I’m a lot of things but in the context of Rethinking Learning, I’m a mom to two kiddos. One of whom is a just-turned-nine year old who has a smile that lights up the room, loves to sing, jump on the trampoline and dance his heart out every opportunity he gets. His name is Sullivan, aka “Sulli” and he was diagnosed with autism at age two. I also have a typically developing, high-achieving, loving, spunky and often sassy 10 year old daughter.
Frankly, I don’t know which one of them is giving me gray hair faster but if you love a child with an Autism Spectrum Disorder, you know it can be a rollercoaster-of-a-ride. Like a hold-on-tight, friend. It’s gonna spin-you-around and spit-you-out, kind of a ride.
Helping a child with autism achieve their best.
Well that’s a loaded statement. Oh goodness, where to start? Every single child with autism is different. And there are about a gazillion different types of interventions available. Some things work. Some things don’t work. Some things have actually made things worse at times. Some things work great for one child and the next, not so much. Everything costs a fortune and managing to schedule all-those-things into a tiny human’s day can be mind-blowingly complicated on so many levels.
Thankfully through our right steps, and even wrong steps and missteps, we have learned a LOT and Sulli has progressed significantly since his diagnosis seven years ago. For the most part, he is thriving in a small 2nd grade classroom with typically developing peers. He does receive some one-on-one support through an RBT, but only for a couple hours a day. He’s come a long way baby, though his progress has come via significant effort, both in healing his body and in rehabilitating his brain.
The kid spent his entire childhood in therapy. Occupational therapy, physical therapy, speech therapy. Applied Behavior Analysis, Floortime, Relationship Development Intervention. Hippotherapy, sports therapy, music therapy. Sound familiar? It’s par for the course for many autism families. Sullivan still receives OT, SLP and ABA services. And we are incredibly grateful for all of our passionate therapists who have poured into Sulli over the years and helped him get to where he is today.
New year, newly realized challenges.
In the scheme of all things autism, Sulli is doing pretty-darn-good. But he still has significant struggles with his expressive language, auditory processing and social skills. And while doing well academically, reading comprehension is becoming more and more problematic as the school work gets more difficult. This isn’t just about him being about to enjoy a good Harry Potter book, but more so how reading comprehension affects every single subject in school and his general ability to effectively learn. We were realizing quickly that he could quickly go down with the ship if we don’t send him a big fat floatation device in a jiffy.
Where to start?
As with every intervention, digging in and figuring out which direction to go is a challenge. There are many programs available which tout themselves as the solution for reading comprehension problems. None of them are specifically marketed for children with autism, despite reading comprehension being a common challenge for many of our kids. And while reading comprehension is a biggie for Sulli, he still has a lot of other challenges we have yet to tackle. So finding a program that could address many of his deficiencies would be paramount.
Our trusted homeopath, whom is largely responsible for our son’s improvements medically was the first person to mention the word “neuroplasticity” to me. We knew Sulli’s body was well on the path to healing, however the functionality of his brain still has a lot of making up to do. And while he continues to make progress in his more traditional therapies, we knew it was time to think differently about rehabilitating his brain.
Neuroplasticity is defined differently by many but the core premise is it’s the brain’s ability to reorganize itself by forming new neural connections throughout life. I learned that with autism, there are many neuro-connections that are either lost, never formed or formed inadequately during development. So obviously the concept of neuroplasticity is extremely exciting and something my gut has been screaming at me is critical for Sullivan’s continued developmental growth.
It’s always been odd to me how information travels in the autism community. Depending on one’s demographic or geographical location, what’s new or trending in terms of interventions differs quite dramatically at times. When our son was failing to progress medically many years ago, I started scouring more national resources for new approaches. When I found the one I wanted to try, not a single person in my very large and very active Texas autism community had any experience with it. We proceeded anyway and it turned out to be a very good decision. And thankfully now, that resource has been exposed to our Texas community and many children have benefited.
That trusted homeopath told us about Fast ForWord about two years ago. But again, nobody in my local circle of influence seemed to be familiar with the program, we had a lot of things going on in our lives at the time, so it went to the back burner. And then the phrase “neuroplasticity” seemed to keep smacking me in the face at every corner so I knew it was time to get back to it.
So I go to their website and read this:
“Kenny went from 2nd grade reading to a full football scholarship.
Mia went from acting out to acting proud.
David started talking at 20 years old.
You know these children – the ones who continue to struggle despite repeated intervention. They need an intervention that addresses the root cause of their difficulty, not one that provides accommodations.
Fast ForWord does what no other intervention can do: it starts with cognitive skills like memory, attention and processing speed and works from the bottom up, using the principles of neuroplasticity. Fast ForWord aims to remediate the underlying difficulties that keep struggling readers and English language learners from making progress.”
They had me at “root cause of their difficulty, not one that provides accommodations.”
Can I get an amen? All of a sudden all the light is pouring into the room. Yes. THIS. Our goal for Sulli is to not always have to overcome his challenges, but figure out how to help his brain so that things aren’t so dang challenging in the first place. Swimming against the current is exhausting, right? Utilizing the principles of neuroplasticity, Fast ForWord addresses the weaknesses of the brain and helps make them strong.
And like I said, this isn’t just about reading comprehension, it is about attention skills and working memory, auditory processing, listening comprehension & following directions, phonics and phonological awareness and grammar and vocabulary. Autism Spectrum Disorders might not be Fast ForWord’s primary market, which is maybe why few people I know personally are familiar with it, however the majority of children with autism struggle with everything mentioned above. If we break down the components, the program is very well suited to help a vast number of children on the spectrum.
Ease of implementation.
Best of all, the program can be done in the comfort of my own home and only takes 30 minutes a day, 5 days a week. I know squeezing 30 minutes out of our very busy days will prove challenging every now and then, but having the home based options sure beats sitting in traffic, racing between therapy appointment and shoving dinner down from the back seat. Many practitioners offer Fast ForWord in their offices or therapy centers which can be especially helpful for a child who struggles with attending to work or has behavioral challenges. And many schools have brought the program on board too. But for our family, we are excited to kick things off with the home-learning program.
You guessed it! I’m going to be documenting our Fast ForWord journey right here for all of you. After reading much literature and a powerful book on neuroplasticity, I’m incredibly optimistic about the program. And given it is a program that has been helping children all over the country for quite some time, yet I’ve only recently found out about it, well, I simply don’t want a single autism parent or parent of children with learning disabilities to be unaware of a tool that could potentially drastically impact how their child learns and communicates.
Our program starts March 1st and runs for 4 months. With the Fast ForWord Home Program we will touch base weekly with our assigned Educational Consultant, who will provide support if Sullivan needs tips for approaching a particular Fast ForWord exercise, answer any technical questions about accessing the program and generally help keep us on track. I have a phone call scheduled today to get set up and begin to understand my role in helping Sulli succeed.
Full disclosure, I’ve been wanting to implement this program for quite some time but given we’ve been inundated with autism-related-expenses for the last seven years, the cost of the program has eluded our budget. In a bit of a panic, I contacted Fast ForWord and asked if they would allow us to use the program at a discount, and in turn, I would document our experience. To my delight, they agreed. I have a background in writing and have a passion for sharing information to equip parents with the most information we can possibly have when making decisions.
I guess it’s a bit of a gamble on their part because I will be sharing our authentic journey with this program, whatever that may turnout to be. I’m optimistic and hopeful that this blog will be about a success story, but if it’s not working, or isn’t a good fit for my son, you’ll certainly be hearing about that too.
Look for a post from me every 1-2 weeks. As I continue to learn about the ins and outs of the program, you will too, and I look forward to sharing our experience! The good, the bad and fingers crossed … the awesome.
Till next time,