Fast ForWord: Changes — II

Prompted by a comment from Melanie and quite literally, the hundreds of people that have reached my site using Fast ForWord as their search string, I thought it might just be time to elaborate on the changes I’ve seen in my two kids since doing Fast ForWord this summer.

A quick re-cap for those of you just joining: My two school-aged children did about 70 sessions of Fast ForWord between the beginning of the summer vacation and mid-September of this year. What a fun mom I am! My undiagnosed but borderline ADHD 10-year-old son got about 90% done the Language Module. My 12-year-old, learning disabled, asperger’s daughter got through all of Language and about 75% of the Language to Reading Module.

Changes in the son: He is currently reading the 7th book of the Harry Potter series. So, between mid-July and late October, he has successfully read more than 2,000 pages–understood it, remembered it, and can point out the differences between the book and the movies (actually prefers the books!). Before Fast ForWord his literature of choice was Captain Underpants and Magic Treehouse; so, I would say that is a HUGE leap forward for him. His writing continues to be messy but slightly improved. I have yet to have parent-teacher interviews, so I can’t say for sure, but I based on my observation of how he does his homework, he is better able to concentrate. We still have to do the reading test to find out how much his reading score improved.

Changes in the daughter: She took the reading test between the two modules of Fast ForWord and her reading test score had already gone up by one and a half years after just that first module. I had the IEP meeting (Individualized Education Plan) at the school this past week, and her teacher reports to me that her overall ability has at least doubled since last year: ability to get down to work, to understand what’s being taught, even her output. Her “What I Did on Summer Vacation” essay, while still not up to grade 7 standards of composition, started out at 4 pages long, which pretty much quadruples the length of any of her previous essays. She got 33.5/35 on one math test and 33/44 on another math test in which the class AVERAGE was 32.

Family members have noticed that she is quite a bit calmer since doing Fast ForWord. She’s also started to write stories for herself. They are personal ones, not for sharing, she tells me, so I haven’t looked at the stories, but I did notice that she’s filling up the whole page of a small notebook with quite tidy writing. You know, now that I write that down, it didn’t quite occur to me before how big a shift that is for her. I often write to sort out what I think about things, she has never done that. She has always drawn, or just stewed about stuff inside her head. For her to put down in words the things that she’s thinking and feeling is a REALLY big change.

Now, to qualify this, SOME of the increase in her ability in the classroom is due to the presence of a special ed teacher that can be there constantly to get her back on task. She still has to do the final reading test to see what her overall increase in reading ability is. It also occurred to me that this might be a good time to take her back to the psych-ed guy and ask that he re-assess her working memory and processing speed.

So, there you have it. I know this isn’t as much empirical evidence as you would probably like. I will report that part once I get it. But still, there is no way to prove beyond any doubt that Fast ForWord is the reason for any jumps, even in the empirical tests. My kids aren’t a control group. This is largely going to remain anecdotal.

There’s a scientist quoted in the book “The Brain that Changes Itself” that says he’s not that interested in empirical evidence. He says that if he has a pig in front of him that can talk he doesn’t care how many empirical studies there are that show that pigs can’t talk, he has to account for the one in front of him that can. And, although I’m really not comparing my children to talking pigs, I have seen a great jump in both my kids, that I don’t think can be coincidental. There are certainly other things that could account for the changes, but I believe that what we’re seeing is a growth in brain activity. And that is what Fast ForWord does.

For those of you contemplating doing the program a few things to think about:

1) You have to be consistent. My kids did the program 6 days out of 7, and sometimes twice. Each session was at least 40 minutes long, only interrupted between programs sometimes to get a drink or go to the bathroom. Yes, I was a bit of a tyrant on this point. Don’t do the program if you can’t make that commitment for six weeks. There will be no benefit without putting in the consistent time.

2) You have to be focused. This is especially important for the ADHD ones. There needs to be a quiet space with no other bodies and distractions.

3) You may have to encourage your child with the programs they find most difficult. Reassure them that the most difficult ones are the ones that their brains need the most. It will be hard for a while (and their achievement graph will show this, it will be a bumpy, but overall straight line) and then suddenly, it will be easy (and you will see their achievement graph suddenly show a great leap as suddenly it goes vertical rather than horizontal). This is how the brain works. It takes great effort that seems fruitless for a long time to build that pathway, and then suddenly, it’s like the path is cleared of all the potholes and wrong turns and now you can go down that path unimpeded. It’s a glorious thing to behold once it’s built.

4) Stay in close contact with your provider. Ours gave great guidance when Calvin was stuck on Flying Farm and recognized at a certain point that all the gains he was going to get from the module had already been made. Once they get bored, it’s actually better to move them up to a new program rather than forcing them to finish. Boredom is a killer for this program.

5) In general, boys will move through it more slowly than girls.

If you decide to go ahead and do it, I wish you good luck and happy brain building. Stop by and let me know how it went for you.

PS: If you’re from the States, this is an excellent time to find a Canadian provider as the Canadian dollar is down relative to your currency. It can be quite a savings for you.

PPS: I am not a provider, and make no commissions by recommending the program or certain providers. I am really just a mom trying to find out what works.

Update: I now have a Fast ForWord Page where I’ve listed all my Fast ForWord posts plus some other useful links.

About Tentative Equinox North

Theatremaker, Homemaker, Thoughtmaker. Great hair, Probably looking forward to my next nap.
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7 Responses to Fast ForWord: Changes — II

  1. Pingback: Fast ForWord: Proof! « Tentative Equinox

  2. Erika says:

    Hi there,
    I was happy to see a first-hand report on the Fast ForWord program from a real, live parent. I don’t know that you could provide any insight but you’re the only “experienced” parent I’ve come across. I just started the program with my 7-year-old son yesterday, so we have two days under our belt. I really want this to be a success but I’m a little panicked because already he’s been in tears with frustration several times, and has exploded or been on the edge of explosion a good percentage of the sessions. He has fairly significant ADHD tendencies, enough so that I’ve had to quit my job and homeschool him, and that’s what prompted me to look into this program. What I don’t really understand is that the program requires him to sit still, focus, and do the same repetitive task over and over for 17 minutes straight. He can’t even sit still and focus long enough to hear simple instructions from his teacher. Seems like the equivalent of asking a person with a snake phobia to all of a sudden stand in a snake pit for 72 hours. My instructor/coach for the program tells me it’s hard because this is just what his mind isn’t good at, and that it might be hard but hang in there, use rewards (which don’t do much for him), that it used to be 100 minutes (now it’s 50) so we’re lucky, that kids as young as 5 have done it, etc. But this seems cruel and extreme and unrealistic in what it expects of a 7-year-old with his disposition. Yet it’s marketed toward ADHD kids, so I don’t know what to think. I don’t really know why the originators of the program don’t address this issue, given that it would seem a predictable problem that certainly must crop up in every ADHD case, and my instructor seems to sort of brush it off. I’m only through the 1st half of the Brain that Changes Itself book and that’s all the research I’ve done so if you have any input, guidance, recommendations, links, etc that you think would be helpful, I would be so grateful. I’m absolutely dreading tomorrow and I’m worried that I’m not doing right by my son, even though I know this will help in the long run. Thank you for your posting and any feedback you might offer.

    • Hi Erika. Welcome!

      I think you are in the trickiest Fast ForWord situation to manage. It’s a big problem because you need to concentrate and focus to get brain change but the ADHD person’s challenge is their ability to focus and concentrate.

      Here’s a few suggestions keeping in mind that I’m just a parent with no formal training in this.

      1) Get him exercised before Fast ForWord. Ride bikes, run around the block, bounce on a trampoline. Expend some physical energy. It will help with concentration and tire him out a little.
      2) Have him sit on a fitness ball. Then his butt can wiggle all he wants while his mind is occupied.
      3) Let him take a break between exercises. You’re doing between 3-5 exercises right? Once one is done, let him go run around for 5-10 minutes.
      4) Eat something high protein before and between sessions. It helps with brain function. Yogurt, nuts, cheese sticks…
      5) Sit down and do an exercise or two with him. He may not be understanding what he needs to do (some kids find the concentration game particularly mystifying) and he might just need some guidance. Granted, the programme may show some unwarranted gains and then an inexplicable loss of ground, but it will all adjust in the end.
      6) Point out and celebrate every victory, no matter how small. “Hey, you got really close to your highest score that time” “Look at how much easier it is this week”
      7) If small rewards aren’t doing it for him, maybe he can be awarded poker-type chips that he can save up for a bigger reward? Maybe he gets a chip for every exercise he completes, two for ones he does without complaint. Three if he beats his high score. Reward the behaviours you want.
      8) Get a timer and monitor how long he can focus before he breaks concentration. That’s your base line. Now, every time he’s able to extend that base line comment on it. “Hey you started off, only being able to concentrate for 30 seconds. Did you know you just went 40 seconds? That’s Fast ForWord working in your brain.”
      9) So, you see, keep making that connection between Fast ForWord and his improvements. He wants to get better — we all want to be better — Fast ForWord is one of those things that can help, but it will go better if he realizes that. It connects to his motivation.
      10) Try as much as you can (and believe me I struggled with this daily) to keep it light and joyful. It’s just a computer game. It’s not a big deal, or do or die, or do it or Mom will be mad at you. It’s just something we’re trying to help your brain get stronger.

      Hope that helps! Please stop by again and let us know how it’s going. I’m rooting for you!

  3. Erika says:

    Hello again,

    I visited your site about 6 weeks ago after struggling on day 2 of the Fast ForWord program with my 7-year-old. You very generously gave me some very practical and absolutely invaluable suggestions that night that I followed to the letter. First and foremost I want to THANK YOU for taking the time! We’ve made it 6 weeks because of those suggestions and I’m so happy to see them posted for other desperate parents. For some reason no one tells you those things.

    I have a few questions and I really value and relate to your input. My provider is very experienced as a practitioner with kids in school but so far I haven’t been able to get any help from her about my particular struggles as a parent. So here goes.

    Question #1: Things Seem Worse Than Before
    We’re on week 6, doing 50 minutes a day for 5 days a week. I haven’t noticed any positive changes in him, nor have his teachers. Perhaps it takes a while for any results to show up. My biggest concern, however, is that he has been substantially more crabby, distractible, hyper, and antagonistic these past 6 weeks, and I can’t help but think it’s because it’s so taxing on his brain. Have you heard of this happening? Did it happen to your kids? I know you can’t give advice, but is that a sign that I should stop the program? We’re willing to do something if it will have long-term value for him, but I don’t want to endure this unnecessarily as it’s been a really rough 6 weeks in our house and I’m wearing thin.

    Question #2: What’s a Typical Timeline
    I have no idea how long I should plan on doing this. I couldn’t get any kind of answer out of my provider, so I decided we’d do it for 4 months because my son (and I) do better with concrete goals and like to have a light at the end of the tunnel. How did you decide how long to do it? When did you know you were done?

    Question #3: What Results Can I Hope For?
    This question was answered in large part by your most recent posting. What results can I be looking for? Our provider thought it would help his ADHD, so we jumped in, but the programs seem geared toward helping in the academic realm. This is probably politically incorrect to say, but I actually don’t care much about his academic achievements. He does fine in school, nothing spectacular, but honestly we’re so overwhelmed by his impulsivity, his violent outbursts, his rowdiness and disruptiveness that his reading level is an afterthought to us. What changes can I hope for in terms of our concerns? Is it actually realistic that this program could significantly impact him in these areas? Is it a long-shot or is it likely that his ADHD behavior will show noticeable change? The stories on the SciLearn website all target academics so it made me wonder if I should reconsider whether this is worth the hardship of making him (and us) do these sessions.

    Any thoughts you have on any of these would be great. On behalf of the parents out there feeling around in the dark, I want to thank you so much for taking time from your life to help people like me.


    • Erika. Welcome back! I’m so glad to hear from you again. Congratulations on getting through 6 weeks! That is an achievement.

      Question #1: Things seem worse than before.

      I didn’t notice any additional crabbiness etc. from my kids, but I have heard of this with other brain therapies from the parents of those kids. It would not surprise me. Think about what it’s like to start eating a different way, or a new exercise plan, or moving houses, or changing jobs. Change in general makes people irritable, so think what it might be like to change brains. I might actually take that as a good sign that there are brain changes happening. It could also be extinction behaviour — the old ways take one last really good effort at re-asserting themselves before they give up the ghost. BUT, seeing as you’re at the 6-week mark, it may also be time to take a little break, like for a week, to let his brain process some. That’s about the time we went to Disneyland so the kids were off of it, for 7 days in the middle.

      How are his graphs coming? Are you able to show him some areas where he’s making good progress? It might help to give him a little more motivation.

      Our provider did tell us that when the graph shows first little, slow or no progress, then a steep climb, followed by a levelling off or even a dip that THAT is the time to stop the programme, because it indicates that the child is getting bored and the benefits of continuing will not outweigh the added tension in the household.

      Question 2 — Typical timeline
      My understanding is that the minimum time to see benefits is 6-8 weeks, but for the difficult case kids 12 weeks is about the norm to really start seeing benefits. You’re at the half-way mark. Could you see yourself doing it another 6 weeks? I was hoping my kids would finish the programme. My daughter finished the first and most of the second. My son didn’t finish the first one (although he came very close). We were done because that’s how long we had the programme for, so it wasn’t related to their progress but the available window.

      Most of the benefits happen at the 6 month mark after finishing.

      Question 3 — What results can you hope for.

      This is a tricky one. My daughter has had really, really dramatic results but mostly because she finallly has some working memory and a processing speed. So, she can finally learn for the first time in her life. My son on the other hand, still suffers from attention problems. His handwriting is improved. He reads much more and at a higher level. His test results have improved and he finally got an A on his report card. I know you don’t care so much about the academics, and I don’t blame you, but Fast ForWord has helped him some with his attention problems which have translated into better marks. And sometimes acting out can be a way of shining at something. If I can’t be good at math, I’ll be best at being bad.

      I guess what I’m saying is that based on my experience with an undianosed ADHD boy (primarily distractible) that you will see some results but maybe not as much as you would like or need.

      So. some other things to consider:

      1) Biofeedback for the brain. This therapy monitors brain waves and plays games to reduce brain noise and increase the right kind of brain waves that help with attention and concentration. This is one that is often recommended. We tried it for our daughter, with very little result. The problem: it’s VERY expensive and as you know with brain therapies they are really only effective if you can get massed, focused practice. So, if you can find a good practitioner and if you can afford to have at least 3 sessions a week for an indeterminate amount of time, it’s possible this could be very effective therapy. Possible.

      2) Medication. Woah. Stop. I saw you shaking your head there and probably thought “I’m not going to be one of those parents that medicates their child.” I’m just guessing. I don’t know how far down the road of this journey you are, but I’ve heard this thing from many a parent in that 5-10 year-old window. So, I just want to say a couple of things. First of all, the view that parents indiscriminately medicate their child has come from the media and is just plain not true 99% of the time. No parent, including myself, has gone the medication route without AGONIZING over it. But there are kids, including my daughter, that benefit from medication. So, please don’t think you will become a bad mother if you go the medication route. I heard a talk from someone who runs the Arrowswmith program (much like Fast ForWord, but more in depth) and of 100 kids admitted, they themselves told the parents of 10-15 of them (I can’t remember the exact number) that they wouldn’t get through the programme without medication — because brain change takes focus, which these kids just didn’t have. After the programme only 3 of them still required medication. So, maybe medication might be a short-term solution, like you might use a crutch while a leg injury heals.

      3) Nutrition. This is a tricky one. Get allergies tested obviously. Also get a good naturopath that can test for sensitivities that don’t come up on allergy tests. The problem with allergy tests is that unless something causes a physiological response it isn’t an allergy, so if it causes a behavioural response (like aggressive behaviour) that wouldn’t be classified as an allergy, but is very important information for you. I actually do not recommend going the whole hog organic mommy routine because it can set up a bad food dynamic and extra tension in an already tense household. But diet can be very effective, you just have to be kind of sneaky about it and flexible enough to let some bad foods through.

      4) Vision Therapy. Can also be very effective for some kids. Lots of eye exercises that help with changing focus etc. This was more effective for my son than for my daughter but for neither one did I feel the benefits lasted very long. It’s also expensive and requires lots of hands-on exercises which can be tense for the same reasons that Fast ForWord can become tense.

      5) Chelation. Don’t do it. A nine-year-old autistic boy died from having chelation done.

      6) Physical stuff — something that teaches focus like Yoga or Tae-Kwon-Do. If you go the martial arts route though be very careful what school you take him to. Some of them can have a really bad tyrant teacher dynamic.

      If I can think of some others I will post them. I’ll be discussing lots of these more in depth in my Tuesday BITs which I guess you’ve been reading.

      The complicated kids get a little distance with each therapy. Maybe Fast ForWord just looked like a magic bullet for my daughter because at that point she’d already been through all the therapies I mentioned plus a couple of others. But lots of little distances still add up to a long distance.

      Keep checking in Erika. Thanks for being honest with what you’ve been experiencing. This is exactly the kind of conversation and information we need to be talking about and sharing.

      I’m still rooting for you and your little guy.


  4. Pingback: Summertime — the time for therapy « tentative EQUINOX

  5. Simone says:

    Hello, My 7 year old son’s at his week 5 for Fast Forward in England and I wanted to see how you thought your children were different after 5 years of having done Fast Forward. For how long have you done it and have you seen consistent improvements or a big jump and then stagnant or continuous up? Also at which point would you say the improvements were most noticeable? Any input would be much appreciated.


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