How Katy's son redirected her life
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 to help him 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.
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. Katy signed up to take the August 2001 class, and it literally changed her life. After seeing the immediate changes in the 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 movement-based neural integration programs ever since, racking up over 2500 hours of course work, and counting! 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. The program utilizes beanbags, racquetballs, balance boards, and multiple principles from Educational Kinesiology.
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, even though he was walking, 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. Bill then 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 continued to take Bal-A-Vis-X classes from Bill and sponsored him to come teach in Ann Arbor; as of 2019, Bill has taught here approximately 20 times. In 2007, Bill sanctioned Katy to teach Bal-A-Vis-X Levels A (17 hours), and B (20 hours), and recently, his new Trauma-Informed Bal-A-Vis-X one day training (coming in 2020).
Katy and Oscar used Bal-A-Vis-X daily to practice Oscar’s spelling words in elementary and even in middle school. Although he still had issues with impulsivity and focus, he was at the highest level of spelling words in his 5th grade class, spelling words like “characteristic” and “paraphernalia.”
In high school, Oscar moved from a small charter school to the very large Pioneer High School in Ann Arbor, with about 1600 students. A few weeks into the school year, Katy suggested that Oscar take a few balls into school, and demonstrate some of the the BAVX exercises in each class – before the bell rang so he didn’t disturb class. When he came home from school that day, Katy asked how it went. Oscar said the kids and teachers were amazed; some of them tried and couldn’t do the exercises as well as Oscar. That day, his teachers and fellow classmates gained a newfound respect for Oscar. He felt so positive when he came home. He repeated that every year in high school. Just one day a year, but it let people see how capable he is.
Of all the modalities that Katy studied, the only one that Oscar would ask to do was Bal-A-Vis-X. Eventually, he became Katy’s teaching assistant, and it is still one of her very favorite things to do, teach BAVX with her now adult son.
Fast forward to 2019: Oscar is studying at Landmark College in Vermont, a college for students who learn differently. He intends to graduate with an Associates Degree in May 2020, and is on the basketball team. He recently gave a speech in his Fundamentals of Speaking class. Katy asked if he was nervous. He said, “A little, but I’m pretty comfortable being up in front of a group thanks to all those Bal-A-Vis-X trainings!”
Oscar has come such a long way, thanks in part to Bal-A-Vis-X, Brain Gym, MNRI, etc. Katy and her husband Woody couldn’t be prouder.
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.
To be continued...!