Dr. Carol Brown, founder of the Equipping Minds foundation takes us through the factors involved in cognitive development:
2. Working Memory
3. Comprehension and Visualization
4. Reasoning abilities and more …
while describing why it is important for learning to happen in a joyful manner and how IQ and academics are not at all the same thing as ability (regardless of diagnoses such as Down Syndrome or Autism).
focusing on a child’s weakness makes learning self-defeating for your child. This is a quote from today’s podcast and if I could host a podcast and talk every week, just about bringing joy to your child’s learning experience just about tuning into their strengths, I will do that. Hi again, I’m Vaish decided to your host for this podcast functional nutrition and learning for kids. Over the past year, we’ve been meeting weekly to talk about cutting edge work in learning education, gut health, brain health, and more. If you’re in a hurry to get started, please go to www.functionalnutritionforkids.com/learning to get my free eBook on six autism supports that work to optimize moods focus and learning.
Our guest today is an expert on all things learning, and I won’t keep you from hearing her wisdom any longer. It’s my pleasure today to welcome Dr. Carol Brown, the founder of equipping minds foundation. Dr. Brown has over 35 years of experience as a principal, a teacher, a cognitive Developmental Therapist, a social worker, a reading and learning specialist, a speaker, especially its consultant and mother.
She’s a contributing author in the book neuroscience and Christian formation and human development, equipping minds with cognitive development, and this came out in 2018. Now she has served as a learning specialist teacher and principal in classical Christian schools in North Carolina, Georgia, Northern Virginia and France. Carol trains public, private and homeschool educators in the equipping minds cognitive development curriculum, which she created. And she’s conducted various professional development workshops in different parts of the US, Dr. Brown Welcome to functional nutrition and learning for kids. I’m so glad you’re here.
Dr. Carol Brown:
FeiFei I’m so honored to be here and to be a guest with you today. I love your work. And I think when we first met so much of what what you teach, just resonated with what I share with parents and educators and interventionists every day. So thank you so much.
Thank you for saying that, because I was just going to read out a quote from your website and your quote, and your website for listeners as equipping minds.com.
You call Dr. Fierstein as saying, and I quote, everyone, regardless of age, etiology, or disability has immeasurable ability to enhance their learning aptitude and heighten their intelligence and quote, I wanted to say that I love that. And that, in other words, is absolutely the motto of my life. And I’m always a lifelong fan of anybody who believes the same. So thank you for saying that. And I think we can jump into our first question, because we keep talking about cognition. And sometimes I wonder if, when different people say it, we’re talking about different things. So can you start off by telling us, in your words, what cognitive development means?
Dr. Carol Brown:
Yes, absolutely. You are right, we hear all the time, different definitions, understandings of what cognitive development is, and many times that what I am seeing my experience has been is that schools still equate that with academics, actually. They will really look at cognition as being seen as how well someone does on a psychological test how well they do on academic testing, how well they are as a reader, or doing math and use kind of subjects to define it.
However, when we read a neuropsychological test, we actually see that they talk about our processing abilities, how process what we hear how we process, what we see visually, our working memory, and working memory is a significant piece. Because it’s really that ability to follow multiple-step directions to hold multiple pieces of information in our mind, and to do something with those. Think about things to make a decision to even motor planning. And so being able to do two things at one time is is crucial.
Also, just comprehension in general is a cognitive function, and how well we can visualize images when we’re reading the ability to think visually spatially his cognitive function to be able to tell where we are in space, what’s to our right, what’s to our left, reasoning abilities, how to see something from someone else’s perspective, how to deviate able to pull things from our long term memory, to make out the current situation, also to just be able to have self regulation to, to be able to be a ton of write, in, in life, just in anything that we’re doing to have cognitive flexibility to be able to move from one task to another task.
I’m kind of using a broad scope here because I’ll see some limits in the in psychology, and then Dr. For your Stein’s work talks, really about the cognitive functions, and there’s some overlap in not in terminology so much, but in what those look like, one thing you did not hear me say, is it’s not academics. Absolutely. And it’s not IQ, either, right? That’s absolutely not IQ, and they will get IQ scores from cognitive testing. But I think like yourself, I am not a believer in an IQ score.
I look beyond academic and psychological testing every single day. Because I had, you know, a son, who had your learning challenges when he was young, and an educator said to me, that I will never forget. And it was so profound, she said, Carol, there are so much in there that wants to get out. And the testing just wasn’t showing his potential. And
so quickly, yeah. And we, the children that we’re working with have so many sensory-motor issues that there’s there’s input, there’s output, there’s so much going in there that an IQ test is such a, it’s not even one dimensional.
I feel like if there was a lesser dimension, it would be a measure of that.
Dr. Carol Brown:
So thank you for defining that. And you started telling us about that. But I wanted to ask you, what are the variables that determine cognition? And do you think it depends on diagnosis? Or is it independent of diagnosis, label like Down syndrome, autism, etc?
Dr. Carol Brown:
Right. I mean, one thing that I have found is that regardless of the label regardless of diagnosis, there are still no two people exactly alike. Okay? Are they are their, you know, characteristics of individuals with autism or Down syndrome or ADHD, or whatever diagnosis or label is put on? Possibly, you know, to an extent, but I will still I will tell you hands down, every single person that we work with, we come into our therapy, exactly the same way.
Okay, and let me clean that. Because what we have learned is what a mother with Down syndrome said to me, when I started working with her daughter, she said, Carol, I need you to see her as any other student whose processing and memory and comprehension and reasoning need to be increased, and just do what you do. And it was probably the biggest surprise of my life. That’s what I did.
I listened to the mother, I listened to the parent because I greatly value the parent’s input. And so when I am working with a student, I’ve seen that everybody needs to have their processing speed enhanced, right. And they may have strengths in one area and I don’t just focus on challenging areas. I want to work the strong areas to let’s celebrate those strengths.
Let’s actually go in there and understand how they can get more output. there. And that’s one thing that we get to see every single day. Because , we don’t isolate different weaknesses, so to speak, to just work on those, because we’ve seen that we need to work as a whole person.
Equipping minds takes a very holistic approach and everything from realizing the importance of nutrition, to be able to have a healthy brain to support that brain function to sensory and motor integration with movement and reflexes and sound therapy. And, and then with the cognitive games and exercises that we do, to really because the cognitive development is really building neural networks, right. So that is what is so crucial to be able like my son needed to get out. All that was in there
Are three things that I’m pulling out from what you said is that the model is built on neuroplasticity. The couple of things that you’re working on is the first one you mentioned was processing. And, and sensory integration, I think is did I get that? Right? So those are the things that are generally gaps and most people correct?
Dr. Carol Brown:
They are, there, it’s hard to find someone who doesn’t even have just a small little glitch, so to speak,
Right. I want to just take a minute to tell listeners that one of the most important things that I heard you say is that is that you are working not just on weaknesses, but on strengths. And this is very unusual in a conventional educational model. So when a parent takes their child, to therapy, to anywhere to whether it’s cognitive development, whether it’s motor development, whether it’s just special ed in the school, you’re probably constantly talking to teachers, when they’re talking to you about their IEP or whatever it is that you’re working on.
You’re working on weaknesses, to a point whereas a parent after a while, you forget that there are such thing as strengths. And then I think it gets very hard to even access those strengths, because we have, like really refined a model based on weaknesses. So I think that if you’re working with anybody, most probably most people are working in that paradigm. So I would say that move, move from that move to somebody that’s actually focusing on strengths as well, because it can get almost like a self fulfilling prophecy, right?
Dr. Carol Brown:
Absolutely. And it’s very self defeating for the student, because it’s like, oh, we’re only doing things that are hard for me, so to speak. And, and that’s where our approach is very different. What what I’ve been told we are very blessed to work with families, individuals in over 40 countries right now, with equipping minds, and from three year old’s to 93 year old’s, from Down syndrome, to business professionals to strokes to, I mean, it is so broad, you can see more on that on the website. But the approach that we use, is playing games,
I love that,
Dr. Carol Brown:
Doing games and exercises, because we have found they’re timeless, so to speak. And they are an incredibly powerful therapeutic tool. But they also are developing those cognitive areas, as well as attention and awareness and language.
Oh, my goodness and skills, we see that so much. But the key in all of it, the absolute key that you cannot move forward with anyone is that you have to have the parent or the therapist or the teacher, whoever is working with the child or the adult has to believe you have to believe that there is so much more there. And they also have to see this as a mediation. And that’s bridging from Dr. Porter Stein’s work on the importance of the mediated learning experience. So that everything that’s done, whether we’re taking the car game bleak, so to speak. Well, if you open up the blink game, it’ll tell you one way to play well I have 31 ways to play play.
League is just a tool to take things that the student knows and that’s So what equipping minds is built on is that you have to take what the brain knows, to build more neural networks to strengthen those pathways. And so that’s why everything that you’re going to see us doing is going to use colors and numbers and animals and sounds, and things that so to speak, or their friends that people are like, Oh, well, yeah. But it’s done, where you’re engaging with them. It’s not that the student is performing for you. Okay, right. Very interactive. And it’s like, one thing we’ll say all the time is, hey, we’re going to do this together.
We’ll, you’ll do your model with the student. And sometimes you have students that are, you know, hesitant to participate, oh, this is new, I don’t know what to expect. And I’ll even tell the parent or the teacher, hey, you start playing the games, you start playing it yourself, and you’re playing with the cards, and you’re taking turns sorting the cards and using language and, and do it with a smile. I always say you’re not allowed to do the equipping minds, cognitive games, if you’re not smiling and having fun.
And this might seem like a trivial thing, Dr. Brown to people who are listening just okay, I’ll smile. But I think that that might be one of the second most important things that you said, because we’re making this entire, I’m just going to use special ed, for lack of a better word into a circus where our children are constantly performing. And my heart breaks, thinking about the stress of a child that has to be in performance mode for the entire life. And you’ve we may think it’s not our child, but often I have done that to my son and I have worked, where he’s always in that, you know, mode of performance. And I think what you said is so important,
Dr. Carol Brown:
Is just when you see anybody smile, doesn’t it just calm our hearts and our mind. Yeah. And so when we have that smile, and when we’re keeping our voice very positive, and, hey, let’s do this together. I like how you’re thinking, Oh, this is tricky. Oh, let’s stop and think and just the power, that our words and our eyes, you know, really to borrow from Dr. Karen Purvis.
I heard her say these words one time that when children look into our eyes, do they see their preciousness and their warmth? Hmm. And so that’s why I’m also a massive, huge advocate of a human mediator. And not here’s an app, here’s a screen, okay. There’s no language being used. There’s no human interaction to affirm them to give that feedback and that input and and that, you know, we work with a lot of students that are non verbal.
If they don’t have the words, but they still know it, okay, because there’s knowingness, they know it, then the parent is the voice or the teachers the voice. So you’re putting their your voice in there, and then we see more and more language coming out. And it which is just so exciting to me every day, to be able to see how that develops. But it is, yes, it’s exciting because it is based on neuroscience.
It’s based on what we know that the brain uses with numbers and sounds and letters and colors and directions and symbols. And, and so I have been very thankful that the medical community has received this work, we’ve been able to be published in a medical journal with the research results and the case studies and an a four year case study with a young girl with Down syndrome, who started the program when she was 10, and just made unprecedented gains.
I think sometimes when people think about games, so to speak, they they think, well, they’re just getting better at the game. And that is, while they might get better at the games, actually, a unique thing with equipping minds in terms of a cognitive training, is that we have strong results of how it generalizes to impact academics to impact language to impact behavior, and attention and skills. And that’s that what you want, but it’s a tool that’s enjoyable, so that, you know, a little girl this morning said to me, because we do online teletherapy.
We’ve been doing that for years, for years before it got so popular in the last nine months, right. And then she was like, Miss Carol, can I come and just, you know, play with you at your house one day, but they’re just so excited when we get online for, you know, our time to play games, they don’t really look at it as therapy. So E. But the next thing I hear is Oh, my goodness, their readings taking off. Well, I wasn’t doing reading.
I was doing the foundations, the cognitive skills that are necessary for reading, working memory, rapid automatic naming, processing. And then all of a sudden, oh my goodness, my students starting to write Oh, they’re following directions, oh, they’re doing better on the soccer field or in music or in-depth class. They’re following what the teacher saying. Because you can, if the brain is frustrated, it shuts down.
And so nothing good happens when your child gets frustrated, or you get frustrated. And that’s why coming in with the different games and, and I will tell you, we use dry erase markers and and blinking cubes. And so it is very, very much where you will hear auditory directions. They’ll use their hands to either write or place a cube or a card. And they’re holding the directions a pattern in their head and different categories and then verbalize that they’re doing a visual scan. So we’re using every modality simultaneously, right? And that’s what I say all the time, why would we let one person carry the heavy couch up the stairs? instead? Why don’t we bring five people so to speak. So let’s use everything at once. And a lot of people will talk about just teaching to a learning style. But I what I have learned in my experiences, I want to strengthen all those learning modalities and let them work together. And when I do that, that’s where we see some really exciting progress with with students.
And I that’s that’s really good to hear. It’s exciting to hear because it seems like lately, I’ve been talking to a lot of experts who say that not only is healing multimodal, you know, functional health is multimodal, but also learning is multimodal, and I’ve been seeing that through my experience, and I’m happy to hear you say that as well is that there’s never going to be a one-stop shop or a one, just doing one thing that’s going to lead to specific gains, it might but it’s probably best to incorporate different learning modalities, different healing modalities.
We’re talking about nutrition. I know you talked about that as well in your program, and then move and sensory integration and all you know, and communication, different forms of communication and so on. If you had three tips to give parents that were that in your mind, were nonnegotiables to get started on their child’s learning journey, what would they be?
Dr. Carol Brown:
Wow. And the first thing would be I’m in this is exactly to reiterate what you just said that word I say this to parents all the time. This is a journey. I want you to remember this is a journey and that we are in this together in a community and that there are people you are not alone. Okay? There are whether it’s Facebook groups, or people like myself or like you guys that we are you need to surround yourself with people who also believe that they are so much more in your child and that everyone can learn and that it is a journey that it’s not going to happen in three months, so to speak.
If you’ve got a neurotypical child and they have some minor glitches might be three months. Okay, but if your child has Down syndrome or autism or someone’s had, you know, post-concussion, just different things different neurodevelopmental pieces, that, that it’s on a wonderful journey to gather. And that’s key. The other thing is that you communicate that with your child, that you’re telling them all the time, hey, we’re gonna do this together, I will help you. And that is so important. Nobody knows your child better than you do. Nobody loves them more than you do. And, and to be patient on this journey, that it’s not perfection. It’s a process to reach that full potential that God has created for them.
I will say, every single one of us is a parent, I am learning every single day, I am still growing. All of us are all of our brains are. And so it’s, it’s that whole perspective of realizing it’s a journey, to be in it with other people to have that belief that, you know, in those games, and I What’s so interesting, I’ll have parents who just have different expectations, and if it’s not perfect, you know, it’s almost like if it’s not perfection, but we all can’t We can’t do that’s not attainable.
You know, I may be real. I may have my doctorate in education, but it’s not in physics. Okay. I don’t need to do physics. And so we’ve all been created for a purpose. And I think just holding those thoughts captive in our hearts and our minds is just important to have the right perspective.
Honestly. Yes, absolutely. Thank you for saying that about the journey. Because when you remember that you’re on a journey, then we’re not fixated on reaching a particular place. And then we’re just as long as we’re moving, we’re good.
Dr. Carol Brown:
We are absolutely. Because all of us are one fall or car accident or a stroke or something. And if that happened to myself to yourself, we would want people in our lives long and didn’t just discard us or tell us. Well, this is what the test score, say. And this is what it is and what it’s always going to be and this can’t change.
Yeah, simply just not acceptable. Basically. Not in my world. You know, my son went on to graduate from college, which he was never supposed to do. He’s married. And he actually works for us, though. So it’s been a long journey. But it’s yes, I’m passionate about that. Absolutely.
Thank you for bringing this compassion, consideration and justice, like utter 100% presumption of competence into your work and into everybody that you work with. Dr. Carolyn, thank you so much. You’re welcome. How can people How can parents reach you?
Dr. Carol Brown:
Absolutely. Well, the equipping minds website is a great place. They’re also though this over a year and a half ago, we started the equipping minds YouTube channel. I have over 40 videos there. And there are training workshops there that are free.
We have professional workshops that we do, but I will tell you, while we train psychiatrist psychologist speech, OT PT interventionists, the number one group that I train our parents, because I’m passionate about equipping parents. So there’s formal training that you’ll see on the shop. But there’s also a whole lot of free workshops that you can start to understand what equipping minds is.
You can also go to Facebook and there’s a Facebook group for Down syndrome and equipping minds autism and equipping minds homeschoolers and equipping minds schools using equipping minds. Okay, general equipping minds. So there’s a lot out there because I want to make this accessible to as many people as possible.
Wonderful. Thank you for joining us today. Dr. Carol. It’s been wonderful talking to
Dr. Carol Brown:
Vaish thank you for everything that you’re doing. It has been my honor and privilege to be here with your audience today. Thank you.
Next week, we’re taking a short detour into talking about medicinal mushrooms’ gut health and focus. I can’t wait to share the show Episode with you. Until then, I’m your host Vaishnavi Sarathy and music today was by my daughter Maitri Gosh. Bye.