Hadley is a shy but sweet teenager who loves her family, friends and especially her dog, Buddy. From the beginning, school hasn’t come easy to her. Her parents first noticed something was amiss in second grade when they’d try to do homework with her and she’d cry and beg not to do it. Her writing looked more like a toddler’s handwriting and she couldn’t seem to stay focused on the class material. Her parents were worried – they knew she was smart, yet she struggled in virtually every subject in school, especially reading and math. They were determined to get her the help she needed and began searching for answers. A full neurological evaluation yielded diagnoses of ADHD and Dyslexia.
In 7th grade, her parents made the difficult decision to pull her from the school she knew and send her to a private school that specialized in students with learning challenges. But after two years, they hadn’t seen much progress. Says her mother, Ali: “A lot of people told us that this school was going to change her life, but it hasn’t.”
“At that point, we’d tried everything with very little improvement,” said Ali. “I had an epiphany that something had to be off in her brain that needs to be fixed at a base level. It felt as if her neurons weren’t firing, pathways were blocked. I couldn’t shake this belief that we had to find the root cause. Otherwise, we will just keep spinning our wheels, losing thousands of dollars in the process.”
Not knowing what else do to, Ali turned to Google. “As I went down the Dr. Google rabbit hole, I learned about primitive reflex integration, something I’d never even heard of but sounded like it could be causing some of Hadley’s challenges. Eventually I came across A Chance To Grow.” She immediately emailed Kelly Pittman, Director of ACTG’s Neurotechnology services, and during their first discussion, she knew that she was on the right track. “Talking to Kelly that first time was so refreshing because she totally understood our plight, having dealt with this type of stuff both as a parent and professionally.”
As she learned more about ACTG’s clinical services, Ali was shocked and disappointed that she’d never heard of the services that ACTG offers. “The holistic, natural, brain-based therapy made total sense to me. For the first time ever, I knew that we’d found a better path.”
"For the first time ever, I knew that we’d found a better path.”
First, Hadley began neurofeedback with Kelly to help her brain self-regulate more efficiently. “It’s very common for people to get stuck in a stress response on a daily basis,” says Kelly. “This can show up in a child’s behavior as “hypo” or “hyper,” either shut down or over-aroused. Neurofeedback addresses this, often improving social and emotional regulation along with academic skills.”
Next up is Neuro Integrative therapy, an approach developed at ACTG that combines several interventions that collectively promote brain growth and social, physical and emotional development through purposeful movement. The goal is to establish efficient neurological connections between the brain and the systems of the body to improve higher-level functioning.
Kelly also recommended that Hadley undergo functional auditory and vision screenings. These differ from the routine screenings where, when a child passes, it’s assumed that their hearing or vision is fine. But functional problems with eyes and ears that can seriously impede the ability to learn are not picked up by routine screenings. Says Ali, “I was floored to learn that vision played into learning as much as it does. We knew Hadley could read, but she still couldn’t comprehend. Now I know. Learning is 80% visual and if the eyes are misaligned or not tracking correctly, it can often be mistaken for ADHD and Dyslexia.” Hadley had a functional eye screening and sure enough, ACTG‘s testing found her eyes were a big part of her challenges. Due to her misaligned eyes, she’d skip words which heavily affected her comprehension. “As ACTG explained to me, she was having to work so hard just to stay aligned in reading words and lines, her brain wasn’t able to comprehend what she was reading. Hence, the enormous academic struggles. There is even speculation that Dyslexia might be a misdiagnosis all together.”
Hadley was also diagnosed with an auditory processing disorder (APD), which affects the ability to understand speech. Someone with APD might be able to hear well, but the auditory input is not correctly interpreted by the brain.
Although happy that she finally has answers that make sense, she wonders why it took her so long to find ACTG. “Never once in all of these years did a doctor say anything about brain-based therapies,” Ali says, the doctors just recommended medication. “I don’t understand why the medical community couldn’t or wouldn’t tell me about these other therapies and methods.” Hadley is 13 now, and if Ali and her husband had known about ACTG and their brain-based approach years ago, it might have changed the trajectory of her life.
"I hope anyone who is on their own neuro-diverse struggle finds ACTG. It’s the best-kept secret and I want everyone to know about it."
Now Ali wants to make sure that people who have neuro-diverse family members are aware of it. “I hope anyone who is on their own neuro-diverse struggle finds ACTG. It’s the best-kept secret and I want everyone to know about it. They truly want to help Hadley reach her full potential and I’m confident we’re in the right spot now, but even more than confident, I am so, so grateful.”
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A Chance To Grow provides a wide range of services designed to help people at all levels of ability reach their optimal growth. Our focus on brain function affords us the opportunity to offer many approaches that are designed to complement each other and improve quality of life. One family has been with ACTG since its beginnings, and their journey with us – beginning with Boost-Up, the program that is the basis for most of our programming, to clinical services, to PCA services. Their story provides insight into the impact of everything we do.
When ACTG began to explore the use of neurofeedback, a brain-training approach, Michelle was excited, and before long, she launched what became our Neurotechnology Program.
What is Neurotechnology?
What are Home-Based Services?
Michelle has made sure that her son and grandchildren participated in everything ACTG had to offer them. “Scott had auditory therapy, vision therapy and speech/language therapy here. Mike and Kyrie too, and also OT. And Summer Boost-Up.” She also made sure they got a lot of neurofeedback. “I think it built more brain pathways. All the things ACTG does is trying to encourage brain pathways, Neurofeedback was one way to try that.”
Scott, Michael and Kyrie will always have challenges, but the therapies received thanks to Clinical Services, Home-Based Services and Neurotechnology have had a substantial impact. Scott initially was very slow in speech, and while he still has trouble, his ability to pick up vocabulary increased. Michael, who was visually impaired at birth, has improved, thanks to the stimuli provided in vision therapy. Both Michael and Kyrie thrived in good school programs and continue to learn. ACTG helped all three build the foundation for continued growth. “You say ‘developmental delays’ but I say ‘delay.’ Because they are still making strides,” says Michelle.
Because of her experiences providing Boost-Up, Neurofeedback and PCA services for her family, Michelle does not think about them in terms of their limitations. “If you have a child with a disability, you have to use their strengths.” She notes, “It’s just a matter of standing back and giving them room to be who they are. Talk to them, give them the opportunity, that’s really important to them. Respect different ways of knowing, give them the opportunity to learn.”
When he was in school, “Scott was so curious about so many things that I could never get anybody to understand. He couldn’t read the stuff, he couldn’t take the test, but he learned. He learns by listening. He had all these difficulties with our traditional ways of getting information. For example, he can look at a number, he can’t tell you the name of that number, but if I were to put a 5 and a 3 on the paper, he couldn’t write the 8, but if I put 7,8,9 underneath, he could circle the 8, he knew the concept. It’s the same with letters. Now he is a fount of information, he learned to get himself around the Internet without being able to read and write. Now he’s reading better than he ever has.”
Like Scott, Mike and Kyrie keep on growing and learning, albeit in nontraditional ways. They love sports and have participated in Special Olympics, honing their skills with hours of practice. Kyrie, now 18, is still in a project-based school that allows him to explore his natural interests at his own pace, and where he can stay through transition. Mike, now 27, is interested in cooking. As with Scott, he knows a lot, but is less communicative than Kyrie. “His receptive information is much more than his expressive,” says Michelle.
Thanks to ACTG’s Clinical and Neurofeedback Services, all three have continued to make gains, and thanks to our PCA services, they have been able to do so with the love and support of those who know them best, exploring the world around them and enriching the lives of everyone around them.
“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.”