Optimizing the Gut-Brain Axis

Optimizing the Gut-Brain Axis

I’m constantly surveying the horizon for resources to help special needs keiki, therefore, I am excited to announce the addition of new natural products from Amare Global into my business. Amare’s products target the gut/brain axis and I believe they will further help your child reach his God given potential.

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Fast ForWord Summer Brain Gain in 4 - 12 Weeks!

After chatting with Hallie from SciLearn, I also had the opportunity of talking with Nick Andreotta, the US and Canada private provider consultant. He shared his knowledge on Fast ForWord, tips from other providers and his own experiences doing the program. Thank you, Nick and Hallie, for taking the time to talk to us!

1.       Why is summer such a great time to do FFW?

The biggest reason is that there’s a break, and summer is a way to help the child catch up before going back to school in the fall. It’s not like summer school. It’s 5 days a week, 30 minutes a day. You can do it Monday through Friday, Sunday through Thursday, or whatever is best for you. Everybody has 30 minutes over the summer.

2.       Why is it that schedule?

Five days a week, 30 minutes a day is our minimum protocol. The way that the program works is that it receives student data and reboots on Sundays. But, if weekends are just better, then you can do weekends and pick three days throughout the week. You could even break it up into three 10 minute sessions when you log in. If Wednesdays are tougher than Fridays, then you can do a 10-minute exercise in the morning, afternoon and evening. There’s a lot of flexibility.

Working FFW into a home lifestyle is critical. Like I said, everyone’s got 30 minutes a day, so working at your best times is important. The point is that it has to become part of your daily routine, like going into the gym. Having that family support at home is also important, and the advantage is that it’s web-based so you can do it with a private provider or you can do it at home.

3.       Do you have any advice for parents who work with their kids at home to complete FFW every day, especially during summer?

I’ve talked to providers who shared their strategies. FFW has a point system, so you can track your daily points and log points every day. Try to help their kids to try to beat their highest score from the previous day. Get a folder and make it fun and exciting. Tell your kids that we’re going to beat yesterday’s score, and when that happens, give them a reward. I’ve heard of a provider who had some sort of currency program, where the points added up to a number of prizes or tickets. I think it was like Pokemon trading cards, so that at the end of the week, the kid had a deck of cards.  

Make it fun. Like I said, break up the exercise. Do an exercise, then go play catch or have a five-minute dance party. Do some jumping jack. Have a good time. And, there certainly should be some sort of reward system. Get some ice cream!

4.       How long does it take to see results?

It’s completely contingent on the protocols. The minimum is 5 days a week, 30 minutes a day, and it’s estimated that you’ll see gains in 12 to 16 weeks. As you increase up to 90 minutes a day, it’s estimated you’ll see gains in 4 -7 weeks.

5.       So, you’re doing FFW right now! What do you like about it?

I like the flexibility of doing it here at work or at home. It makes it easy to work it into my daily routine. Some days I’ll do it for 30-minutes straight, and there are days like today where I did one exercise, have a call, do another exercise and another call.  

6.       Where can we learn more?

You can visit www.scilearn.com/parents to learn more about FFW, who the program is appropriate for, and how and why it works.

Learn 2 Focus is currently offering a special summer promotion for Fast ForWord from now through May 27.  We are offering 4 month licenses!  It's a great opportunity for families who are crunched for time during the school year.  Our students recognize gains in as little as 4 - 12 weeks.  Visit our home page for more details!  http://www.learn2focus.com/







Let's Have a Summer Brain Gain - Not a Summer Brain Drain

I had the pleasure of having a chat with Hallie Smith, the Senior Director of Marketing at SciLearn, the organization that started Fast ForWord (FFW) and Reading Assistant. As the summer is coming up, it’s the perfect time to enroll your kid in FFW and avoid the dreaded “summer gap.” Hallie, who is also a speech pathologist, shared her thoughts on FFW, and how it can benefit kids at L2F.

1.       What makes FFW so beneficial for kids who struggle with reading?

I’ve worked in the school system before, and saw kids who had such weak phonics and sound processing. Their speech was poor, and they had such a hard time putting certain sounds in order. I wondered, “How am I possibly going to be able to address this on my own as a person, just one on one with a kid?” They were so far behind, and in the regular school system, there aren’t very many opportunities for intervention. And, I found that Fast ForWord focuses on the sound skills, the root of reading, which is the most basic skill for reading, while also covering the breadth of the reading ability.

2.       Can you share some examples?

So, there are these different skills that FFW uses, at the same time in different ways. Skills like being able to “Touch the red circle after the blue square.” Just that simple exercise means you have to understand sequence, have attention skills and look at the screen. There’s another exercise where you have to touch “me” out of “me, bee, and sea.” You have to listen to the sound that matches the first sound of the word and match it. It’s a sound corresponding exercise.

You start with hearing and understanding the differences between sounds, and FFW builds up from there, to higher level skills like spelling, punctuation and sentence structure.

I like to use the example of losing stomach fat and getting fit: you have to do cardio, cross train, lift weights, diet and do core work. You can’t just do one thing – you need to have a lot of different skills to get fit. It’s the same way with reading.

3.       That’s amazing. What are some other things you might want people to know about FFW?

What I think is sometimes missed in the story of FFW is that there is a difference between kids who struggle to read and typical readers. There’s something that needs to be changed in the brain, which you can see in a variety of ways. That’s what the neuroscientists found – there’s something different, not necessarily a weakness, but a difference in the way their brains process information.

Given these processing weaknesses, sometimes people think of FFW as a boost to these skills, to speed things up. But, at the core of FFW, and I believe what most parents care about, it’s not a boost, but it’s about fixing the problem. It’s about addressing underlying missing skills, such as memory and attention processing.

4.       Are these children who do FFW usually diagnosed with ADHD or autism?

Those are the most common diagnosis, but there are also kids who show weakness but they are not significant – the weaknesses aren’t significant enough for school system to address it and they are the children who are falling through the cracks.

5.       Why is the summer a great time to start FFW?

Kids are on break, so they have more time. Also, when kids aren’t doing anything during the summer, they lose skills even if they had made progress during school. It’s well-documented in research. During the summer, you can do 30 minutes to 50 minutes a day, really hit it hard, and your kids can continue to gain and not lose out. During the summer, you have more flexibility to do that.

6.       Do you have any advice for parents?

Find an intervention that would work with your schedule. One of the powerful things about using FFW is you can do it at home, so finding something that works in a family’s schedule AND legitimately research-based is great. Yes, there are lots of games, apps and approaches that people say work, but there is no research behind them. If you want to get real progress, you have to use something that is researched.


Sensory Enrichment Training: Q&A with Bob Hillyer Part 2

Last week, I had the pleasure of sharing a great Q&A with Bob Hillyer, business development officer at Mendability. He explained how Mendability’s sensory enrichment therapy works and how these exercises are set up. Today, I’d like to share part 2 of our Q&A, where he talks about real success stories about Mendability and how parents can wade through all the information that’s out there, when they’re doing research for their children.


Are there any success stories that you can share?


We hear success stories almost every day. Parents tell us about children who have finally slept through the night, children who begin to say new words, or eat solid foods, or say “I love you” for the first time. It really makes it easy to stay motivated here!


One success story that is meaningful to me was with a young child who had a stroke in utero. It was so sad because she lost almost all of the left hemisphere of her brain and suffered from the effects, not only of paralysis on her right side, but also many other symptomsI will never forget the email from her mom the day she let me know that this girl had used her right hand to play with her tablet. I was so pleased with her progress and improvements.


Another one was a parent who called in and was not sure about trying this therapy with her adult child. She was worried that her adult child would not be able to leave home and live on her own. This mother’s concern was that it might be too late to see any progress in an adult. As we worked through her concerns, she decided to sign up. Ten months later, she was so pleased that her daughter was now functioning to a point where she could attend college, get a job, live on her own, and be safe and smart about her own life.


There are literally hundreds of stories that can be told, but the one that really matters is when that child is your own.


Do you have advice for parents who are doing research on their kids, when there is so much information out there?


Selecting a therapy for your child, and chasing the information that is out there can be a challenge. There is a lot of conflicting information, inaccurate information, but at the same time, there is a lot of true information. Sometimes even good solutions have not had enough research to prove that they work. Sometimes “not proven to work” does not equate with “proven to not work”. However, you have to keep your wits about you, and I think it may be best to give more weight to options that have been tested in randomized controlled trials.


Not all scientific claims are created equal. You may need to dig past the words “proven” to see what is meant by that. It may mean the therapy ought to be effective because of related research. Sometimes what was researched is not actually the therapy itself.


A step above that is research that tests the therapy itself and shows that the therapy is more effective than doing nothing.  If the study shows the therapy group improved more than the control group, they can say “clinically proven” but it only has to be effective enough to say on average it is better.


More reliable is research where it measures how much more the therapy group improves compared to the control group. This allows you to see how effective the therapy is. But there is research that is more reliable than that. If there are multiple studies, replication of studies, and the studies include large groups, and the results still show how much improvement there is compared to other therapies, this is even better. This shows that the research has a foundation and reliably shows how effective the therapy is at reducing symptoms. That is the ideal. That is a missing puzzle piece from a lot of the information. So, the more reliable the information the better.


Thank you! Is there anything else you might want readers to know?


There are lots of therapies and lots of solutions. Everybody knows that ultimately it is the little daily routines that add up to the biggest differences. You know deep down that it is YOU who will make the biggest difference in your child’s life. Make sure with whatever you are doing, you are taking enough time every day to have a positive pleasant moment with your child. If that positive moment includes the right sensory enrichment done together, you may find even more to be grateful for.

Sensory Enrichment Training: Q&A with Bob Hillyer, Part 1

A few days ago, I mentioned that Learn 2 Focus is now offering Mendability, a program that uses sensory enrichment therapy for children who may have developmental disorders. Here’s my promised Q&A with Robert Hillyer, business development officer of Mendability. He was kind enough to share how the therapy works, what the exercises are like, and how the program is different from other kinds of therapy.


How did you get involved with Mendability?


Claudie Pomares developed Sensory Enrichment Therapy.  I was introduced to her through her son Kim.  Kim was running a small private clinic with Claudie delivering the therapy to families, and I was running a small business after leaving an automation engineering career to pursue inventing full-time.  We met together each week to help each other with our businesses to brainstorm and share ideas.  


One week, Kim mentioned how Claudie was only one person and that limited how many clients could benefit from this therapy.  He had some ideas about how to expand the reach, but there were still many challenges.  With my automation background, I was able to tell him how this could be automated, and how we could make a computer able to follow Claudie’s therapy decision process.


I worked with Kim and Claudie to first understand the therapy and how decisions were made, and then began modelling Claudie’s decision-making and her approach.  After the first version was complete, Claudie would run the software to generate therapy worksheets and compare them to the ones she was creating.  If she saw anything that needed improvement, the software would be updated and ‘trained’ to adjust its approach.  Over a few years this ‘training’ continued for the software until it was not only consistently making correct worksheets.


This was about the time that Mendability was organized to offer this therapy as an online service to expand its reach.  I started full-time to build the online delivery of it, help organize the videos and instructions of all of the exercises, and help build a company based on delivering therapy through the internet instead of a clinic.


How does Sensory Enrichment Therapy work for kids? Is it similar to sensory integration/primary reflex integration/neurodevelopmental therapy?


There are some points of similarities and some key differences. Sensory Enrichment Therapy is similar to many other sensory approaches in that the senses and movement are used.  The differences come from how the senses are used and how the approach impacts brain function.  

People are seeing things, hearing things, smelling things, and touching things all day long.  Our brain process sensory inputs all the time.  Sometimes these inputs are pleasant, sometimes they are unpleasant, and often they are simply ignored by the brain. 


We can see that everyday sensory stimulation doesn’t do much to help repair a brain, because children with developmental delays don’t see improvements just by being around naturally occurring sensory stimulation.  So effective therapeutic approaches attempt to use sensory stimulation in a positive way to do the most good. 


But what is that?  What works?  How can you tell that a particular stimulation being offered to a child is going to help that child to recover from their symptoms?  


I think one reason why Sensory Enrichment Therapy has become so effective at improving symptoms comes from the fact that every single therapy worksheet has specific scientific research backing it up.  Not only do the worksheets select exercises that are appropriate for that particular individual, but the protocols themselves are based on hundreds of research articles that explain different brain responses to different kinds of sensory inputs; the importance of sensory pairings; and how Environmental Enrichment can help in the growth of new neurons, the development of new pathways, and the improvement to brain chemistry.  This means that Sensory Enrichment Therapy really stands out and is very effective.  It constantly draws on the research available to date to give powerful targeted and evidence-based sensory exercises that are best for an individual child at that particular time.


What are the exercises like? I read that it's like games?


The exercises are often formatted as sensory games.  Each exercise targets a particular brain function and will usually pair senses together.  The exercise is intended to activate a part of the brain that the software has determined is ready for growth or repair, based on the client’s feedback.  Then comes the challenge of making that exercise fun.  Often the exercise is actually a game that is played, but not every exercise is fun in a way that you might think of as fun.  Other times it may be more enjoyable than ‘fun’ because of what it is doing to capture the individual’s attention.


Each exercise is only a couple of minutes long.  There are about 10 minutes of exercises on a single worksheet.  Besides that, there are few protocols that are done a few times throughout the day for maybe 20-30 seconds each time.


Each exercise has video instructions and written instructions. The exercises are all quite simple and involve items you would normally find in a home.  If a parent has any questions at all, they can contact their therapist who may adjust the exercise a little to help the child’s interest or co-operation.


Stay tuned for Part 2 of our Q&A! Mahalo to Bob for taking the time to chat with us. You can learn more about Mendability at www.mendability.com.

Sensory Enrichment Therapy Now Available at Learn 2 Focus

I’m excited to announce that I’ve recently received certification for Mendability, a sensory enrichment therapy that I will be offering it to keiki and families here at Learn 2 Focus. A medication-free, evidence-based treatment that’s proven to help children with many developmental delays and disorders, Mendability is a program that stimulates the brain by using a variety of sensory experiences.

According to the Mendability website, here are six things that you should know about sensory enrichment therapy and how it works:

1.      The treatment involves sensorimotor exercises that stimulate concurrently two or more senses such as olfactory, tactile, visual, balance, motor systems and more. Many children with autism have challenges with over-stimulation and sensory integration, which is why this program focuses on helping them become more comfortable with their senses.

2.      The program is proven by science. A research study took place that followed two groups of autistic boys aged three to 12, where one group participated in sensory enrichment and the other followed behavioral therapy. The therapy continued for six months and 42 percent of the children in the enrichment group improved significantly, better able to relate to people and respond to visual and auditory stimuli. In the behavioral therapy group, only seven percent showed improvement.

3.      Sensory enrichment therapy is useful and important because parents can use items that are typically available in the household – without having to pay for special program or medications. It is a low-cost method of healing your child.

4.      Sensory enrichment therapy has three innovative features: the stimulus is always changing, two senses are always stimulated at the same time and one of the senses is always either smell or touch. This sensory pairing is key to the therapy’s success.

5.      The exercises are set up like games, making them engaging for the child. For 10 minutes a day, you can work together with your child in a way that is always bonding and fun.

6.      Some issues that can be overcome include prenatal alcohol, prenatal cocaine and prenatal stress, lead exposure, stroke, seizures, brain lesions, percussive head injury, neural transplants, Parkinson’s disease, cerebellar degeneration and much more.

Please stay tuned - tomorrow, we will be sharing the first of a two part Q and A with Robert Hillyer, an administrative officer from Mendability.  You can learn more by visiting www.mendability.com or dropping me a line at susi@learn2focus.com.

5 Things You Should Know About FitLight in Hawaii

As I mentioned earlier this week, I have just begun sharing a new therapeutic intervention tool at Learn 2 Focus: FITLIGHT™! It’s a brain training activity that helps increase processing speed and cognitive and motor function through using a visual, light sequence.

Here’s why I am recommending it to my clients:               

1.      It’s fun! FITLIGHT™ is a wireless light system composed of 8 RGB LED lights and a central PDA controller. The lights are targets that you activate or deactivate during a series of gross motor movements. As each light is deactivated, response time is measured and real-time feedback is provided on how fast or slow you reacted.

2.      I love how you can receive immediate feedback in relation to your performance, or you can choose to review the feedback later for future analysis by downloading it to your computer. You see how well you reacted, and you learn how you can improve next time, building up to a more challenging speed.

3.      FITLIGHT™ improves reaction time by increasing the speed at which neurons fire and communicate. In other words, it improves Neurotiming, or, timing in the brain. This means you also increase attention and executive functioning, motor coordination and balance, language processing, reading and math fluency and more.

4.      It can be used on its own or together with another program I offer, called Interactive Metronome. Whether it’s through math problems, spelling tests or sorting tasks, FITLIGHT™ can be customized to your weaknesses and also strengths. I like to start the program at a very easy sequence, so that the child’s confidence levels grow and we see a gradual improvement throughout each session.

5.      Through rewiring the brain and helping the brain create faster neuron firing, FITLIGHT™ can help athletes improve their speed, processing, accuracy, as well as impulse control.  It is also successfully used for children with ADHD, Apraxia/Dyspraxia, Autism Spectrum Disorders, Brain Injury, Cerebral Palsy, Dyslexia and more.

If you’d like to learn more about FITLIGHT™, please contact me at susi@learn2focus.com!



Learn 2 Focus Introduces FitLight to Hawaii!

Aloha, Learn 2 Focus ohana! I’m so thrilled to be able to share with you a new therapeutic intervention tool called FITLIGHT™. Developed by a former Olympic handball athlete from Denmark, FITLIGHT™ is a fun, engaging tool that helps increase processing speed and cognitive and motor function. I primarily pair FITLIGHT with Interactive Metronome, but it can be used on its own as well.

Here’s how it works: FITLIGHT™ has a light sequence, to which you perform a series of gross motor movements. As each light is deactivated, response time is measured and real-time feedback is provided on how fast or slow you reacted. Parameters are adjustable to the needs of the individual training.  We have local high school athletes using FITLIGHT, as well as individuals with attention and learning challenges.

While the overall goal of the program is to improve reaction time, it’s a scientific fact that when reaction time gets better, the brain is increasing the speed at which neurons fire and communicate. This means the carryover can be seen in both cognitive and motor function.

FITLIGHT™ and Interactive Metronome are both programs based on rhythm and timing – two very important, critical factors in helping you plan and sequence your thoughts and actions. Interactive Metronome is a program that hones in on neurotiming by coordinating physical movements to a computer-generated metronome beat. FITLIGHT™ uses light sequences. Both are built upon the scientific evidence that that cognitive challenges can be overcome when your timing improves, and that neurological functions is highly dependent on timing. Whether it’s the simple act of speaking or throwing a ball, everything has to be in-sync. Your brain needs to have what we call neurotiming, or, quick, precise brain timing. As millisecond accuracy is improved, neuroefficiency is strengthened. There’s growing improvement in the brain’s ability to synchronize thought and movement.

What I love about FITLIGHT™ is that it goes so well with Interactive Metronome. Whether it’s with Interactive Metronome’s math problems, spelling tests or sorting tasks, FITLIGHT™ is very customizable as it strengthens the child’s timing skills and processing speed. Like Interactive Metronome, I can adjust the light sequence to match the child’s levels so that it starts at a no or low fail point, building confidence as we go.

If you’d like to learn more, please contact me at susi@learn2focus.com!

8 Things You Should Know About ADHD

1.      ADHD is not a choice. It’s caused by a neurological disorder, and this has been backed by years of research. Many people think that ADHD a defect in character, but the brain is actually wired differently. The good news: it’s a very treatable disorder.

2.      The frontal cortex, which is responsible for executive functioning, Studies show that there is under-activity due to decreased blood flow, decreased glucose metabolism and lower levels of neurotransmitters dopamine and norepinephrine.

3.      ADHD doesn’t only cause a lack of focus. It’s a disorder of self-regulation and self-control, and are driven by the brain’s executive functioning, which means ADHD affects self-awareness, inhibition, working memory (verbal and nonverbal), self-motivation, emotional control and emotional planning or problem solving. It can also cause hyperfocus. While a lack of focus is more commonly known, ADHD can cause people to become so deeply focused on one task that they can’t let go and stop when they need to.

4.      There are three types of ADHD: predominatively inattentive presentation, predominantly hyperactive-impulse presentation and combined presentation.

5.      Like many other disorders, diagnosing ADHD can be a struggle. It’s a long and arduous process, where the doctor or therapist will have to take note of symptoms that may have happened from a young age. Factors like school performance, family and social life are all considered.

6.      ADHD doesn’t cause low intelligence. In fact, people with ADHD scores very high on intelligence tests. The fact is, they can get poor grades in school because everything is performance-based and standardized. Students have trouble focusing and tend to lack organization and memory skills.

7.      Understanding time can be a challenge. People with ADHD easily lose track of time, or have “time blindness.” This can also be tied to problems with willpower, but it’s hard to be aware of time and cut things off when they need to go. Think, trying to clean the whole house when you have to leave for an appointment in five minutes.

8.      Although ADHD is considered a life-long disorder, but it’s possible to control symptoms associated with it. There are successful treatments available. Find the right strategies, careers and support system, and symptoms can be reduced or eliminated. 

Part 2: Q and A with Primitive Reflex Specialist, Sonia Story

Here is part two of my Q&A with neurodevelopmental movement expert Sonia Story.


1. Why and how is neurodevelopmental movement so effective?


One of the first things we hear from parents after starting neurodevelopmental movement, is that their child starts to sleep better. Then we hear things like their child is more emotionally regulated and has more energy. The child is happier and more willing to do school work and children often eat much better too. What happens is the brain recognizes these movements and it calms and matures the brain and sensory systems in the body.


If the child wasn’t placed on his belly as much as possible as a baby, or if the child was kept in a car seat for hours a day, and the child didn’t move, then these innate neurodevelopmental movement patterns that kids are supposed to be doing, will not be fully matured. Instead, there are gaps in the movement and gaps in brain growth. Plus, movements that are supposed to be dormant are still active in the child’s brainstem now. When this happens, the brain can be agitated nearly all the time and in fight-or-flight mode. It’s like the nervous system is raw because it never was fully formed. The children haven’t fully developed their neuro-sensory-motor system when they miss these important movements.


The great part is when you give the brain the chance to explore these movements, it will respond. It recognizes the movements and it picks up where it left off in infancy. And the brain keeps maturing and responding to these movements our entire lives.


2. Can neurodevelopmental movement be a solution for parents who don't want to use medication to treat their kids’ ADHD and autism?


According to one of my mentors, Harald Blomberg, MD, who is a psychiatrist, doing neurodevelopmental movement is a very good way to mature the brain allowing for ADHD symptoms to gradually fade away.  Children with autism also greatly benefit. They typically become much more calm, more focused, and better able to learn and to speak.


There are just so many problems with medication for ADHD. It can be effective for about 6 months and then the results go away and the child is worse than before. There is peer-reviewed published research that shows this. The brain is so complex, and the drugs have serious side effects. I encourage parents to read more about this and do research. Read the package insert on any medication and be informed. I recommend reading the Anatomy of an Epidemic, which has been meticulously researched. The author shows how drugs can affect the brain and often times create worse outcomes than the condition they were supposed to help.


3. Earlier, you mentioned car seats. Do you have any other main concerns that you see in modern or "trending" parenting styles?


C-section rates are very high right now – it does put a stress on the baby, and interferes with reflexes. So opting out of C-Section birth is very important if at all possible.


It is important to avoid the toys and carriers that take the baby away from movement or that put the baby in positions that they cannot do on their own yet. For example, in a jumper, babies are vertical before they can hold themselves up vertically on their own. Exersaucers and other kinds of play “jumpers” – any kind of seating or reclining device or the toys that roll as the baby pushes, all give artificial support to the baby, when the baby should be developing the strength through movement on the floor. Kids should be on the floor, moving on their bellies. This leads to greater core strength and greater brain development. It allows them to build strength and pleasure of movement. By letting a child move on his own, he will build a strong body and integrated brain and sensory systems. We rob our children of these important movement opportunities unknowingly when they are in these kinds of toys.


Avoid anything that takes the baby out of the natural realm, such as cellphones and screen toys. These toys can be physically addicting because they stimulate opiate pathways in the brain, and is very bad for brain development and eye development. The light from the screens also interferes with our ability to sleep. Babies should be looking at things in 3D, and not 2D on screens.


Another area of concern is food. The food we are feeding our children should not processed and ideally is organically grown and Non-GMO. Non-organically grown food makes our children prone to allergies and that can lead to illness which can then take the child away from important movement opportunities.



4. Do you have any advice for parents who are doing research for their children -- where can they find accurate information?


I would like parents to know is that these neurodevelopmental movements are the foundation for proper sensory processing and learning and they are exceptionally transformative for anyone who does them regularly. I teach both professionals and parents. Many OTs have told me these neurodevelopmental movements are the most effective tools they have to help with sensory processing challenges, anxiety, and behavior challenges. Parents can also read the book called, Movements That Heal, by Blomberg and Dempsey.


I have a lot of information on my website and I teach both online and live courses. The value of the courses is so great it cannot be calculated, yet they are very affordable and accessible. I love it when parents learn these tools, because it is very economical. Parents can do this at home. If you learn the tools yourself, you have them for life.


The neurodevelopmental movements are one of the biggest gifts you can give to your child. It’s so worth taking the time to learn. Doing these enjoyable movements together is a great way for parents and children to bond, have fun together, and help the children be successful and comfortable in their bodies. Most children love receiving these movements and many ask their parents for more.


You can learn more about Sonia Story and her online classes at www.moveplaythrive.com.

Part 1: Q and A with Neurodevelopmentalist, Sonia Story

Hi, Learn 2 Focus ohana! I am so excited to share with you my detailed Q&A with Sonia Story, a neurodevelopment movement expert who is located in Washington State. I've taken her course on brain and sensory movement, and asked her if she’d be willing to do an interview today with me. She was kind enough to talk for over an hour – we covered everything from the basics of neurodevelopmental movement to what parents can do to help their babies integrate primitive reflexes. There is so much to share, so I’ve split the interview into Part 1 and Part 2 – expect Part 2 in my next blog post.


You can learn more about Sonia Story on her website, www.moveplaythrive.com.


1. Hi Sonia! Thanks again for taking the time to chat with me today. Here’s my first question…What are some things parents can do from the get-go to help babies properly integrate reflexes? 


There are so many answers to this question, but the simplest thing to do is move with your child right from the beginning. Ideally babies should spend a lot of time on their bellies doing floor play. Although it may be very different from what a doctor would say, other doctors and experts in development are saying it is important to give your baby plenty of time on the belly and to even have your child sleep on his belly. There is a lot of research coming out that shows that the best thing for children’s development is to be on the belly from the minute they are born. Being on the belly develops core strength, digestion, and has a huge amount to do with whether the reflexes are integrated or not.


2. Besides not being on the belly enough, are there other things that hinder proper reflex integration?


There are so many things that may be causing children to have challenges. From the womb on, they are exposed in their environment to a lot of things that could really hamper their development: toxins such as heavy metals, pesticides, herbicides, along with vaccinations and even ultrasounds and exposure to electromagnetic frequencies from cordless phones, cell phones and WiFi. These things can hamper movement patterns right from the beginning, which then may cause sensory processing challenges, coordination and learning challenges, and symptoms of AHDH and autism.


3. Are there any things that pregnant women and mothers should be aware of?


The birth itself is important. Ideally a birth is as natural and un-medicated as possible, and right after birth, it is best if the baby and mother get to bond. Nursing is really important to integrate reflexes, like sucking and rooting. All these reflexes are important for the next ones down the line and are important for our development – they work synergistically together.


Eliminate stressors as much as possible. Anything a pregnant woman or mother can do to relieve her own stress and take care of herself and nurture herself is going to benefit the baby. It would be nice if we lived in a time or place where women got more support than they do! It’s hard to be a mom when we are isolated from support. Human beings were never meant to be isolated from one another. We were meant to live in groups. Building supportive relationships helps – caring for infants shouldn’t be as hard as it is.


4. What is neurodevelopmental movement? How is it unique?

When we are first developing, we have an innate set of involuntary movements that propel the growth of the brain, body and sensory systems. These innate neurodevelopmental movements set the foundation for our future physical, emotional, social, speech and learning skills.


What is unique about these innate, involuntary movements of infancy is that the brain recognizes these movements and uses them for calming, maturing, and organizing the brain and body.

The fascinating thing is that these movements work during our entire lifespan to help us integrate the brain and the sensory system, to develop connections and mature the brain. This enables us to calm ourselves and release stress and trauma. They are amazing movements in that way. They are gifts from God! Not only are they perfect for our development, but they can really support us throughout our entire life. They are very special.


5. When you say involuntary movements, are you talking about primitive reflexes?


There are basically three categories of movement, based on what babies do in the womb and during early infancy. The first category is the one most people recognize as milestone movements: belly crawling, hands-and-knees crawling, rolling over and walking. These are what you would consider as milestones, but what most people don’t know is that they’re just the tip of the iceberg. There are many other movements that are foundational for those milestones. The second category are rhythmic movements, which are the innate movements that babies do, as long as they are healthy, not stressed and have room to grow. The third category of neurodevelopmental movement is primitive reflexes.


All three categories are neurodevelopmental movement. They are movements that develop our brain, body and senses.


6. Do you have any success stories that you can share?


I once worked with a five-year-old boy whose mother told me that he’s always falling down and hurting himself, and was talking nonstop. I asked him to lie down so I could check his feet reflexes. His eyes went wide, and I asked him how he felt. He said, “I feel like I’m going to explode.” It was extremely uncomfortable for him to sit still, because his brain was not developed enough. These children cannot sit still comfortably because their movements were not integrated --  these children are  not willfully misbehaving, they are not being lazy, bad kids. Each reflex has so much to do with our ability to function.


This boy, he walked over to the toy on the table, reached out and hit the underside of the table. He didn’t have the awareness of where his body was in space, which was why he was falling down so much. He had many reflexes that were unintegrated. I sent his mother home with rhythmic movements and reflex work.


One month later, I heard from his mom again. He never hurts himself anymore, she said. His drawings are more detailed, and better yet, he is eating better, sleeping better and is so much happier. When I say him a month later, he told me that he went skiing all by himself with his dad. He wasn’t talking nonstop anymore and he was way more present, embodied and happy. It was life changing for him. I have so many stories like this, where integration of reflexes helped a child overcome developmental challenges.

5 Things You Should Know About Neurodevelopmental Movements

We’ve been on a great roll these past few weeks on neurodevelopmental movements, thanks to our amazing friend and expert Sonia Story. Interviewing her about neurodevelopmental movements and primitive reflexes has been such a pleasure.  Stay tuned this week as we share her knowledge with you all.

So, what have we learned? Since I’m a fan of lists (as you already know, if you’ve been following my blog!), let’s list five things, shall we?

1.      Neurodevelopmental movements are an amazing solution to helping babies, children and adults integrate their primitive reflexes. And, it is imperative to integrate PR, because research shows that it is often the cause of many developmental and learning disabilities such as ADHD, ADD, autism, sensory disorders and more.

2.      Neurodevelopmental movements help develop the brain, sensory, nervous and motor systems. Even if your primitive reflexes are integrated, they are useful because they can help the brain grow and function to its full potential.

3.      Neurodevelopmental movements mimic what babies do in the womb and infancy. They stimulate the brain, and literally rewire the brain to create new nerve connections and make more efficient pathways.

4.      Neurodevelopmental movements can be very calming for infants and children. If there are gaps in the neuro-sensory-motor foundation due to trauma or injuries, neurodevelopmental movements can bridge these gaps. These movement calm the nervous system with sensory integration, developing vision, hearing, balance and touch. Plus, motor skills like proper head control, muscle tone, stamina, strength and posture all benefit from neurodevelopmental movements. 

5.      Neurodevelopmental movements can help the child hone his or her higher level skills such as language development, social interaction and learning. So many of these skills depend on how neural pathways in the brain developed during infancy. If they didn’t develop to its full potential, neurodevelopmental movements can give the child a second chance. 

Part 3: The Life Cycle of a Primitive Reflex

A reflex is an involuntary movement or combination of movements that happens in your brain and translates to your physical body. Your brain sends your body a message and your body reacts in a physical movement. There are countless different kinds of reflexes that are part of our system, but here’s what we do know: All of us are born with primitive reflexes. These reflexes are created inside the womb, and are what helps babies thrive and grow in their early stages of infancy and toddlerhood. But what we also need to realize is that these primitive reflexes need to disappear or merge into more sophisticated, voluntary reflexes. When this happens, the term we use is “integration.”

In Part One and Part Two of my primitive reflex blog series, I shared some information that I’ve learned from primitive reflexes and neurodevelopmental movement expert Sonia Story. Today, in Part Three, I want to share with you more in detail about how a primitive reflex comes to emerge, and the steps it needs to take before it can be fully integrated.

1.       Emerge. The primitive reflex is awakened. This happens during the process of normal development, where certain stimuli trigger the reflex to begin its life cycle. The cycle can also be triggered by another reflex, because our body’s reflexes are all interdependent and interwoven.

2.       Develop. The reflex is stimulated and exercised through repetition. The reflex movement is repeated over and over, which is why it’s so important to give the baby many forms of stimulation to grow and develop. Give her plenty of play time and tummy time! As the baby is developing her muscles, brain and nerve networks, the primitive reflex is being constantly used.

3.       Integrated. The primitive reflex is finished with its job. It’s been fully used at the correct time, and has become completely integrated. How do we know when it’s been integrated? It’s merged into another reflex or the reflex has merged into a more sophisticated, voluntary movement pattern.

So, here’s the big question. What happens if a primitive reflex isn’t integrated? Experts say that an unintegrated primitive reflex can often be the cause behind developmental and learning disorders. It can even cause issues with motor skills as the child grows up. But the good news is that it’s never too late to release a primitive reflex from a non-integrated, or “locked” state. The solution is through specific movements and exercises, of which Sonia Story is an expert and I also offer here at Learn 2 Focus.

If you have any questions about primitive reflexes, shoot me an email at susi@learn2focus.com. I’d be happy to chat about any concerns you might have, and see if integration is a possible solution for your child.


Part 2: 7 Key Primitive Reflexes - How Do They Affect a Child's Performance?

Last week, we talked about Sonia Story and her expertise on primitive reflexes. Babies are born with certain primitive reflexes which are developed in the womb, and they eventually are integrated into more complex movements. Today, we’re introducing 7 key primitive reflexes and why it is so important that they become integrated.

1.       Fear Paralysis Reflex. The FPR is a protective reaction that helps babies cope with stress, and is a “freezing” reaction that is similar to a deer caught in the headlights. When a baby has FPR, he will tighten his jaw and eye muscles, contract his limbs and pull them in towards his core. He’ll hold his breath and his heart rate might drop. When FPR isn’t integrated, the baby may grow up to become a child or adult who has long-term effects like shallow, difficult breathing, low tolerance to stress, insecurity, underlying anxiety or negativity, sleep and eating disorders, extreme shyness or phobias.

2.       Moro Reflex. You might have heard of this one – it’s the infant-startle reflex, which is an automatic reaction to a sudden change in sensory stimuli. In response to a sudden change or perceived danger, the baby will involuntarily tighten his body, fling his arms up and out, open his fists, draw up his knees and then bring his arms and re-clenched fists close to his body. An unintegrated Moro reflex can result in sleep disturbances, poor balance and coordination, poor stamina, motion sickness or hypersensitivity.

3.       Tonic Labyrinthine Reflex. The TLR provides the baby with opportunities to practice balance, increase muscle tone and develop vestibular and proprioceptive senses. In forward TLR, as the head bends forward, the body, arms, legs and torso will curl inward. In backward TLR, the whole body, arms, legs and torso will straighten and extend as the head is bent backward. Issues with a active TLR can include balance and coordination problem, shrunken posture, weak muscle tone, fear of heights or motion sickness.

4.       Asymmetrical Tonic Neck Reflex. The ATNR links head and neck movement to one-sided movement. When the baby turns her head to one side, the arm and leg of that same side will automatically extend. By 6 months, this reflex should evolve into more complex movement patterns. Possible effects of an active ATNR is dyslexia, reading, listening, handwriting and spelling difficulties or poor sense of direction.

5.       Symmetrical Tonic Neck Reflex. The STNR helps the baby lift and control her head for far-distance focusing – the movement of the head is automatically linked to movement of the arms and legs. Possible long-term effects of an active STNR is squirming or fidgeting, slouching, headaches from muscle tension, difficulty writing and reading, vision disorders or apelike walking.

6.       Spinal Galant Reflex. The SPR is the rotation of the hip that occurs when the back is touched on either side of the spine. It helps babies coordinate the body for crawling and creeping. Possible long-term effects of an active SPR is bedwetting, hip rotation to one side, poor posture or difficulty sitting still.

7.       Oral, Hand and Foot Reflexes. When babies knead their hands while they suckle, that’s the Oral, Hand and Foot reflex. Active reflexes after a certain age can be speech delay, difficulty in social situations, handwriting difficulties, flat feet or swallowing problems. 

Part One: 4 Things You Should Know About Primitive Reflexes

The integration of primitive reflexes is an important part of my sessions with students, because the lack of integration is often closely related to ADD, ADHD, autism, learning disorders, sensor-integration disorders and much more. That’s why I’ve recently decided to re-enroll in an online class by Sonia Story, who is an expert on primitive reflexes and its integration through neurodevelopmental movement. You can learn more about her at www.moveplaythrive.com.  


Today, I wanted to share with you some of Sonia’s expertise and several things that I’ve already learned from her. And since there is so much to cover, I’m going to be spreading it out into multiple blog posts!


1.      Primitive reflexes grow in the womb and infancy, and are designed to become inactive after the toddler stage. A reflex is an automatic, instinctual movement that assists in development, growth and survival, such as sucking and grasping with the hand. Eventually, a primitive reflex merge into more sophisticated movements. Once the primitive reflex is integrated, then it is no longer active. And that’s a good thing!

2.      Sometimes, primitive reflexes are left unintegrated. This can be caused by lack of proper movement such as no tummy time or too much usage of carriers and jumpers. Other factors can be stress caused during the pregnancy, illness or environmental toxins.

3.      When primitive reflexes are unintegrated, it can trigger the “fight or flight” response, creating chronic stress. The child can also have difficulty moving body parts independently. For example, moving the head can automatically cause movements in the limbs, hands or feet. This can create difficulties with growth, coordination, reading, writing, speaking and even thinking.

4.      What can we do then? According to Sonia, movement and play can help integrate the reflexes at any age. The brain is an amazing, flexible muscle that can be rewired and reworked. When a reflex is expressed repeatedly and fully used, then the reflex will become “finished” with their job, so the key is plenty of neurodevelopmental movement and play.


In my next blog post, I’ll be covering key primitive reflexes that need to be integrated, such as the Fear Paralysis Reflex, the Tonic Labyrinthine Reflex, Moro Reflex, Spinal Galant Reflex and the Symmetrical Tonic Neck Reflex. Stay tuned!

5 Things You Should Know About Mirror Neurons

Happy new year! I hope that you all had fun, memorable and safe celebrations with family and friends, and that you’re as excited as I am for another year of amazing development and progress for our keiki!

For the first official post of 2017, I wanted to share some information on mirror neurons. The mirror neuron system is what makes it possible for children to say what they hear and do what they see. By copying body, face and speech movements, the brain learns new skills. Here are five things you should know about this amazing phenomenon that’s closely related to language and motor skills.

1.    Mirror neurons fire when we move and observe someone else’s movement. They were first discovered by scientists recording electrical impulses in single neurons of a monkey’s brain.  

2.    The mirror neuron is just one of many types of neurons, which are nerve cells that carry messages through the brain and body.

3.    The mirror neuron is an important foundation for purposeful movement and problem solving, and help a child learn speed and accuracy. The mirror neuron system links perception and movement in the brain, and helps develop language skills and understanding actions and intentions.

4.    Interesting fact: Infants associate vowels to mouth sizes by watching their parents open their mouths to different extents when they product different vowels. That’s why it’s encouraged for parents to speak often to their babies early on, so that they can grasp how language and speech sounds work.

Vision, language and action are part of an integrated, dynamic system that is tuned to body movement and to the kind of perception information that come from vision, hearing, smell, touch and balance. For example, eye movements during visually guided actions help children understand the relationship between vision, action and language. They watch and imitate people in their environment, which helps them develop motor and language skills.  

Top 10 New Year's Resolutions

As the new year comes around, I’m already thinking about the resolutions I plan to make, keep and hopefully not forget. Maybe you’re doing the same! Perhaps you want to lose the holiday weight or finally run the Honolulu Marathon. Maybe you want to make more time to help your kid with his homework. Or, as parents with children who have specific challenges or developmental disorders, your resolutions are broader, with a hopeful perspective.

According to a survey in 2013, these are the top 10 most common resolutions made by parents who have kids with autism. (https://www.autismspeaks.org/blog/2013/01/18/top-10-new-year%E2%80%99s-resolutions-myautismteam-parents) The survey took place three years ago, and although the results were gathered only from families who have kids on the spectrum, I think they apply to all of us.

1.      I will develop my child’s areas of strength.

2.      I will take things one day at a time.

3.      I will be a stronger advocate for my child at his/her school or with healthcare providers.

4.      I will explore new therapies for my child.

5.      I will be part of a strong social network for emotional, social, and informational support.

6.      I will make more time for my spouse and myself.

7.      I will exercise more.

8.      I will start looking at things from my child’s perspective.

9.      I will manage my own anxieties about social situations with my child.

10.  I will be vigilant in monitoring and managing my child’s progress.

Do you have any other resolutions that you have in mind? Where do you see 2017 going for your child and for your family as a whole? Let me know…and happy new year!

5 Reasons Why Early Intervention Is Important

Hope you had a wonderful Christmas, everyone! As we’re heading into the end of the year, you might have started thinking about the new season coming up. Maybe you’re considering of starting a new plan for your child, or different ways to overcome his developmental delays or other challenges.

Whatever the case, I always tell parents not to delay. Don’t wait to start on a program or a new plan. While you’re waiting to hear back from the doctor’s office, start doing research on your child, or seeking out a second opinion. And always, don’t forget the importance of early intervention. Here are my five reasons why:

1.       The earlier a child receives help to overcome developmental disorders, the better the chance he has to catch up with his peers, especially when it comes to education. Through early intervention, keiki can hopefully be able to enter preschool or elementary school ready to succeed.

2.       According to research, learning and development are at their highest rate in the preschool years. If certain important learning and developmental milestones are missed, the sad truth is that children will start falling behind more and more down the road.

3.       Early intervention has been shown to result in the child needing fewer special education and habilitative services later in life, being retained in grade less often, and in some cases, being indistinguishable from nonhandicapped classmates after intervention.

4.       There are local services available at the state level, where you can receive free services for both yourself and your child. Early Intervention Services in Hawaii is a federal and state-mandated program that provides free help for infants and toddlers who need extra boost to their developmental delays. Your pediatrician can provide a referral if you feel your child needs that support.

Your role as parents is crucial in your child’s success. Your child needs your full commitment and involvement in any plan, whether it is a virtual program like our Learn 2 Focus’ IM Home, Fast ForWord or Cogmed. Remember that your child needs your support in all environments, whether it’s at school or at home

Take 30% off Forbrain for Christmas

From now until Saturday, Dec. 24, I’m offering a limited-time holiday promotion for Forbrain, which is a great tool used to improve speech, fluency, memory, focus, coordination and many other sensory functions. The product implements a bone conductor and dynamic filters to feed your child with his own voice, improving and optimizing all the components of an audio-vocal loop.

Here’s the special promotion: Buy Forbrain today with 30% off the regular price of $299, plus free shipping! You can use the following link: http://www.forbrain.com/?utm_id=3A2401345 and click on ORDER NOW at the top.

OR go to https://www.forbrain.com/order-now/order-form and provide the following code: 3A2401345


Studies have shown that Forbrain improves the cognitive capacities involved in the reading process. This is due to the modification and improvement of the plasticity on the brain structures that are used in the reading process. There’s a dynamic filter in the Forbrain that trains the brain to be more attentive, improving not only attention but auditory processing and sensory integration.

Here’s how it works: There is a bone conduction of the Forbrain that transmits the sound of your own voice 10 times faster, and with greater clarity than air conduction. Dynamic filter enhances specific frequencies of speech and constantly surprises the brain to increase memory, attention and sensory processing. Finally, there is an auditory feedback loop which corrects the way you hear your own voice, leading o to better speech production and increased confidence.

Again, this promotion is good until this coming Saturday, Dec. 24, and is a limited-time offer that takes 30% off the regular Forbrain price of $299. Enjoy!

7 Things You Should Know About Sensory Processing Disorder

We talked last week about some facts you should know about auditory processing disorder (APD). Today, I wanted to step back a bit and look at the overall larger picture of sensory processing disorder (SPD), which APD belongs to. Many parents who have children with learning or behavioral problems often also experience issues with sensory processing, and at Learn 2 Focus, we can work on integrating those senses that have been disrupted. Also called sensory integration dysfunction, SPD can affect children so much that it interferes with their normal, everyday functioning – changing clothes, putting on shoes, studying, or eating certain foods.

Here are seven important things that you should know about SPD:

1.      Sensory integration is a natural, neurological developmental process that begins in the womb and continues throughout your life. When this process is disrupted and causes a neurological dysfunction, SPD can occur.

2.      SPD can be categorized into tactile (sense of touch), vestibular (sense of movement), proprioception (sense of position), auditory (sounds), oral (relating to mouth), olfactory (smell) and visual (sight).

3.      Important: We all have some type of sensory preferences. Maybe we even have a mild case of dysfunction. However, the frequency, intensity, duration and functional impact of these symptoms varies and can determine their effect on your life as a disorder.

4.      With SPD, there is hypersensitivity (over-responsiveness) or hyposensitivity (under-responsiveness). Remember, a child can be one or the other, or both in different areas at the same time. With hypersensitivity, the child may be fearful of surprise touches, and will avoid hugs and cuddling. On the other hand, hyposensitivity to sensory input may include a constant need to touch people or certain textures, or maybe a lack of understanding when it comes to personal space.

5.      Just because your child has sensory dysfunction doesn’t mean that he or she will have all the symptoms of SPD. For example, a child with vestibular dysfunction may have poor balance, but good muscle tone.

6.      There may be inconsistencies. A child may show characteristics of a dysfunction one day, but not the next.

7.      The good news: All of these challenges can be managed effectively with our drug-free Learn 2 Focus programs such as : Interactive Metronome, The Listening Program, InTime, and even supplementary sensory games associated with our Wilson Reading System.