A 4-Year-Old Proves the Brain Can Change
Jin Xiong is the author of this essay. She wrote the first part while participating in the Brain Highways program with her son and husband and the second part (the update) a few months later.
When we started the Brain Highways pons course for our 4-year-old son, we already had completed 2.5 years of all kinds of therapies, as well as received many diagnoses: Autism, Oral Apraxia, Limb Dyspraxia, Global Development Delay (the list goes on).
Needless to say, when we came to Brain Highway for the initial assessment, we didn’t really believe it could help. We thought: Sure, this might be a program that works for everyone else, but not our son. Yet, we still decided to enroll.
We definitely struggled the first week. However, by week 2, we started to see changes! For example, I took my son to a playground with stairs. When he was done fidgeting with chains on the lower half of the playground, he decided to go to the higher part.
But for the first time ever, he just walked on the stairs, without holding anything, alternating his steps, walking straight up all nine stairs! I couldn’t believe what I just saw!
Walking up stairs—and with zero assistance—was HUGE for him. During our two years of physical therapy, they always told us that our son had low tone and that he needed to be stronger to do such things on his own. But right there–he did it! He actually did it without even looking. He appeared so natural walking up the stairs, just like everybody else!
And then his occupational therapist started to see changes in him. Suddenly, he had a better arousal level. He was no longer lying on the floor for the whole session, waiting for someone to rock him or swing him. He was now showing initiative by going over to equipment that he preferred.
Next, we noticed he had a better attention span, staying with in an activity for a much longer period of time. For example, previously he’d do two rounds of Ring around the Rosie—and then just walk away. But now, he was doing five or six repetitions, and all with a great smile.
Overall, our son seems so much more aware about his environment. He now pays attention when people walk by. He will turn to you when you call him. He just seems to be more organized and just seems to have extra energy that then makes it easier for him to pay attention to the world.
His scribble pattern has started to change, as well. Initially, he would just hold a piece of chalk and do a few scribbles, all while looking elsewhere. But now, he’s starting to make vertical lines—and lots of them, as well as arcs, all starting from the same point. Then one day we noticed three circles on the board! And while he’s creating, he’s now completely focused on what he is doing.
And today, Week 5 of the pons course, he tried to put on his Crocs sandals. I noticed he lined up the shoes wrong—the left shoe was in front of the right foot and vice-versa. But before I could correct that, I was distracted by something else.
Yet, when I eventually turned to help him, I saw him rearranging the shoes so that they were now in front of the correct foot—and then I watched him carefully put his foot in each shoe!
I was very excited! We had never really even taught him how to do that! While this may not seem like a big deal to many people, it shows that my son does have the ability to differentiate position and do a sequential action.
Best of all, I realize that this is all just the beginning of so many more wonderful changes that will continue to happen. Since we’ve begun Brain Highways, my son has a whole new way of looking at the world, so I’m eager to see what’s going to change next!
And, I’m very grateful . . . that through my son, I now know that the brain truly can change, once given a chance to do so.
Update on Nathan (from Jin)
After Nathan finished the pons and midbrain classes, he clocked another 50 hours of floor time. So, altogether, Nathan has now done 125 hours of the lower brain work (We plan to resume floor time now that my baby is a little bigger.)
When I originally shared the changes Nathan experienced while in the pons course, he had only completed 16 hours of floor time at that time. As his brain keeps developing, we continue to see more and more changes.
Nathan’s teacher definitely saw him change throughout the year. For example, his teacher said that his processing time (to respond) became much shorter. It used to seem like he couldn’t even hear someone talking to him, or he’d take really long time to respond. But now, even if you call to Nathan from a distance, he will immediately start looking at you.
We also notice that when we’re at the zoo or near a lake, if we say, “Look, there’s a duck,” he now actually stops whatever he is doing at that moment and looks around. That never happened before.
About half-way through the midbrain class, Nathan finally understood the concept of throwing, and he can now throw overhead, using one arm or both arms. That had been delayed for years!
He also runs much better now. It used to be more like a fast walk, but now it’s a real running pattern.
Even walking seems to be easier. He can go a longer distance, walking with us with a good energy level from beginning to end, with no whining, no wanting to be carried, and no more needing reinforcers. And he asks to go for a walk every day.
Climbing has become easier, and the monkey bars now make sense to him.
He now also gets the idea of steering a tricycle or bike — left hand pull, right hand push, turn left and more. And he’s even able to turn while he keeps peddling.
These may be lots of things others take for granted as being easy, but this all used to be impossible or so hard for him.
Just recently, Nathan put the body parts of a potato head into each correct spot—something that his teachers and ABA therapists had tried to teach him for years. I think he now has a better understanding of objects’ relative spatial position.
We’re looking forward to Nathan continuing to develop his lower centers of the brain so that he can just keep experiencing life in many more ways!