It’s Really Happening

Brain exploding

It’s been about three weeks since my last writing. Two of those were stretched over different back-to-back spring breaks. Apparently my son and daughter’s schools didn’t get the memo that coordinated break times do a family good. Ahhh. One can dream.

But there is good news. Despite two weeks of unpredictable schedules, sticking with our 30 minutes a day of Fast ForWord was totally do-able and even became a welcomed part of our day for my son who thrives with structure.

Removing emotion.

It’s been over 7 years since our son was diagnosed with autism. And over the years we’ve tried multiple interventions. Some have been incredible, others … not so much. But with any new intervention, we are always hopeful. Early on into our journey however, there were times were we let that hope sway our evaluation of the intervention. As we’ve become more seasoned autism parents we’ve gotten much better at removing emotion from our assessment. There are only so many hours in the day and dollars in the bank so it’s incredibly important to pay close attention to the effectiveness of anything we implement.

You might remember from my last posting that just a short time after beginning Fast ForWord, I was asking my husband if I was crazy or was I already noticing a difference. We agreed, that while the changes were quite subtle, we were both seeing them.  Well, it’s only gotten better since then.

It’s not just about reading comprehension.

Fast ForWord is billed primarily as a reading comprehension program. And Sullivan most certainly needs help in the reading comprehension department. However, with autism, we have a lot of fish to fry and franking reading comprehension doesn’t top the list. Sullivan still struggles significantly with his expressive language and conversational skills due to the way his brain listens and processes. So the fact that Fast ForWord addresses auditory processing, attention and working memory skills and listening comprehension and following directions carried a TON of weight in our decision to implement the program.

What’s changed?

We are just now starting our 5th week of this 4-month program. I’m not 100% certain where Sullivan is in regard to improvement with reading comprehension. But here’s what I do know:

He is displaying subtle, yet HUGE language gains. How can something be subtle and huge at the same time? Well, with autism, all gains, however seemingly nuanced, are huge. We’ve noticed more ease with his language. It sounds more natural, less robotic, more spontaneous, and his sentence structure has become longer and more complex.

He’s also being a stinkpot. He’s getting into stuff he didn’t used to.  He’s acting sneaky. We are seeing glimmers of his sense of humor. He’s doing more and more things that are common with typically developing 9 year old boys. This is a WIN, guys. His sense of independence is flourishing, as is I’m guessing, the executive function of his brain.

He’s been joyfully grabbing his book that is part of his reading homework independently. He is reading his nightly chapter on his own and writing two sentences about the chapter on his own. We still have to help him get started, but the desire to do this work at all, much less independently, is a big gain. The wheels are spinning a bit faster.  For me it’s too early to critically evaluate his progress in reading comprehension, but we can see the ball is moving in the right direction.

What now?

We keep plugging away. The 30 minutes a day has become part of our routine and it’s become no sweat fitting it into our schedule. As we move through the program, it has highlighted the scatteredness of Sulli’s skills. One of the games he mastered 100% in just two weeks. Another one we are sitting at just 17% completion as we move through week 5. And the rest sit somewhere in between. The games that are easy for him, he loves. The ones that make his brain work harder, he’s not as much of a fan. So as we continue to work, especially with the games that are more challenging for him, I’m eager to see how the brain is making his neuro-pathways more efficient.

But given what we are seeing, just 5 weeks into the program, I’m eager each day for Sulli to do his Fast ForWord work. 5 weeks into a 4-month program and we’ve already seen some pretty significant gains.  With any intervention, progress in a short amount of time is a win.  But when the program only takes 30 minutes a day and can be done from home, that’s a WIN WIN.

Till next time ~ Mama Woz


Fast ForWord Week 1

Our Fast ForWord experience started out with a couple of setup phone calls. The first was with a helpful woman who talked me through the login process and some of the exercises Sulli will be playing in demo mode. Outside of watching a few videos on their website, I didn’t know exactly what to expect, so this conversation was very helpful in terms of understanding what we would be doing daily.

The Education Consultant

The second phone call was with our assigned Education Consultant. Since we are participating in Fast ForWord’s home-based program, we are assigned a consultant that will be our guide for the duration of the program.

I always enjoy hearing from people their history and how they come to hold they job they do. I’ve certainly had many forks in my own road, all which magically seem to build upon one another despite the bits of unpredictable chaos. I learned our consultant, once a freelance technical writer, turned mom, turned substitute teacher, turned full time substitute teacher, came to know Fast ForWord when her school decided to utilize the program for their students with learning differences. She witnessed some pretty spectacular results, decided to implement the program with her own children, continued to be impressed, eventually ended up working for the company and has been there now for 7 years.

Why does this matter? Well, it just does. Through her years working with the program, you can tell she’s become passionate about this program because she’s seen the results first hand. I genuinely got the vibe that she truly wants to see Sulli succeed and I’ll take that vibe on our team any day.

The Setup

If you know how to login to a website, you are good to go. The program is web-based, so there are no special parts or pieces other than a pair of headphones. Well, actually two pairs of headphones with a Y-splitter so Sullivan and I can listen in at the same time. We bought our “parent pack” here, an affordable website recommended by our consultant.

The Program

Fast ForWord has several different levels available. Sullivan is starting with their Language v.2. This program includes 7 exercises (we call them “games”) with fun names like Robo-Dog, Space Commander and Hoop Nut. The graphics are cute and with each game, the program provides intermittent incentives such as Robo-Dog getting to eat some bones or the fish food in Whalien Match flying into the fish tank. It helps keep the kids engaged which is helpful because those 30 minutes can feel a little long, especially when carving out that time in a day full of school and other therapies.


If I’m being honest …

When I first tried the exercises myself via demo mode on my first setup phone call, I was feeling a little skeptical. I was concerned they might be too simple, or too boring. In the beginning the spoken sounds and words are slowed w-a-y down and stretched w-a-y out and are delivered via a voice that sounds robotic given the speed adjustment. My ears weren’t loving it and frankly I felt like I had to listen very hard to understand.

I guess that is the point, right? And it didn’t take me long to figure out the challenge these games would be for my little guy. While Sulli is bright and a quick learner, like many kids with autism, his skills are extremely scattered and most of his struggles today are a result of how he processes language.  How he hears it, speaks it and reads it.

Play time.

PS – we are selling this to Sulli as “daily brain games”. Not work. Not therapy. Fun, fun, fun!!! I’m not sure he is 100% buying it yet, but we do have a sticker chart with incentives and lots of high-fives.

Since the program is web based, it can be used from a computer or tablet. We have both but Sulli is comfortable with a mouse, so we opted for the computer, at the desk for a more structured environment. Every day when logging into the account, we see all seven games listed, with 3-4  of them highlighted. Those are our assigned games for the day. Sulli can select the games in any order but we were advised that once we spent a few days with the program, we would figure out which games are easier and which ones are harder for Sulli. They suggested getting the harder on out of the way first, while the brain is fresh and not so tired.

Day 1 was a bit of a struggle. Some of the games are very self-explanatory, others took a little more trial and error before he was able to get into the swing of things. All of the games make a “ding” when answered correctly and a “clunk” for incorrect answers. It didn’t take too long for him to figure out the point of the game but I could tell they were indeed work for him.

Self-adjusting programming.

This software is cool because it gets to know the child. And it self adjusts based on how the child is doing with an exercise, increasing or decreasing the difficulty as needed. Our consultant explained to us that, ideally, the kids are feeling comfortable with the exercises about 80% of the time and are really being pushed 20% of the time. If it were too hard all of the time, compliance would be a big problem. And even when they feel confident with a game, it doesn’t mean they aren’t receiving the benefit. One of the most important aspects of the program is the consistent repetitions because that is how those new connections are formed.

How’s he doing?

Well folks, pretty darn good. At this writing we’ve completed 9 sessions. The first three days he protested having to do his “new computer games” but the sticker chart has been a good motivator and now that he understands what is being required from him, he is gaining confidence.

It’s also been a huge eye opener for me. These seemingly mundane games are challenging for him and every day they increase with difficulty. Even the ones that come more easily to him are challenging in the sense that he struggles with maintaining focus for the duration of the game.

I know we aren’t yet two weeks into the program, so I’m hesitant to even think about results at this point, however I have noticed a change in Sulli’s language and processing time. It’s a nuanced change that would go unnoticed by most, but when you are an autism mom, we quickly pick up on the slightest of improvements. Worried that I might be the victim of the placebo effect, I asked my husband if he thought I was crazy. He said, “If you’re crazy, then I’m crazy too because I’ve noticed the same thing.”

We can’t quite put our finger on it yet, but stay tuned.

Till next time ~ Mama Woz

Let’s get acquainted.


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.

Therapeutically speaking.

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.

Enter Neuroplasticity.

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.

Fast ForWord

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.

What’s next?

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,

Mama Woz