Linda Nesenson has been part of A Chance To Grow’s family – and we’ve been part of hers – since 1994. Her journey mirrors ours, as this story demonstrates.
Linda’s second son, Matthew, born in 1988, began having issues with focus and hyperactivity as a toddler. By the time he was in kindergarten, the impact was obvious: “He was so overwhelmed with everything that was going on,” remembers Linda, “he would just laugh and laugh, he didn’t know what to do. He would go full force and conk out.” He was so disruptive to the class, he spent half the day in the hallway on a chair because they didn’t know what to do with him.
By the time he was six, his pediatrician had diagnosed him with ADHD and had put him on Ritalin. “It wasn’t doing anything, so they just wanted to keep upping and upping the dosage,” recalls Linda, “so he developed a tic, eye blinking, and I said, ‘no, we’re not doing this.’ The saving point came when I saw a flyer advertising the Boost Up Program.”
This was being offered by New Visions, ACTG’s alternative school designed specifically to help children like Matt who had trouble learning. As part of his enrollment process, Matt received a number of assessments he’d never had before. “His pediatrician never asked me, ‘did he crawl on his tummy, did he creep on his hands and knees?’ I had no idea that was important. I had taken him to the eye doctor to have his vision checked and they would tell me his eyes were healthy and that he had 20/20 vision, but at New Visions, where they did the telebinocular screening, I learned that he had depth perception problems and his pinch grasp was very weak, which explained playing catch and holding a crayon to color was of no interest.”
At the time, New Visions offered the occupational and vision therapy Matt needed in addition to the Boost Up program, so Linda enrolled him there in 1994. Like Matt, his cousin Ryan was also struggling and he was also enrolled in the school. Her cousin was a paraprofessional in the 1st grade, where Matthew and Ryan started. Linda soon started volunteering in the classrooms, and was ultimately hired as an educational assistant in 1998. Her sister, Ryan’s mother Teresa, came to work in the school office shortly after. When New Visions school came under the umbrella of ACTG and moved to the current location (later in 2003), her husband Gary came to work as a janitor, and so the family affair continued.
At the time, New Visions was housed at St. Bridget’s and offered Boost Up for children in grades 1-8. Students went to Boost Up five days a week as part of their daily schedule. There, Linda knew Boost Up was where she wanted to be. The success of the program with those students led the staff to consider ways to bring the program to more children. Hence the Minnesota Learning Resource Center, and the S.M.A.R.T. Program (Stimulating Maturity through Accelerated Readiness Training) came into being. Designed to easily incorporate the Boost Up approach into K-3 and Pre-K classrooms, the program has trained thousands of teachers in Minnesota and across the country, providing countless children with the brain development needed to succeed in school and beyond.
Matthew stayed with the program through the fifth grade. In addition to occupational and vision therapy, Matt and Ryan received brain training via Audio-Visual Entrainment (AVE), which helps people self-regulate emotions. Both boys began to improve. “Matthew could handle the group situation, he wasn’t sitting in the hallway, he just got more engaged, more involved in what was going on, he could read, he was learning, he was calmer.” Linda recalls that Matt’s kindergarten teacher had predicted that he would never be able to read. After he had been at New Visions for a while, the paraprofessional took him back to that teacher’s room, and said “Matthew would like to
read something for you.” And he did.
Today, Matthew is grown up, steadily employed at a local store for the last seven years, and the father of four-year-old Xander. “If it wasn’t for my experience with New Visions, with A Chance to Grow, I would not have been able to recognize early that Xander had challenges. “First thing is the speech, he wasn’t saying words and he’s not playing like a neurotypical toddler.” He was diagnosed with Autism, low on the spectrum and sensory seeking. She told Xander’s mom that she should bring him to ACTG for an occupational therapy evaluation. Today, Xander is receiving speech and occupational therapy at A Chance to Grow.
While Matthew left New Visions for middle school, and has since gone on to lead a wonderful life, Linda remained at ACTG. It was her second career, after spending 25+ years in the telephone answering service, but, she says, “Boost-Up became my first love.” Over the years, her involvement has grown and changed, just as the agency has. Eventually, she also worked for the AVE program, Vision program, and as it expanded, the Clinical Services department as a clinical assistant. She has never formally retired because, as she says, this has become a family affair too. “The people here, they mesh so well together. I think it’s because the love and dedication they have in helping children be successful is a common goal. She says, because of that shared goal, “the staff is like family, too.”
“All therapists are there for the children’s best interest. It’s obvious to see. They have no other motives but that.” —Emma Milliken, Josh’s mom
In Fall of 2010, Emma Milliken experienced something that many parents do. Her son’s kindergarten teachers told her and her husband that their son, Josh, struggled to follow directions, write and pay attention. Josh’s teachers suggested they take him to the doctor to be evaluated and possibly put on ADHD medication.
As motivated parents and natives of England, the Millikens felt skeptical about this route for their child.
"American culture is to ‘go to the doctor and get drugs,' but that is not our way,” Emma said.
While researching other options and talking with other parents, Emma became aware of Vision Therapy and its amazing results. Emma opted for this route; first taking Josh for a Vision Therapy evaluation at another site. She also decided to have Josh evaluated by A Chance To Grow’s Audiologist, Dr. Sara Cook. During Josh’s evaluation with Cook, Emma asked about the difference between A Chance To Grow’s Vision Therapy program and the other program where Josh had received an evaluation.
“Vision Therapy at A Chance To Grow is very child-specific rather than a formal, ‘cookie cutter’ program that you will see at most other places,” Cook said.
Recognizing this and the convenience of having all her son’s needs met under one roof, Emma had Josh assessed for Vision Therapy at A Chance To Grow. After the exam, The A Chance To Grow optometrists concluded that Josh had unintegrated primitive reflexes and suggested Occupational Therapy. While Vision Therapy was an option, it was likely the desired results would not occur without first working on Josh’s primitive reflexes. Impressed with the honesty of A Chance To Grow’s staff and motivated to do everything she could to help her son, Emma took Josh to see Julie Neumann, A Chance To Grow Occupational Therapist. Neumann informed her that Josh’s left and right brain were only integrated 20%. In January 2012, Josh began working with Neumann.
“Watching my son work so hard and struggle with such basic things has been a humbling and challenging experience for me,” Emma said.
Seeing the hurdles ahead, Emma and her husband chose to pull Josh from school to concentrate on getting him on track for the following year. After about eight months of vigorous OT work with Neumann, Auditory Therapy with Dr. Sara Cook and intense reflex work at home, Josh returned to school.
“The teacher told me that Josh is a completely different child,” Emma said with tears in her eyes.
Josh’s teacher even asks him questions like, “Remember when we did this same assignment last year?” And he’ll respond, “Yes, but that was when my eyes weren’t working.”
Extremely happy with her family’s experience at A Chance To Grow, Emma has now placed Josh in EEG Biofeedback with Neurotechnology Director Becky Aish, and he is set to finish his OT work with Neumann in December!
“He’s confident and happily on the same level as his peers,” Emma said. “My heart goes out to parents who don’t realize ACTG is here. All therapists work for the child’s best interest. It’s obvious to see. They have no other motives but that. This program here is amazing and more people should know about it. Josh can feel the difference A Chance To Grow has made within himself.”