world are our most precious natural resource. This is not because of what they can do because, obviously, so many of them can do nothing in a functional sense. Rather, it is because of what they do to us. When one sees the amazing impact these children have on the lives of everyone around them; when one sees that this impact often continues long after they have left their earthly existence; there is little else that needs to be said about their dignity and worth. That’s why we fight to protect them!

This was our first time back to the World Congress of Families since I spoke at the World Congress of Families II in Geneva, Switzerland in November of 1999. It was an exciting and exhausting week at the magnificent Grand America Hotel as guests of the Sutherland Institute of Salt Lake City. The week was filled with stimulating lectures, meetings with leading pro-life and pro-family advocates and non-stop networking with families and professionals. We did interviews for the Christian Broadcasting Network, the C.L. Bryant “America on the Edge” radio show, and the “Watchman on the Wall” TV program with Errol Naidoo, President of the Family Policy Institute in South Africa.

There were many highlights. Here are just a few. 

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  • Nic Vujicic, an internationally renowned motivational speaker from Australia who was born without limbs, gave an incredible presentation on overcoming life’s challenges.
  • Several fantastic presentations on mother/baby bonding and the neurobiology of fathering and mothering. Best of all, we made great connections with those professionals.
  • And finally, another in what we have come to call a series of “God-incidences” in our life. On the final evening, Conceição was waiting in line with thousands of other attendees for the closing event, what would turn out to be a sensational concert by “The Piano Guys”Conceição Solis - Version 2She struck up a conversation with the woman standing behind her and the woman asked Conceição if she had ever heard of “The Institutes for the Achievement of Human Potential” in Philadelphia. Conceição answered in the affirmative and explained how she came to the US in 1977 to train at the Institutes and worked there for several years. The woman then told Conceição that she had done the Institutes program with her son starting in 1979. Once inside the concert hall Conceição introduced this woman to me, we exchanged pleasantries and contact information and promised to stay in touch. A few days after we returned home Conceição received an email with the picture to the left attached. That’s Conceição, age 24, teaching this family their intelligence program at their Initial Evaluation! What are the chances that the two of them would randomly meet again some 34 years later?

Run for Reach

 

runforreachChicago Marathon 2015: Run for Reach


Run for Reach

On Sunday October 11th I am running the Chicago Marathon in support of the Reach Family Institute. Please help me raise awareness for Reach’s work as well consider donating to help me reach my goal of raising $2500 to support their cause. (All donations are tax deductible)

If you know a family that has a child with disabilities or is simply concerned regarding the progression of their child’s development, please let them know that they can contact Reach for a free 30 minute online informational session with Charlie or Conceição.




About Reach


For those who do not know, Reach’s mission is to transform children’s lives by empowering parents and professionals with knowledge and tools related to human brain development and purposeful parenting.

My involvement with Reach began after Juliana I started dating and I learned more about the work of her parents. Over the years I have come to know the many stories that make up the history of Reach and have seen first-hand the impact of their work. Now being a parent, myself, I feel even more connected to their mission.

Their work with children spans forty years and the entire range of functional ability, from the child in a 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.

Read more about the Reach Difference.

All of the Reach families have chosen to place their roles as parents at the forefront and have made a conscious decision to learn more about their child’s developing brain so that they can actively help their children reach their full potential. For all of us, parenting can be likened to a marathon. There are ups and downs; struggles and triumphs; it is a commitment. For parents of a child with a brain injury the road can be even more challenging in terms of the work that is put in along the way to helping their children accomplish what many of us take for granted. The families on the Reach Home Program go all in. They put in many hours of work with their children and it is often a family effort with siblings and other loved ones participating to make incremental changes. It’s not easy. But the results can be extraordinary! The power of hard work, determination and love can do amazing things. 


Marathon

Over the last five months, I progressed from only being able to run 2-3 miles to running over a half marathon weekend after weekend through hundreds of miles of training. Unfortunately it has been far from smooth sailing. In May, my wrists and shoulders were so sore from pushing Jack in the running stroller that I could barely hold him and in July I tweaked my knee and was off training for 10 days. After completing the Chicago Rock and Roll Half Marathon in July I worked my way up to 14, 15, and then 16 miles while Juliana pulled Jack along side of me in our Burley Bee trailer. The support of my family and little shouts of “Run Daddy Run” helped push me along; however, all the running took its toll and I injured my peroneal muscle and tendon in my left calf that put training on hold for a month. After meeting with Dr Reilly The Running Institute and a few weeks of physical therapy with Emily at Athletico I have the green light to give it a shot. It was these struggles that held me off from sending this letter earlier. I didn’t want to start raising money if I ultimately wouldn’t be able to run the race. My training is way off and while I know I won’t hit my planned time, my goal is to be on the line on race day and give it everything I can.

My marathon isn’t the first time that Reach has had somebody raise awareness for their cause through a tough journey. Ten years ago, Gabe Shonerd hiked the entire 2,658-mile Pacific Crest Trail to also raise awareness and donations for Reach.

While a marathon or coast to coast hike make for good analogies for the effort and investment that the families on the Reach Home Program make, it hardly compares to the daily challenges that they endure.

Please help me by donating to this cause and helping raise awareness for the Reach Family Institute. Again, if you know a family that might be interested in a consultation, please put them in touch with Charlie and Conceição –admin@reachfamilyinstitute.org





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It’s RESULTS that count!

 

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It is our great joy to introduce you to Isaac. We are sure you will find his story inspirational.

Isaac is nine and a half years old and the older brother of Raquel. We saw him for the first time a year ago. Isaac came diagnosed with a Sensory Processing Disorder and Pervasive Developmental Disorder, a condition that placed him on the Autism spectrum. Of course, we pay little to no attention to those labels as they tell us nothing about who Isaac really is and how he functions.

Isaac’s parents first suspected his difficulties when he was about two years old but there were red flags almost from the very beginning. In reviewing his birth history, we learned that he had a prolonged labor, cord strangulation and fetal distress. He was very irritable as a baby. As he developed into a toddler, he had sensory hypersensitivities particularly in tactile function. At about two and a half years of age he learned to read on his own, an early indication that despite some difficulties he was a bright little guy. Speech was very late in developing, with first words coming at around two years. Most concerning was Isaac’s social development. He could not get along with other children.

Isaac’s mother gave us the following list of functional problems.

1. Isaac’s behavior was volatile and unpredictable. He averaged 2 to 3 major tantrums or emotional meltdowns per day. Meltdowns often lasted an hour and he could become very violent. Almost anything could set him off. Particularly upsetting to him were situations where the spotlight shined on him. Ask him a question, complement him in front of a group and look out! A perfectionist, if he tried to do something and did not succeed, look out! Isaac’s mom expressed her real fear that these emotional outbursts would escalate and become more violent as he grew into his teen years.

2. Isaac often became obsessed with thoughts. Once he had a thought in his mind, he could not get rid of it.

3. He had a poor understanding of cause and effect.

4. His understanding of spoken language was very literal. He could not “read between the lines”.

5. He had great difficulty expressing himself verbally, particularly with regard to his feelings.

6. He had frequent absences where he completely tuned out.

7. He had great difficulty reading social cues in people and had very few friends.

8. He was very cautious physically. He had problems of coordination and balance. Anything that was high or fast was a problem. He could not ride a bicycle.

9. He had almost no self-confidence in his abilities.

Based on our evaluation of Isaac’s neurological function, we designed a developmental program for Isaac which consisted of brain organization activities like tummy crawling, creeping (hands and knees), walking and balance activities. Along with his physical program, Isaac also had several intellectual development programs to improve his understanding. Additionally, we stressed the importance of good nutrition and suggested, based on Isaac’s symptoms, that he eat a gluten-free diet.

About one month after we saw Isaac, his mom posted the following message on the REACH Facebook Page. “My 8 year old son Isaac started the REACH program about a month ago and I am amazed at the progress he has made in such a short amount of time. He went from 2 or 3 extreme meltdowns per day to maybe 1 per week. This is remarkable with being home for the summer and having to deal with his 5 year old sister! LOL. He is also trying new things! From new foods, to giving people more hugs, to taking more risks at the park. His awareness of others and social communication has improved tremendously as well. I am beyond grateful for all your help and guiding my son to his true potential”.

In May, we saw Isaac again for re-evaluation and the changes in him were amazing! Significantly, his behavior improved dramatically. His meltdowns decreased from one per week to virtually none. His mom reported that the last tantrum was on Valentines Day and there was a very understandable explanation for it. So, no tantrums in three months compared to 2 or 3 tantrums per day at the beginning. Also, now when he did have a tantrum, it was much less intense and quickly diffused. Instead of being completely out of control for up to an hour, now Isaac can pull himself together in a matter of minutes. Isaac is now in control of his emotions!

We also saw a big improvement in Isaac’s general understanding and as a result it is much easier to reason with him. Mom also reported that he is much more creative and uses his imagination a lot more. Along with increased understanding, there has been a big improvement in language. Isaac’s speech is much more spontaneous and he is much more comfortable expressing his feelings.

We also saw tremendous improvements in Isaac’s mobility. His coordination and balance are much better resulting in better crawling (now in cross pattern), creeping and running (also in cross pattern). He runs faster and his movements are much smoother. In addition, Alex can now hop and skip, and is much more adventurous and willing to take physical risks. The change in his self-confidence is almost unbelievable! American Ninja Warriors you’ve been put on notice!

Along with all of those functional changes, Isaac is chewing much better and his appetite has greatly increased. Finally, he no longer has any absences at all… completely eliminated!

What an incredible joy to be a part of helping Isaac develop into the delightful boy he has become! When we think back on the first day we met him it is almost unbelievable that he could have changed so much in one year. Knowing that his parent’s fears for the future have turned into hopes just makes his transformation all the sweeter. Bravo for Isaac and his mom, dad and sister for doing the hard work that made it possible!

 

The REACH Difference

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.

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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.

Experience

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.

Results Oriented

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.

Family Centered

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!

It’s RESULTS that count!

From the very beginning of our work with children, we challenged establishment doctrine regarding virtually every aspect of child development. We did so because we found the status quo wanting. We believe we have much better answers for the development of children, answers anchored in a deep understanding of how the human brain develops.

That said, in the end, REACH exists to transform children’s lives. It is not our theories about brain development that count but rather our results.

With that in mind, each issue of our newsletter will feature a child on program and the results achieved. We hope these stories of the REACH Method in action inspire you as they inspire us.

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We want to introduce you to Gulian (right). He was born in August of 2008, the second child in a family of two boys. As a baby, Gulian had very poor muscle tone, a weak grasp, a weak cry and he slept a lot. His parents described him as being “too good”. For us, all of these symptoms raise red flags! Nonetheless, aside from an early diagnosis of epilepsy, Gulian’s development was considered “normal” and no therapy was prescribed.

Gulian came to REACH just after his fifth birthday. At that time, from a neurological perspective (which is the only perspective that matters!) he was functioning at about the level of an 8-month-old baby. He was what we lovingly call a “nobody home” kid. His eyes were vacant, there was no sparkle. It was as if… well, as if there was nobody home! Part of the reason for that “nobody home” look was the three powerful medications Gulian was taking for his seizures. While they sometimes suppress the seizure activity, they almost always suppress everything else.

Our evaluation of Gulian revealed a long list of functional problems. He had very poor vision, understanding at about the level of an 8-month-old, and tactile problems. He had very poor muscle tone, and any attempt at moving resulted in significant trembling. He could not crawl on his tummy, although he could creep a bit on his hands and knees like a bunny. Gulian still could not walk. He could make some sounds but had no words of speech. Gulian’s hands were flaccid so he had a very weak grasp and essentially no functional use of his hands. Finally, there were many physiological problems. He had severe constipation. He drooled. He had a poor ability to swallow and chew, which resulted in him often choking on his food.

Based on this evaluation of Gulian we designed a program to accelerate the development of his brain and thereby increase his rate of functional development.

Six months later, we saw Gulian again and the change in him was astounding!

The first thing we noticed was a significant increase in his awareness. Gulian was more “tuned in”, more present. He was more curious, more interested in what was going on around him. His eyes had life, sparkle! There was somebody in there! Now there was “somebody home”!

The second thing that was obvious was that Gulian was walking! For 5 years, he struggled to learn how to move and never learned to walk. We got him walking in 6 months! What a thrill to see him taking steps and to see the joy written all over his face. His parents kept it a secret from us, as they wanted to see the look on our faces when he gave us his first demonstration. Gulian was much stronger, had better muscle tone and was trembling much less. He also had better coordination and much better balance.

Gulian’s vision improved – a perfect pupil reflex, much better visual pursuits and now, eye contact! His function tactile improved – reaction to pain, hot and cold temperature extremes, reaction to pleasant tactile sensations. Gulian’s understanding improved dramatically. He could follow simple instructions, was playing with toys, entertaining himself and showing interest in playing with others.

Gulian’s ability to communicate with sounds improved and he started saying two words consistently and with meaning. His manual function improved. Along with the rest of his body, his hands became stronger and with that his grasp improved and became more sure and he started using his hands more.

Then there are the physiological changes. Gulian was no longer constipated. His drooling decreased, his chewing and swallowing significantly improved and as a result, he was choking a lot less.

In the year that has passed since then Gulian has continued to progress beautifully.

His vision keeps getting better and he now has perfect visual pursuits, better convergence, a less obvious strabismus and much better visual acuity. He now has normal response to pain and light touch. Gulian follows instructions better, watches TV and can follow the program and smiles and laughs appropriately at the dialogue. Gulian now has more of a brother-to-brother relationship with his older brother and he now plays with the family cat.

As his walking ability continues to improve, Gulian is becoming more confident and more adventurous. This is the direct result of better balance and coordination. The muscle tone in Gulian’s hands is now normal and he is using his hands a lot more.

Gulian’s chewing ability continued to improve and, as a result, he has a much bigger appetite. His seizures have decreased significantly and he is taking less medication.

It has been an absolute joy to watch Gulian blossom. Kudos to his mom and dad for believing in his potential and for doing the hard work to unleash it!

 

 

Good News in the Pacific Northwest!

 

We apologize if anyone received an old blog post to their inboxes yesterday morning.  We experienced some glitches with our system. The information below is what should have gone out.

We’ve got some good things going on here in the Northwest that we want to make sure you all know about.

The first is an article about our work that just appeared in the Catholic Sentinel: http://www.catholicsentinel.org/main.asp?SectionID=2&SubSectionID=35&ArticleID=28314.  We encourage you to take a moment to read it and share it with others!

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The second is that we’ll be hosting our first workshop of the year THIS weekend up in Portland.  How to Unleash Your Child’s Hidden Potential will be presented at Holy Rosary Parish in Portland OR on Saturday February 28th from 9 am – 4:30 pm.  The workshop is perfect for parents whose children have been diagnosed with any kind of developmental difficulty (Autism/PDD/Asperger’s, Cerebral Palsy, Down syndrome, Dyslexia, Learning Difficulties, ADD/ADHD, Brain Injury, etc.) or those just concerned with how their child is developing.

More information and workshop registration can be found at: http://www.reachfamilyinstitute.org/workshops/how-to-unleash-your-childs-hidden-potential-portland/

Please pass this information along to anyone in the Portland area who you think might be interested!