I’ve been blessed that I’ve had a flexible enough work schedule to be pretty hands-on when it comes to Graham’s therapies. Over the past 4 ½ years, I’ve traveled to the Berkshires to receive training from the Son Rise Program, lugged the whole family to Terrytown, New York from California to see a developmental ophthalmologist, and gotten down on the floor many times over many years to do Floortime sessions.
But last month I crossed a new threshold.
Never before have I actually subjected myself to the therapies we’ve done with Graham. But our latest therapeutic experiment, an upstart brain-based exercise program called Neuro-fit (www.neuro-fit.com), got me thinking: Maybe it’s time I put myself through what I’m putting my son through.
The program is an exercise regimen aimed at strengthening the connections between different parts of the brain, which in turn is meant to help the brain process sensory input more effectively. I asked Dr. Jim Costello, the founder of the approach, if it was something a (mostly) typical adult could benefit from. I told him that I had undiagnosed learning challenges when I was a kid, that my reading comprehension has always been mediocre, and that (at least according to my wife) I’m pretty disorganized. Dr. Jim told me that whether you’re a six-year-old with Sensory Processing Disorder, or a 38-year-old with SODS (Stressed-Out Dad Syndrome), giving your brain this kind of workout can yield benefits ranging from better digestion to better attention span and improved learning. I was excited for Graham. Truth is he was struggling mightily in Kindergarten, and I was desperate for anything that might help. But I was also excited for me. It’s not by choice I re-read the first paragraph of book chapters over and over again. It’s because half the time I have no idea what I’ve just read!
But I also have this nagging guilt. I’ve subjected Graham to so many interventions over the past four years: Anticonvulsant drugs, restrictive diets, yucky supplements, and hours of every kind of therapy you can imagine. And I guess a part of me has always felt that it’s only fair that I put myself in his shoes for once. Now, obviously, I’m not going to start spooning anticonvulsant medications on my Wheaties. But Neuro-fit seemed like something I could, and perhaps should, do.
As life would have it, Graham started his program first. And it seemed to be working. His handwriting was improving, as was his reading and attention span. He more or less likes the therapy. Or perhaps I should say he likes Dr. Jim, who makes the sometimes challenging exercises fun.
After my first session, I was pretty sure I was making a mistake. Dr. Jim had me crawling on the floor, making figure eights with my hand while keeping my eyes closed, marching across the room while tapping my hands to opposite knees. Rolling. Balancing on a ‘Bosu’ ball. When I left I was cross-eyed and carsick. “Am I supposed to feel this way?” I asked. He laughed. “That’s some good old-fashioned neurological input, my friend.” He said, “Go home and take a nap.” Unfortunately for me, I had to struggle through an afternoon of work.
During my second session, Graham arrived at Dr. Jim’s office with my wife Jennie just as I was finishing up, and you could see the confusion register on his face: was dad working with Dr. Jim too? He thought this was very silly and exciting. As I finished, he was excited it was his turn, and started to show-off how he could do the same moves. Somehow the fact that dad was doing it elevated what could have been just another “therapy” to something much more thrilling. If nothing else, that has made it worth doing.
As for benefits to my brain-power, we’ll have to wait and see. But three weeks into the program, I’m no longer cross-eyed. And I’m much improved at crawling.
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Ed.'s Note: Today's post was written by Erik Linthorst, who directed and produced an award-winning documentary short called Autistic-Like: Graham's Story. His relatable film details the struggles he and his wife encountered while uncovering his son's diagnosis as well as determining the most effective treatment for him.