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Potential – What’s your maximum?

She has so much potential.  He’s not living up to his potential.  With work they can reach their maximum potential.  All common in the vernacular of our current world.  I heard it (and said it) in my work life as a manager.  And I hear it in the context of my children all the time.  Adjudicators at dance say it.  Avi’s choir director says it.  It’s something people say frequently to either indicate that someone is not doing as well as expected but could improve with work (this is usually meant to be encouraging), or to indicate that they are doing as well as could possibly be expected, (usually with a negative connotation in that the expectations are kind of low).

Potential is defined by Cambridge as:

1. possible when the necessary conditions exist

2. someone’s or something’s ability to develop, achieve, or succeed.

When I think about potential of a human (or lack thereof), I like to combine these two.  Someone’s or something’s ability to develop, achieve, or succeed is possible when the necessary conditions exist.  Take Berrik for example.  (I know, I always take Berrik for example). The more I learn about Berrik and put the necessary conditions in place, his ability to develop, achieve AND succeed increases.  This can be applied to any human, neurotypical, learning disabled, physically disabled, cognitively disabled or otherwise. Incredibly gifted athletes make the Olympics because they and their parents sacrifice many other things to create the ‘necessary conditions’ in the form of diet, training, etc. For some the ‘necessary conditions’ may be more complex than others, but generally speaking, this is how it works.  For all of us.  Even bacteria or viruses develop and succeed when the necessary conditions are in place.  Remove those ‘conditions’ either through medication, diet, or other means, and the bacteria or viruses fail to thrive.  Mold…another good example.  My sourdough bread develops and succeeds if I put the necessary conditions in place.  I could go on.  (and I usually do.)

If you google “quotes about potential” you will find a large number of quotes referring to ‘maximum potential’.  I don’t care for these quotes.  I would argue that there is no such thing as maximum potential, because that suggests there is a limit, and that somehow we can predict it.  Having a child with learning disabilities magnifies this idea of ‘maximum potential’ and the risks associated with putting a limit on potential.  More than once in Berrik’s short school career, someone has put a limit on his potential, either verbally or in writing.  I believe that labels contribute to this tendency toward predicting and limiting potential.  It’s not the only factor, but it can provide a catalyst in a system that is not well resourced for kids who don’t have an easy time in a classroom environment.

Nothing makes me more frustrated than someone assuming a child (particularly MY child) has limited potential.  And if I worried about Berrik’s potential in the past, I worry much less now.  The gains he has made this past 10 months have been mind blowing. I wouldn’t have expected so much growth in such a short amount of time.  And despite a major shift in my own expectations, he continues to surprise me.  And I continue to shift my expectations upward.  Most importantly, I believe his potential has no limits.

Sir Winston Churchill once said:

Continuous effort – not strength or intelligence – is the key to unlocking our potential.

I love this quote.  I love that it doesn’t talk about maximums.  I love that it reminds us that success (however that looks for each individual) takes continuous effort.

As I type this, Berrik is writing a story and is on his third page.  In January he started ‘journal writing’ with one simple sentence.  Today he is using a planning template to plan a story using topic sentences, details, transitional language and powerful endings, and is writing; willingly, albeit slowly at times.  I believed we would get to this point eventually.  In January I would not have believed we’d be here already in April.

img_8508So often, particularly with kids with differently wired brains, learning disabilities, or any other disability, we are quick to focus on what they cannot do.  Often teachers/therapists will talk about strengths, but the system (and sometimes the imposed limitations on perceived potential) result in lack of ability or desire to truly build on those strengths.  I have said this so frequently I feel like a broken record, but despite the fact that we have had many positive (and negative) experiences with teachers, speech therapists etc., the people at Sound Connections are the first to truly believe that there is no limit to Berrik’s potential.  There is no discussion of labels.  It’s not relevant.  Each week we look at where Berrik is at and then we move forward based on that.  I am frequently consulted on what I think Berrik needs.  And Annette uses her considerable experience and expertise to determine what to do next, how fast to go, when to circle back.  Having had years and years of experience working with 100s and 100s, possibly 1000s of kids, she knows that ALL children have potential.  She believes it and you can see it in her program, in her approach.  As a mom who believes this of her child, I can’t tell you how critical it has been to know that someone else believes it too.  Sound Connections, homeschooling, diet, exercise….these are some of the ‘necessary conditions’ that I am putting in place so Berrik can continue to develop, achieve and succeed.  And that has been potentially (see what I did there?) life changing.

 

Dairy-free Sugar-free ‘Ice Cream’

My kids like ice cream. Don’t all kids? But in a no sugar, low dairy household, ice cream or any of its non-dairy substitutes are not workable. I’m not the first person to make a frozen dessert from bananas, so no accolades for originality here. That said, the version we make is beyond delicious so I wanted to share.

Ingredients 

Frozen ripe banana chunks. (Whenever you have overripe bananas, peel and cut into 2.5cm pieces and then freeze)  Approximately 1.5-2 bananas per serving.

1 tbsp peanut butter (or any nut/seed butter) for every 2 bananas

1tsp vanilla (optional)

1/2 tsp cinnamon (optional)

Directions

Throw all ingredients into a high speed blender and blend until smooth.

Scrape the deliciousness into a bowl (I prefer stainless steel) and put in freezer for an hour or two until it is the consistency of ice cream.

Scoop into a bowl and top with whatever toppings you like. We used chocolate sauce made from my chocolate recipe, poured it on and sprinkled with crushed peanuts.

 

I gotta wear shades…

On January 7 of this year, it was exactly one year since Berrik stopped eating all refined sugar, and wheat.  Technically the first 4-5 months were no sugar and no grains as we battled yeast (and won!), and then there was 4 painful weeks of wheat added back in, in order to test for celiac disease, and then back to no wheat, but reintroducing all other grains.  With the exception of one weekend where Berrik was away from home for one night and he was given a cinnamon bun and some other wheat and sugar filled snacks, he has been essentially free of refined sugar and wheat.  (As an aside, when he returned home after his treat filled night away, he was miserable for 3-4 days.  While I was frustrated that he was given all of that junk, I was more upset about what it did to him.  His quality of life – and mine – was horrible.  For DAYS.  Not worth it.)

People tell me all the time that there is no way their kid could do that, or that they couldn’t do it.  Truth is, if you really want to, you can.  It’s super hard and requires a lot of time, effort and organization. But it can be done.  Interestingly, Berrik is a considerably better eater now than he was prior.  Less fussy.  More willing to try new things.  At this point he makes absolutely no comment about having to bring his own ‘cake’ to birthday parties, or not being allowed to have candy at Halloween (he negotiated a trade of candy bag for Wii U game).

A couple of my thoughts on why this has been so successful:

  1. He noticed within two weeks of diet change that he felt better.  He said (and I quote), “My brain doesn’t feel crazy anymore.”
  2. It wasn’t optional.  There were no ‘exceptions’.  When we did it, I explained why (as best I could) and then we just did it.  Cold turkey.  And we didn’t let up.  No time off at Christmas.  No free pass on his birthday.  I learned to make treats that he could have (that incidentally, my other kids also love), so we use those for special occasions when others are having treats, and the rest of the time we just go about eating real food.  It sounds easy when I read over what I just wrote.  Let me be clear.  It was not easy.  The first 6 months of this diet change I was working full time, busy with all three kids’ activities, away for work, away for dance competitions (my own and McKenna’s) etc.  It was a change for all of us.  Kevin was picking up all my slack as I was in the kitchen every night baking until 10pm.  Everyone was hesitant to feed Berrik anything in case he wasn’t allowed to have it.  There was no such thing as convenience foods – not in the sense that most of us see it anyways.  I almost had a complete breakdown.  I was exhausted and overwhelmed.  I think it was the most difficult thing I have ever done.  But it was worth it, and I knew it was worth it, so I kept at it.  Convenience food to us now is fruit, veggies, nuts and seeds.  Not really rocket science.  If there are apples, oranges, bananas, carrots, cucumbers, and peppers around the house, then there are plenty of snacks. We’ve learned to make extra meat for dinner so that Berrik can eat the leftovers for lunches along with his fruit and veggies.  School lunches were hard.  And avoiding the never ending junk food that is handed out at school – birthday cupcakes (or ‘healthy’ muffins, that are basically cake for all the sugar in them), lollipops, granola bars, and on and on – was a huge challenge.  Homeschooling has made that considerably easier.  Even so, at his homeschool board classes, they do a lot of baking and cooking with the kids (which I think is fantastic) but of course, sometimes they baked cookies or other wheat/sugar items.  The teacher in charge of that was wonderful at asking me what they could do to make it possible for Berrik to eat the stuff…which ultimately I just asked to be notified when they were doing it, and I’d send a treat for Berrik to enjoy instead.  It worked ok.  Berrik was a good sport about it and would bring the cookie or treat home for his sisters or dad to enjoy.  (He offered them to me, but truth be told, the thought of all those kids’ hands in the batter, after wherever else those hands had been, made me not that interested in the fruits of their labours…. Yuck.  😉
  3. The support of my family.  Kevin and the girls were all in on this little adventure.  I can’t say enough about how much Kevin did to help, especially in those rough first few months.  I’m sure he thought I had gone off the deep end, but luckily he has always been quite patient with my shenanigans, and this particular shenanigan, he could see as well as I could what a difference it was making.  My mom and dad are also so amazingly supportive.  The kids go to Oyen every summer for a couple of weeks, and despite the fact that Berrik’s diet makes hosting him for 2 weeks a bit of a PIA , Mom was all in, making it so easy for me. Considering my mom is a nurse who worked at the bedside for over 40 years (and is still working!), one might not expect her to be supportive of our decisions that are at times a little outside of mainstream medicine, but in fact, it has been just the opposite.   Dad likely wouldn’t tell me if he disagreed with me… he’s always been quietly supportive and non judgmental that way, even when I was a kid.  Mom, however, is more like me (or I am like her) and she would tell me if she thought I was nuts.  But all I have ever heard from her on this journey with Berrik is her telling me I’m a good mom.  I’m sure I don’t need to explain how that makes me feel.

When I started this blog, I was planning to talk briefly about how this year has gone for us.  Clearly the ‘briefly’ ship has now sailed.  Sorry about that.

In June I left work for one year to see if I could help Berrik get a better foothold academically.  He had struggled so much in Grade 1, and I knew I had to intervene or the trajectory we were on was going to lead us to further heartache, pain, and who knows what else. As I have mentioned repeatedly, we started Sound Connections in June, the Monday after I left work.  We continue to work with them and their program, which has been life changing.  After a couple of months of working with Sound Connections, I realized that being home with Berrik and homeschooling him one on one was the best way to help get him on the right path.  We went through many ups and downs, and I made changes to supplements, and tweaked his diet, altered how I taught him, and just kept moving forward.  It has been quite a ride.  I have read so much research about what happens in the brain with regard to speech, executive function, attention, working memory, learning disabilities and theories about why, and what we could try, that my head sometimes feels as if it will explode.  The research is relatively young, but there is a lot of it going on these days, so the next 20 years will be very interesting.  Whether it is the changes I’ve made for Berrik, or just the fact that he’s maturing, I can’t say. But there has been significant growth for him in all areas.  His working memory is better.  His speech has improved again dramatically…a veritable explosion of not only vocabulary, but increased ability to express himself clearly. He is reading and learning phonics and even journaling with increased skill and speed.  He’s proving to be a math whiz, and surprises me daily with some new thought or observation that he expresses.  I am not sure if he had those thoughts before and just couldn’t fully express them or if his interpretation of the world around him is getting more sophisticated.  Likely a bit of both.  I don’t even have the words to express how proud I am of his persistence and tenacity.  He’s an inspiration.

Last night Berrik had his first official sleepover with other kids at someone else’s house. He has had one sleepover with kids (other than cousins) at our house, and of course many sleepovers at Grandparents’ houses or with Riza (our former nanny), but there hasn’t been much opportunity for ‘friends’ sleepovers.  Part of this is because in school he just didn’t have many friends, so there were no invites.  This past year, sleepovers away from the house would have been a huge challenge.  Who wants to host the kid who is a bit socially immature and can’t eat any of the ‘normal’ foods that most families eat?  But last night Berrik was invited to the birthday party of his best friend, who is also conveniently our next door neighbor.  This was the perfect opportunity.  The birthday boy’s mom knows Berrik very well, and I trust her with my baby.  So that helps.  She is also super laid back, and was totally open to me bringing Berrik his own pizza and cake for dinner, and was happy to make sure the movie snacks were things Berrik could eat.  I also knew that if Berrik had any issues, she would be able to help him out, or would text me to come get him if it came to that.   When your kid has been bullied and felt like he was not worthy of friends, you so desperately hope for success in this ‘typical’ kid situation.  And guess what?  SUCCESS.  There were around 8 or 9 boys in the house for the sleepover (did I mention she is a super laid back mom!?) and they all played and had a great time, were all asleep by 10 and slept until 8am.  Berrik is tired today but he says he had the best time and can’t wait for his next sleepover.  It’s yet another milestone in every kids life…and maybe 8 years old is a bit late to hit that milestone, but we are pretty pumped about it.  Now that he knows he can do it, and I know he can do it, I see more sleepovers in our future.

There have been times where I have thought about the future for Berrik and felt stress, heartache, and worry.  My wise cousin and friend says, “He will find his place.”  She is right.  And in those moments I envied how sure she was.  But looking back on this past year, and looking at my brave, empathetic, funny, tenacious little boy, I now share her sureness.  He will find his place.  He will do amazing things.  The world is better because he is here.  I am better because he is here.

This year has gone by in a blink…but in so many ways it feels like an eternity.  I can’t wait to see what 2017 brings.  As Dire Straits has pointed out, “The future’s so bright, I gotta wear shades!”

Sweet potato fries – gluten free, grain free, and full of flavor!

I wanted  an alternative to regular potatoes that the whole family would enjoy and that would be good for us.  I had a few sweet potatoes so decided to attempt to make some ‘fries’ for dinner tonight.  Usually before I try something new, I will at least google a similar recipe for some ideas, but today I was under a bit of time pressure, so I just threw this together without much planning.

Ingredients:

Organic sweet potatoes

Almond flour

Coconut oil

Garlic powder

Onion powder

Cumin

Sea salt

Milk (I used coconut milk, but any dairy or non-dairy milk will work)

Directions:

Peel and slice sweet potatoes into ‘fry’ shaped slices.  Generously grease a cookie sheet with coconut oil.

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In a bowl, put a ratio of 1 cup almond flour, 1.5 tsp of garlic powder, 1.5 tsp onion powder, and a sprinkle of cumin.  Depending on how many sweet potato fries you are making you may need more or less of this.  I filled one full cookie sheet using the above amounts.

Pour some milk into another bowl.  Dip the fries into the milk and then dredge through the almond flour mixture and place on a cookie sheet until all ‘fries’ are on the cookie sheet.

Place into the oven at 375F and bake until the almond flour ‘crust’ starts to brown and the sweet potatoes begin to look slightly wilted.

Serve and enjoy.  I made a garlic aioli using mayo, pureed garlic and some hot sauce for dipping.  YUM.img_7479

 

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