Tuesday, June 3, 2014

A TOS Review: A Life in Balance

I have talked about Josiah’s learning struggles often enough. My husband and I constantly thank God that we made the decision to homeschool early on. I am not saying that the Public School system doesn’t have some excellent teachers. After all, I was educated to be a Public School teacher and my friends who are teachers are some of the best people on the planet. Their work is truly a calling. 

With the exception of his kindergarten year, we have always schooled Josiah at home. This decision was made after his kindergarten teacher expressed concerns about Josiah’s learning capabilities. She thought he just required more time. I agreed, but I also recognized that there were probably other factors at work. Those other factors soon revealed themselves to be dyslexia, dysgraphia, dyscalculia, and ADHD. 

The Learning Breakthrough Program uses physical and occupational therapy. It integrates auditory, visual, motor planning, tactile, balance, body positioning and neurofeedback systems, allowing the entire body to function in a coordinated manner. I was able to review A Life in Balance which recounts the journey of Dr. Frank Belgau to create the Learning Breakthrough Program.


A Life in Balance begins with Dr. Belgau’s own learning struggles. As a child in the 1940’s, he had difficulty learning and school was a nightmarish event. He was the target of bullies and fearfully aware of his own scholastic shortcomings. 

His difficulties eventually righted themselves (he attributes this to a summer filled with outdoor games) and those early struggles made him even hungrier for learning. Dr. Belgau was also blessed during this period of his life with a mentor. This mentor came in the form of a teacher who challenged him and who believed in him. He became a plane mechanic after WWII and eventually a teacher himself. 

Dr. Belgau talks about his accidental launch into special education. I have seen documentaries and read about those early special education classrooms. Keep in mind that this was before the age of FAPE (the Free and Appropriate Education Act) and even once that was implemented teacher’s had no idea how to teach these exceptional students. Because they did not learn in the traditional manner they were often labeled and unchallenged. 

At the time, the best trick of the trade was to offer this advice. Tell the kids to sit down, put their heads on the desk and cover their heads with a newspaper. And this was from a good, well-meaning principal. The remedial teacher at his school asked Dr. Belgau (who was teaching arts and crafts at the time) if he would do her a favor by taking her class for an hour every day. She was worn to a frazzle and had no one to relieve her. 

In my opinion, Dr. Belgau did what any good teacher should do. He taught. Thankfully, he discarded the newspaper over the head advice and started giving these students small projects to keep them busy. They succeeded! He continued to challenge them. He noticed that they were undeterred by setbacks.

I can’t even imagine the obstacles he faced over the next few decades. The system wasn’t on the side of the learning challenged child. Changing minds (especially those who are trapped in their own arrogant self-importance) is difficult. Dr. Belgau worked through years of trial and error. He had his champions and his detractors. Eventually, he created the Learning Breakthrough Program. 


I took more than a few things away from his personal story. It  reaffirmed my commitment to be Josiah’s greatest advocate. I can’t imagine my creative, busy and inventive boy being asked to keep his head under a newspaper as to not be a distraction. I was reminded that I need to be a mentor to others as well as take inspiration from those around me. We are all students. 

I have read my fair share of easy fix solutions. Everybody is trying to sell me the answer to all of Josiah’s learning woes. I have been on this journey long enough to know that any solution takes work. Any progress that Josiah has had has been because he works and doesn’t give up. And mom and dad have to keep on keeping on. 

Towards the end of the book, Dr. Belgau gives some easy (no equipment needed) solutions. I have known for a while now that sensory input, working those gross motor skills and those fine motor skills all help Josiah succeed. Josiah is on a swim team for a few years now. His reading has improved. A coincidence? I don’t think so. 

This program intrigues me. Mostly because I don’t think it’s all smoke and mirrors. Dr. Belagu’s own personal story and journey is testimony to that. Josiah’s issues might not be as severe as some, but more challenging than others. I recommend that those of you who can to get the book and read the story. The exercises in the back (it’s called the Space Walk) seem simple enough to implement…though in all fairness it probably won’t be as simple for the kiddos. Josiah is not a graceful child, though his swimming has greatly improved his coordination. 

There was another little unexpected bonus while reading this book. Years ago I had an almost fatal car accident. I had to learn to walk again. There is still a lot I can’t do. Of course, I haven’t had any learning difficulties (unless you count my absolute avoidance of math), but while I was reading the book something struck me. Dr. Belagu talked about meeting his future wife. He was first struck by her graceful walk. It was perfection. I imagine that he was initially interested in her walk from only a scientific point of view, but part of his research concerned those gross motor movements. 

My own physical therapy was cut short. My insurance wasn’t willing to pay for the years of PT I needed. I have come a long way (baby), but while I was reading the instructions for Dr. Belgau’s Space Walk I realized that I wasn’t going to be able to even model some of the activities for Josiah. I still tend to drag a foot when I'm tired and I waddle like a penguin (true story). I can't even begin to think about marching backward and to put each foot in front of the other requires great thought. Skipping is something I haven't been able to do in years and years. Could this be something he and I learn together? Could Dr. Belagu’s exercises not only benefit Josiah, but his own poor broken mama as well? The jury is still out and I’ll keep you informed.     

I have come to learn that nothing is impossible. It just might take one a little bit longer to get there.
I truly believe that Dr. Belgau is man who didn’t take “no” for an answer. I admire his perseverance and commitment. The book itself is a fascinating read. It is inspiring and well-written. I also want to emphasize that this book is not intended solely for homeschool parents. Parents (and teachers) of learning challenged kiddos everywhere will find encouragement and solutions. 
A Life in Balance costs $16.94. You can find out how to purchase it on the website

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