on February 15, 2004
All right, my satirical review of this book and the Institutes for the Achievement of Human Potential was not widely appreciated, so I offer this straightforward look at things.
Our family has been doing this program for two years, and we've been able to see its effects on three children: A 12-year-old diagnosed Severely Mentally Retarded with Angelman's syndrome, Cerebral Palsy, Epilepsy, etc., a mildly brain-injured six-year-old who has symptoms fitting several forms of dyslexia, and a six-month-old, who actually started the program several months earlier, since it's so easy to do with babies. (Actually, we've seen it work on many children, including those with Down's, but I'll reserve my comments for these three.)
The baby, now 2 1/2, is reading, has an encyclopedic knowledge of birds, primates, U.S. Presidents, and a few other things, and has a way better grasp of geography than most high schoolers (she can point out Madagascar, Sumatra, Borneo and other exotic locales out on a world map). She's physically superb: she can run a mile and climb, well, anything.
The middle child, now 8, has stopped reversing his Ds and Bs, can read and write and =enjoy= reading and writing, and has evolved more drawing and artistic abilities.
The 14-year-old, formerly speechless, now says about 2-3 sentences a day. She used to be on the ketogenic diet to control her seizures, now she's on a normal diet. She used to lurch and stumble as she walked, and now she can run, if only for half a block. I won't discuss her mental achievements here because, frankly, they have to be seen to be believed (cf. Savant Syndrome). And the program didn't make her that way, it "only" allowed us to see and appreciate what was there.
The Institutes have nailed their success rates down to very specific numbers, but out of ten kids, roughly, two won't be materially helped by the program (and their concept of "not materially helped" includes things considered as relatively large gains by every other professional who has ever seen this girl), six will be materially helped, one child will be improved enough in his parents' eyes to graduate from the program, and one will meet the Institutes standards for "superb".
The Institutes publish their results quarterly. They have for 30 years. They've offered, for 30 years, to publish anyone else's results. They actively, aggressively seek others who are successful in their field. They put together money to fund a study to compare their results with those of a local university's. (The university took the money and spent it on remodeling.) It's easy to cast stones, and it's probably comforting to many to believe that "nothing can be done".
Now, let's talk Jell-O. This program is not for everyone. If Jell-O figures prominently into your view of what childhood should be, this program is not for you. Wider: If junk food, junk entertainment, institutionalized education or even "me-time" are your priorities, just keep moving, there's nothing here for you to see. This isn't to say that you or your child won't or can't have these things while on the program, simply that they can't come first.
I'll take it even a step further: If you view a program of dedicated physical and intellectual excellence as a sacrifice, you probably ought to just give this a miss.
The hurt kids have the least slack in life. Every day they're not growing faster than average--every day they're not catching up, that is--they're falling behind. And the social stigma gets worse, too. As a 2-3 year old, my daughter used to love going to the mall. Even though she was different, at that age people commented on her beauty and charm and disregarded (or more likely did not perceive) her injuries. As she's gotten older, people are less and less able to deal with her, and when she recognized that (probably around 7 years old or so), she stopped wanting to do those things. As she recently wrote "People are polite to you in direct proportion to your ability to speak". As a result, the program for hurt kids is the most intense.
More to the point, those of us with hurt kids wrestle with guilt, regret, shame, accusatory looks, superstition, moralizing and caveman-grade ignorance, and this program--any program, effective or not--can focus that all in one laser-like beam. If you read this book, and you "get it", you begin to see brain injury on the one hand as a spectrum, something we all have to one degree or another, and on the other, akin to a broken leg or bruised arm. If you don't "get it", you may come away feeling guilty, inadequate or bitter.
There's considerable effort on the part of the Institutes to avoid that; They never ask you do more than you can, or to do something you're not comfortable with. You're the parent. You are the expert on your own child. There are many stories related in this book and others from the Insitutes that detail the contributions of parents.
I'll be honest. I would like to be able to say that, after two years, our oldest was completely well, indistinguishable from "normal" kids except for her towering intellect. But it wouldn't be true. I would guess she has another two years to go. At least. I've watched much younger kids at the institutes make much faster progress with a certain degree of envy. (I wish we hadn't discovered this when she was twelve, rather than when she was two.)
But that's okay. She's measurably better. She's clearly happier. And her siblings have been hugely benefitted as well.
And, for that matter, so have her parents.
I will, in the future, write another review and report honestly on how all the children are.
But as a father who has been told by doctors, therapists and "conventional wisdom" that his child would never crawl, walk, live, stop having seizures, comprehend anything or amount to anything before he ever heard of this book, forgive me if I regard the naysayers with bemusement.