Language & Literacy

When I decided to take time off work, I knew I needed some kind of plan…some way to figure out how to help Berrik learn to read, improve his language skills, figure out what type of learning works best for him, and on and on….  It was a tall order and I wasn’t really clear on how to go about it.  There are so many ‘programs’ and theories about how best to teach a kid with learning disabilities, but since the strengths and weaknesses of every child are so unique, I found myself going in circles trying to figure out what to do or where to start.   I researched obsessively, I attended some info sessions – and as an aside, I was shocked by some programs that made incredible claims of success, but required HUGE payments up front…like thousands of dollars – and at the end of the day, it all came down to a somewhat random conversation with a friend who I consider to be the most disciplined, and thorough person I know. I don’t see her often and I was telling her about what was going on with Berrik and my plans to take some time off work.  She mentioned, in an offhand way, that her children attended a program called Sound Connections, and were experiencing incredible success.  Like goosebumps on your arms, life-altering successes.  Little did I know that one conversation would lead us down the path we are now on!

I looked up the website for  Sound Connections and thought it sounded good.  The website was less impressive looking than some of the other program websites I had seen, (which is maybe very telling – not so much money and time spent on website and over the top marketing and more time on actually helping kids?) I trust that friend of mine implicitly so I gave Sound Connections a call.  Annette Rogers, the creator of the program, called me back and we spoke for the better part of an hour.  It was a very ‘eureka’ hour for me, as Annette clearly knew about what I was experiencing with Berrik, and said some key things that really resonated.  Things like, labels don’t matter – she was not concerned with IQ, attention issues, dyslexia…etc.  She said that her program will work for any kid… for all kids…regardless.  She didn’t say, Berrik will learn to read in 3 months and will never have issues again…but she did say, that he will be literate, and it may happen quickly and it may happen slowly, but over time he will be literate.  Realistic.  But confident.  For a natural cynic, it was interesting how quickly I trusted Annette.  Added bonus, she is a speech and language pathologist, and Berrik has had expressive and receptive language delays since he was a young toddler…  Annette understood what that means, how it impacts literacy and performance in school, and her program helps with that too.  SIGN US UP.

We started Sound Connections in early June – literally the Monday after I finished work.  We now attend 3 days per week for 45 minute sessions, one on one, and do the rest of the work at home.  In another post I will describe what these sessions are like, and what it’s like to implement it at home…and I’ll tell you about how Berrik is doing!

Foreshadowing here….  I’m discovering that teaching Berrik at home, throughout the day, integrated into our day to day lives, in a way that works for him, is so much more effective and efficient than a classroom environment….  Stay tuned for more information about that!

In the mean time, if you have a kid who is struggling with language and literacy, call Sound Connections.  Don’t wait for your kid to lose all confidence or fall years behind.  And if you’re already there, years behind, frustrated, and feeling overwhelmed, then DEFINITELY call Sound Connections.  I cannot say enough about this program.  You pay as you go (a month ahead), and it is WORTH EVERY PENNY.

Taking time off work…

I’m finding it challenging to put all of the pieces together for this blog, so that it makes sense or so that there is some sense of events leading to other events.  But as everyone has experienced, life happens so quickly and there are so many events occurring on a daily basis that lead to other events and impact the roads we travel.  If it seems like we have jumped from one decision or path to another quickly and without much thought, it is not the case.  I would need a 750 page book to even begin to scratch the surface, and like my good friend Jan says no book that long is worth reading.

In the world of talking about learning disabilities and ADHD, a common language includes the world neurotypical.  I like this word because it gives me something closer to the reality to use when comparing Berrik to other kids without using the word ‘normal’ which would imply that Berrik is somehow abnormal.  For example – Berrik has average cognitive abilities according to assessments (which then add the caveat that the assessments may be an under representation of his overall intelligence due to inattention and speech delay – as an aside, I wonder how useful these assessments actually are), however he learns in a significantly different way than neurotypical kids.  To me, neurotypical means only that you ‘fit the mold’ of the school system and our educational culture.  You can sit in a desk and learn in a mainly auditory fashion.  Both our girls ‘fit the mold’ and therefore find school relatively easy.  Berrik is wired differently.  He has just as much capacity to learn, but the learning has to happen in a significantly different way.  He has had the benefit of great teachers and one less great teacher, but regardless of the skill of the teacher, he is one kid in a large class, and not the only kid who is ‘wired differently.’  The beauty (and frustration) of being wired differently, is that (just like neurotypical kids) each kid is so very different, and has completely unique strengths and weaknesses.  I cannot imagine how daunting this is for teachers with 27 kids staring up at them each day.  I knew that for Berrik, the only way his learning needs could be met is if I took some time off work to focus on learning how he learns and supporting him to reach his potential.  Lucky for me, my boss is the kind of person who understands how important this is for us, and was instantly and completely supportive.

I came across  TiLT Parenting in my constant and never ending research, and subscribed to the incredibly informative podcasts.  Last night I received an email from the creator of TiLT, with a link to the TiLT manifesto.  It describes my thought processes so well that I read it feeling like she was inside my head.   She talks about letting go and stopping trying to fit a square peg in a round hole.  This is exactly what I made the intentional decision to do very recently (more about that in a future blog).  Have a read if you would like to understand what has been going on in my head (don’t worry, it’s G rated…it won’t give you access to my entire thoughts! ;-)).  Her story is different than mine, but the feelings are so shockingly similar.

TiLT Manifesto

 

Test results

Leading up to the urine test, Berrik’s attention and mood seemed to have taken a downturn.  It made for a long few weeks as we awaited the test and the results.  I was exhausted with the pace of life – I was competing in dance that month, and McKenna’s dance competition season was amping up with dress rehearsals and extra practices.  Berrik had been tiring of some of the recipes I was using, so I was attempting to find and/or create new ones.  Add all this to a full time job and a kid who is now emotional and unfocused again, and I was feeling very overwhelmed.  Thank goodness for Avi’s patience with Berrik…she has always been very nurturing with him and because of their strong relationship, she is really great at keeping him busy and happy when the rest of us are running around like chickens with heads cut off – and for anyone who has ever seen chickens butchered, you can really understand how our family was functioning at this time!

So, the results come in and they are really odd.  Many of the results that were issues in the first test had been resolved.  All markers for yeast except one were within normal levels – however the one that was not had increased significantly.  Another marker called oxylates was through the roof, and there were a couple other really strange results.  The naturopath wasn’t sure what was going on and planned to call the doc at the lab to see if she had any thoughts.  It appeared to be very random and nonsensical, particularly when compared to the first urine test.

Never satisfied with not knowing, I took to reviewing the literature about oxylates and yeast markers.  After a few hours of reading, I found out that almonds are a food with one of the highest levels of oxylates, and overeating almonds can cause oxylate levels to rise significantly.  High oxylates can result in one specific yeast marker to rise as well.  And the other odd results were also related.  While I was glad to find the reason for the strange test results, I felt a little sick.  I was essentially poisoning my kid with almonds….  Almond flour is the easiest non-grain flour to work with – so my poor kid was eating almonds concentrated in his morning toast and his daily muffin at school, not to mention eating nuts as an afterschool snack and other more occasional almond flour goodies.  Sigh.

Back to the drawing board.  I slowly weaned Berrik off the almond flour and started looking for ways to bake without it.  I also decided that sticking to more whole foods and using muffins and other baked goods less frequently would be better for him anyways.  I told the naturopath what I had discovered and when she spoke with the lab doc, she agreed with me.  After a few weeks Berrik was feeling better (and so was I….overwhelming mommy guilt on that one!  Good grief. <insert eye roll here>)

At this point we decided to do a stool test to determine with accuracy if there was any yeast left in Berrik’s tummy, and if so, what type so we could treat it more aggressively if necessary. Also wanted to see whether there was good bacteria growing in there, as that will be the key to sustained health for my boy.  It was a three sample test – I’m sure you can imagine – poo in tray, little stick to put sample in little plastic jar – x 3.  Conveniently I was at a dance competition with McKenna when this started <snicker>, so nurse Kevin was on the hook for the poo.  After 2 samples had been collected, Mac and I arrived home from dance and I had one day at home before having to head to Vancouver for work.  Within an hour of arriving home I hear Berrik yell from the washroom, “Dad, I’m going poo in the tray…. want a sample?!”  I offered to collect this final sample, but superdad and uber nurse Kevin declined and marched off to collect.  For any of you wondering how I survive this crazy life – it’s because of Kevin.  He truly picks up all the slack in every area, regardless of what needs to be done.  I often marvel at my good luck, considering we met in a nightclub after a few beverages – I credit my excellent taste and sparkling wit – and perhaps his beer goggles that evening.  <shrug>

Stool test results came back – NO YEAST!!!.  Very exciting results as yeast can be difficult to clear.  We were so very strict with the regimen for almost 5 months and Berrik was SO good with avoiding grains and sugar.  Even at birthday parties he was voluntarily decline the cake and happily eat the ‘cookies’ or other treat I sent with him.  There was no bad bacteria showing up either, but the good bacteria was low, so still more work to be done.

At this point we reintroduced grains, but still kept sugar and yeast off the menu.  Again a downturn in attention and mood.  But we had a celiac test to complete so we stayed with the wheat for about 4 weeks.  As soon as the test was complete, I took Berrik back off wheat (but left the other grains).  Within a week or two, he improved again.  Celiac test was negative, but because wheat seems to cause issues for him, we decided to just keep him off of it for now.  Luckily with all the other grains and no more fruit limitations, Berrik has many more food options and was quickly gaining back the weight he had lost on the stricter anti-candida diet.

In my next post I’ll talk about my decision to take some time off work….

 

Time to just get started already!

I have been talking about starting this blog for quite a long time, and I truly (and naively) thought that being home with the kids would allow me the time to jump right in and blog frequently.  Ha.  Apparently in my years working full time, I lost sight of how busy stay at home moms (SAHMs) are!

Let me back up a tiny bit with a Coles Notes overview of how we got to this point.  As a baby, Berrik met his milestones on time for the most part.  As he reached the age of 2, he was clearly well behind in speech development.  Pediatrician, hearing tests (negative), speech assessment, PUF funding with speech, OT, and PT support, 2 years of kindergarten, ADHD and developmental coordination disorder diagnosis, and a very challenging grade 1 year, and here we are.

Last fall, after discussing with our family doc and deciding that medication for Berrik’s ADHD wasn’t something either of us was comfortable with at that point, I took Berrik to our naturopath to see if there was anything else I could do to support him naturally – to help him feel better, focus better, manage school more easily.  For us at home, Berrik was fine.  He is who he is and he managed just fine within the context of our family.  We didn’t find him disruptive or challenging.  However those words were being used to describe him at school.  His teacher was supportive, but with 27 kids in his class, there was only so much that could be done.  The way our education system is set up, is not an optimal learning environment for my busy just turned 7 year old.  Berrik’s speech is still delayed a bit, and he is slower than most kids to process information.  His writing is slow.  So you can imagine how challenging it was for him to find success in a typical classroom.  But I digress….

We had done a food sensitivity test a couple of years prior that showed nothing too significant, so the naturopath suggested a urine test called an Organic Acids Test .  The results came back and in simple terms suggested a massive yeast overgrowth in Berrik’s gut, and because of this, he was unable to absorb the amino acids necessary for neurotransmitter creation in his body. (Google ‘Leaky Gut Syndrome’ for more information).  Neurotransmitters such as dopamine, norepinephrine, serotonin etc. are related to focus, attention, mood and more, ergo, no absorption of amino acids leads to inappropriate levels of neurotransmitters and therefore attention, focus and mood issues.  Please note that I am giving a pretty high level overview of the gist of what was happening for Berrik, however, I read pages and pages of literature on the topic and for us, it made a lot of sense.

So what does one do when their child has a massive yeast overgrowth in his gut?  We were advised to put Berrik on a very strict anti-candida diet, along with probiotics and a few other supplements to support his neurotransmitters while his gut was healing.  January 7, 2016 we began.  No grains, no sugar, no yeast, no honey, no maple syrup and limited fruit.  Essentially anything that was sugar or acted like sugar in the body was off limits, with the exception of 3 pieces of fruit per day because he is a growing boy and my naturopath felt it was important to ensure he was getting the nutrients that fruit provides.

Berrik was an absolute hero on this diet.  He ate what I gave him and almost never complained about it.  After about 10 days, it seemed as though Berrik was worse.  Emotional, wiggly, and really struggling.  Our naturopath was thrilled.  (Are you kidding me!?!?, we are losing our minds!).  Yeast die off apparently causes an exacerbation of symptoms initially, so the fact that he was a disaster on 2 legs was a good sign.  Naturopath was thrilled on a Saturday.  On Monday evening I was doing our nightly homework with Berrik (which incidentally could have been very effectively used by the Americans as a technique for torturing spies for information).  But this day was different.  He blew through his sight words and spelling list.  Without getting off his chair.  Without telling me a story about a ninja or a starwars character. Tuesday, same thing.  I had not told Berrik’s teacher what we were up to, because for me, the ultimate test would be whether she noticed a difference in him at school.  Wednesday evening an email from the teacher came through confirming what we were seeing at home.  She said Berrik was more focused and doing his work, and volunteering for classroom duties!  I cried.  I’m not a crier about much.  But this made me cry.

So with this as our motivation, we pushed on.  Most evenings, I experimented with almond flour baking and other recipes to make Berrik’s life easier but still be compliant to the diet.  Kevin picked up the slack with Berrik, helping him with homework and taking him to activities, and I spent hours in the kitchen.  It was an overwhelming and exhausting time, but so worth it.  In March I noticed the focus and mood taking a downturn again. I was beyond  exhausted and wondering what the heck was going on.  We did another OAT (as was planned after 3 months of the diet).  Stay tuned to find out the results…..

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