Background

Katy’s world changed in more ways than she expected when her son Oscar was born in 1997. Eight months after he was born, an MRI confirmed that Oscar had had a significant stroke around birth, affecting his left hemisphere and therefore his right side. She was driven to learn as much as she could about helping him to reach his potential. They participated in school-based therapies as well as medical-based therapies, but Katy was also interested in learning about more “outside the box” options that could help. She joined a parents’ support group on-line, Children’s Hemiplegia and Stroke Association (CHASA), which gave her unbelievable emotional support along with a wealth of information from parents who had already tried many programs.

Instructor Katy Held works with students doing Brain Gym hook-ups.One day a parent on the list serve mentioned “Brain Gym,” a system of simple movements that quickly enhance brain performance. She thought it sounded interesting, and made a mental note to check into it further someday. Then one day, in July 2001, she was guided to go to the Brain Gym web site (http://wwwbraingym.org) and see what it was all about.

There she found a course called “Brain Gym 101S,” for special education providers, taught by Cecilia (Freeman) Koester, in Farmington Hills, Michigan, only 40 minutes from her home. She signed up to take the August class, and it literally changed her life. After observing the immediate changes in children that Cecilia worked with in the class, Katy knew she had finally figured out what she wanted to be when she grew up: a Brain Gym instructor. She has been taking classes in Brain Gym and related programs ever since, racking up over 1000 hours of course work. She became licensed to teach Brain Gym in October 2004, and has had the pleasure of sharing Brain Gym with schools and groups such as Oakland County Intermediate School District, Detroit Country Day, Parents of Children with Down Syndrome, Ann Arbor Public Schools, Gladwin Public Schools, Association of Independent Michigan Schools, and the Michigan Adult Day Services Association.

At Katy’s first Brain Gym class, she was introduced to another unique program called “Bal-A-Vis-X,” which stands for Balance/Auditory/Vision eXercises, of varied complexity, most of which are deeply rooted in rhythm. These exercises consist of multiple thousands of physical/auditory/visual midline crossings in three dimensions, crossings that are steadily rhythmic and auditorily based. Bal-A-Vis-X enables the entire mind-body system to experience the natural symmetrical flow of a pendulum. These encourage full-body coordination and focused attention. The program utilizes beanbags, racquetballs, balance boards, and multiple principles and activities from Educational Kinesiology.

Instructor Katy Held does Bal-A-Vis-X with her son Oscar.It seemed fascinating, but the thing was, Katy wasn’t very good at it! In the partner exercises, she kept bouncing the balls at her partner’s feet, so that they couldn’t catch them. Cecilia Koester asked her if she was by any chance a bit overfocused? Her? (Oh yes, she was!)

Luckily for Katy, Bill Hubert, the man who developed Bal-A-Vis-X, came to Westland, Michigan to teach a workshop in June of 2004. She wasn’t sure if she should take the class, because it seemed like there were a lot of two-handed exercises, and Oscar’s right hand still wasn’t very functional. She decided to get Bill’s book and read about it before signing up. The book was informative and inspirational; Bill’s description of working with a boy named Rian, who has cerebral palsy, convinced Katy that it was definitely going to be useful for both her and Oscar.

During the class, Katy approached Bill and asked if he’d be willing to work one-on-one with Oscar, and he graciously agreed to do it after class the next day. The gym was being used for an event that evening, so they had to work together outside the school, just outside the door. Oscar was 7 years old at the time, and had lots of attention issues along with his physical challenges, although he was walking and running and enjoying life fully. Oscar also struggled with eye tracking; he couldn’t hold his head still and track just with his eyes. He had had several years of vision therapy by then, plus lots of Brain Gym, but he still didn’t have full control of his eye muscles.

Bill Hubert asked Oscar to lay down so that he could assess his eye tracking. (By laying down, we take gravity out of the equation, there are usually less visual distractions on a ceiling, and it’s easier for the a person to assess someone’s eye tracking by standing above them.) Oscar had trouble following the tracking ball, and moved his head along with his eyes. Then Bill had Oscar stand on a balance board that rocked gently side to side, and proceeded to bounce racquetballs to him, much to Oscar’s delight. Bill and Oscar came up with some ways that Oscar could bounce the ball in the same rhythm as people with two functioning hands, in about 10 or 15 minutes. (Katy was standing behind Oscar’s right side all that time, ready to catch him in case he fell off the board. He slipped once, but righted himself, and he was fine.)

After the 10 or 15 minutes, Bill helped Oscar off of the balance board and had him lay down again for a visual tracking assessment. This time, Bill gently laid a finger on Oscar’s forehead and said, “This time, keep your head still, and just move your eyes.” This request had been made of Oscar many times in the past, but this time, for the first time, he was able to do it!! Tears were streaming down Katy’s cheeks, along with those of Katy’s mom and her good friends who had been invited to watch. Bill humbly said, “Well, that’s all I can do for today…”

Not surprisingly, Katy has continued to take Bal-A-Vis-X classes from Bill and sponsor him to come to teach in Ann Arbor, enough times that Bill has now sanctioned her to teach Bal-A-Vis-X Levels 1, 2 and Adaptive Movements.

Katy and Oscar use Bal-A-Vis-X daily to practice Oscar’s spelling words. Although he still has issues with impulsivity and focus, he was at the highest level of spelling words in his 5th grade class last year, spelling words like “characteristic” and “paraphernalia.”

And every time Bill comes back to Ann Arbor to teach, he and Oscar ‘fuss around’ for a few minutes, and Oscar learns something more from this great teacher.

So you can see why Katy is so passionate about both Brain Gym and Bal-A-Vis-X; they have had such a profound impact on both her life and her son’s.

 

 

Other experiences

Katy and Oscar have experienced many mainstream and alternative therapies in their quest to help Oscar reach his potential: cranial osteopathy, music therapy, Rolfing, Feldenkrais, acupuncture, neurofeedback (for ADHD), chiropractic, homeopathy, Hyperbaric Oxygen Treatment (HBOT), Hellerwork, customized vitamins for biochemical balancing, the Feingold Diet, biofeedback (Oscar can now wiggle the toes on his R foot and can flex his R foot!!!), therapeutic riding, Martial Arts therapy, and surgery on his R foot (percutaneous heel cord lengthening and a posterior tibialis tendon transfer, performed by the fabulous Roy Nuzzo, M.D. at Overlook Hospital in Summit, New Jersey). She is glad to share any information about these experiences to interested parents.

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