Brain HealthBrain PowerPersonalTreatment

Starting Week Five Visualizing and Verbalizing Paragraphs with a Laugh

AnglerfishVisualizing and Verbalizing is tough work. By the end of the week, I pay bills, walk, then collapse in front of Netflix. And so I asked for a bit of an easier time during week four as I had been invited to attend an all day co-design event hosted by OCAD’s Inclusive Design Research Centre for Sidewalk Toronto (more on that later). The Associate Director programmed sessions of Whole Paragraph at grade level 7, rising to level 8 on night three, and Paragraph by Paragraph at level 6. The first two nights I did one three-paragraph, Paragraph by Paragraph (PxP), and two four-paragraph ones. Let’s just say, four paragraphs is  looonnnng. My brain gathered weight; my eyes felt stuffed. The second night, I recalled my very first four paragraph PxP out of order. First, I began my recall at paragraph three to the end of paragraph four. When I stopped, paragraphs one and two began to seep into my memory. I strived to recall those and remembered them out of order, too. However, maybe because it was so effortful to read and recall, it’s about the only story I can remember out of all the stories I read last week. Huh.

On night three, they raised the level of Whole Paragraph to 8. Then after one more four-paragraph PxP, they dropped them back down to three-paragraph ones, to my relief.

On night four, during the first three-paragraph PxP, after I’d read the first two paragraphs, I was asked to predict what would happen in paragraph three. My first Higher Order Thinking (HOT) prediction question! When I’d finished reading the third paragraph, the clinician asked me if my prediction had turned out the way I’d expected. Not quite.

Today, three nights later, at the start of hour two of my session, I could not recall a single story I’d read Thursday night, but I did do an excellent job recalling that four-paragraph one from a week ago. It did help that during the first hour when the Associate Director was testing me with various stories one of them was a Whole Paragraph on the same subject: humans learnt to make paper from wasps. It triggered my memory.

Tonight was interesting because hour one wasn’t the usual training session. The Associate Director had me visualize and verbalize a loonnng Whole Paragraph, a three-paragraph PxP, then we entered the big leagues: a Whole Page. My word summary of the PxP impressed her. I relayed all the details; I self-corrected when I forgot something and went back to recall it in its place; my eyes were moving as they do when looking at mental pictures; and my language was smooth.

I said: it felt like a marathon!

But, you know, that feels good. It means I’m working my neurons, and my neurons are responding.

She also liked my main idea for the PxP; I’d captured the gestalt that they look for, the big picture of a story. It’s the big picture that has eluded me all these years, and in neuro terms, comes from high-frequency alpha brainwaves, I believe. I told her how my main ideas for the last two weeks have been popping out of my mouth so easily — except for last Thursday night. But on Wednesday, I’d exercised my brain’s new ability to focus in distracting environments and to create designs in a really exciting team format. By Thursday, my brain had regressed a bit in running my body, leading to increased pain, stiffness, and fatigue fatigue fatigue. By Friday, I moved like an ancient stone statue; I did only the bare essentials all weekend to recover in time for tonight. So I’m feeling pretty good I’m back to popping out those main ideas again.

By the time we came to the end of the Whole Paragraph and PxP — me reading them, giving a word summary, having my pictures checked, coming up with the main ideas, answering HOT questions — I was starving. I’d been stuffed from supper when I logged onto Lindamood-Bell, but I guess my brain commanded my stomach to accelerate digestion and demanded even more fuel. I didn’t want to take a break to get a snack because of what me and my neurodoc had figured out is an unexpected benefit of this work.

This intensive cognitive work, with humans keeping me steadily engaging with language for fifty-five minutes even when I’m dying from energy drain, seems to have increased my brain’s ability to focus in a distracting environment.

I didn’t like the lights where the co-design event was held. There were about twenty or so people in the room, four other teams co-designing at tables behind me. Yet I was able to follow the others in my group, understand and riff off of their ideas, create my own, and then participate in the presentation, both in the morning and afternoon. Yeah, I had rivers of coffee and high-kicking chocolate running through my blood, powering my neurons, but I’ve never been able to focus like that since my brain injury. The Associate Director observed that when a cognitive activity is effortful, it’s easy to be distracted. When I learn through Visualizing and Verbalizing to create imagery when I hear language, I can attend automatically. Cool.

Whole Page follows the same process as Whole Paragraph except it’s a page long, in this case three paragraphs together like you would see in a magazine or book. This made me realize that with PxP, the story is formatted with a line space between each paragraph to denote visually when to stop reading and to discern the paragraphs easily. Making a movie in my head while reading a Whole Page felt like trying to start a stuttering car. My images were coming in stutters or not at all. That was the end of my mini-assessment for deciding what she should program next in my sessions. This week we’ll push the PxP and try Whole Pages; next week we start reading my materials. Yikes!

The second hour was a regular training. I read a grade level 9 Whole Paragraph; the clinician read a level 9 three-paragraph PxP (what a jump in levels!); I read another level 9 Whole Paragraph (which I’d read a couple of weeks earlier I realized after I’d begun reading it, but I kept going and discovered I could put more movie-like bits into my images than I had before). With only a couple of minutes left and night fallen in my time zone, my clinician had fun with the HOT questions. To her first question, I answered nightcrawling deeply icy amoeba. She asked me: what would you call an anglerfish crossed with a penguin? An anglerguin, I answered. I had a good chuckle as she fell over laughing.