My guest this week is Trent McEntire. For more than two decades, he’s been helping people gain back their mobility, a story that he knows well. Born with a mild form of cerebral palsy, Trent experienced pain and stiffness every day from the time he was a child. However, his creative problem-solving abilities kicked in, and he figured out ways to improve his movement capacity to participate in his love for sports and then went on to discover that how he repaired his own body was the foundation for what would be his life’s work. He attended Western Michigan University where he received a BFA in dance, requiring studies in movement science and training.
Trent pursued a career as a professional dancer, where he performed on stages throughout the country and abroad. As a movement professional, Trent has laid a path where he could help others who have movement limitations. He has helped many people move past their most debilitating situations, and today, his mission is to get his methods and tools out to everyone who needs help. The Fire Up Your Brain program was created as a fun, engaging, affordable way to support his mission.
In this episode, Trent and I discuss ways to fire up our kids’ brains so they can learn to focus, move, and live better. Trent has used his personal experiences with cerebral palsy and movement education to figure out creative fun methods for improving processing, mobility, and so much more in kids and adults with a wide variety of challenges. He’s going to share specific training methods we can use to support brain-body connectivity and improved functioning across the board. Removing shame from the equation and focusing on helping kids’ brains through activities they love is where the most effective brain growth happens. Learn more about Trent McEntire here.
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About The Brainspeed Ball
- Useful for children, adults, seniors
- A game of brainspeed ball before homework, reading, work, or anything you need to concentrate on helps to fire up the brain and get it into learning or doing mode.
- The ball is bright orange with numbers and letters all over it.
- The object of the game is to pair movement (throwing, catching, rolling, handing the ball) with number and letter recognition and verbal recall. SO you can play catch with it and the person who receives the ball quickly names the number or letter they see
- The rhythm component helps the brain to regulate
- You are tracking the ball, and the ball is coming in different pathways, different speeds. By tracking the ball in different places, you’re asking the eyes, muscularly, to move in different directions, and you’re asking the eyes to track one spot with both eyes. So you get both eyes to work together, so you get improved convergence because you’re asking both eyes to converge in the same spot.
- This really helps with visual processing which can be a problem for children that most adults or practitioners won’t think to look for
Movement is critical for the brain
- No matter your age, movement is critical to keeping the brain plastic (able to change, and grow and make new connections)
- Movement is especially critical for children’s development
- Sadly schools have moved away from time with movement
- This is as a huge detriment to children
- Movement and play is how children strengthen their senses, process information and regulate
- Art is helpful too and many schools don’t have art class anymore
Take away the shame and empower them instead
- If a child is having trouble reading you don’t give them lots more to read
- It’s best to find something they are interested in and try to build the skills they lack through the vessel of something they enjoy
- This keeps the mind open and that’s where progress is made
- Progress is not made in shaming someone about their setbacks or labels and forcing their brains into fear or flight
- When you work with kids on something they can be successful at, their confidence snowballs
How to make processing speedier and more efficient
- The Speedball game is a great example of a tangible way to help make processing speedier and more efficient
- Keeping a learning activity fun keeps the brain listening, and as long as you’re talking through the eyes, primarily the improvements can come pretty quickly
Episode Intro … 00:00:30
Brain training ball … 00:18:18
Movement is critical … 00:24:40
Take away the shame … 00:34:10
How to adapt to different levels of function … 00:36:00
Efficient processing … 00:39:43
Dr. Nicole Beurkens:
Hi everyone, welcome to the show. I’m Dr. Nicole, and on today’s episode, we’re talking about ways to fire up our kids’ brains so they can learn focus, move, and just live better. My guest is Trent McEntire, and he has used his personal experiences with cerebral palsy and movement education to figure out creative fun methods for improving processing, mobility, and so much more in kids and adults with a wide variety of challenges. He’s going to share specific training methods we can use to support brain-body connectivity and improved functioning across the board. I’m really excited to share his story and techniques with you. Let me tell you a little bit more about him.
For more than two decades, he’s been helping people gain back their mobility, a story that he knows well. Born with a mild form of cerebral palsy, Trent experienced pain and stiffness every day from the time he was a child. However, his creative problem solving abilities kicked in, and he figured out ways to improve his movement capacity to participate in his love for sports, and then went on to discover that how he repaired his own body was the foundation for what would be his life’s work. He attended Western Michigan University where he received a BFA in dance, requiring studies in movement science and training. Trent pursued a career as a professional dancer, where he performed on stages throughout the country and abroad. As a movement professional, Trent has laid a path where he could help others who have movement limitations. He has helped many people move past their most debilitating situations, and today, his mission is to get his methods and tools out to everyone who needs help. The Fire Up Your Brain program was created as a fun, engaging, affordable way to support his mission. Trent, can’t wait for you to tell us all about this. Welcome to the show!
Thanks so much, Dr. Nicole. I’m really happy to be here.
Dr. Nicole Beurkens:
So in your bio, you talk a little bit about your story, but I’d really like to start there because I think that it’s really compelling and will help our listeners to understand how you really came to understand the kinds of things that you’re teaching people to do for themselves.
Yeah, there are really two roads in my story that come together later on in my life. So the biggest part, talking about the cerebral palsy part of it, is that this is something that I didn’t have any awareness of. I wasn’t told this as a young child. And so this stiffness and discomfort that I have just felt normal for me. I just thought that was normal. There was nothing that ever verbalized because it just was the way that it was. But I was always athletic, and I played basketball, and then when I started taking dance classes, they made me feel better, both from the physical in my body, but also regulation and just — really at the time, I didn’t call it regulation, of course, but now I look back and that’s what was going on. It helped with regulation, and I just loved it. I loved the athleticism, I loved performing, and I love the creative part that came into being an athlete. And so I went on to college and I started to work on my degree in dance, and part way through my experience there, I woke up one morning and I could barely walk. From my knees down were so inflamed that it hurt. Every step was just so painful. I thought this could be the end. Really, this is not just like a little injury that — dancers deal with pain all the time. This was something that I really was like, “I’m worried about this.” It was real close to when I had to go home for a holiday break, and I was home, and I was just kind of complaining to my mom. I was like “I don’t get what’s going on here. I can I can barely walk in the morning, and it takes me forever to get warmed up so I can actually function, and I don’t get why this is happening from my knees down.” And she looked at me and she said, “Well, Trent, that’s because you were born with cerebral palsy.” And I was 19. I was like, “Wait, what is that? What do you mean? What’s happening right now?” And she’s like, “Yeah, don’t you remember when when you were three?” And I’m like, “I don’t know, I don’t remember three, but okay,” like, “Don’t you remember when you were three, when you had casts on your legs.” And then the memories came flooding back. I was like, “Yeah, I remember having that. Both legs were cast at the same time.” And she said “That’s because the doctors, they didn’t do any surgery…”, which is great for me, “…but they put casts on your on your legs so that they could force your heels to the ground because you had no ankle mobility, so they had to stretch the ankles so they get all the way down to the ground, so that you could walk with a pretty normal gait.” And that’s all that was done. Now, my biggest memory of having a cast on, of course, is when my brother would put trash bags on my legs and throw me in the snowbank, because that was what big brothers did, right? But I was like, “Wow,” and so having a reason lit this fire in me to figure out how to overcome this.
Now we know the brain is plastic, we know we can build new neural pathways. At that point, that wasn’t a thing. It was a thing in the far reaches of science, but nothing that was mainstream. You couldn’t find a book on it, you couldn’t research it. And so, I realized that I, at the time, was doing exercises like lifting weights, I was doing cardio, I was dancing, I was doing pilates, and those made me stronger. And then I was also doing a whole list of movement therapies, that was part of my training, that helped with patterning, but I didn’t really get stronger from them. So I just had this moment of “Well, what if I put them together? What if I built better patterns that also made me stronger? And that’s when I started problem solving for my own body, and I ended up being able to journal what worked, what didn’t work. I kept what worked and I threw what made it worse out, and I rehabbed my own injury, and then I was able to go on and dance professionally and not have issues from it. So that was when the fire really got lit for me to problem solve this. That was the beginning of it.
Dr. Nicole Beurkens:
I love it. You’re so right, the whole concept of neuroplasticity, that’s a relatively new thing. In just the past couple of decades, there was this idea that past a certain point in a child’s development, the brain turned to concrete, you can’t have anything change. We now know that that’s so false, and yet there are still a lot of things that persist in the fields of medicine, mental health, rehab, neurodevelopmental issues, even things like Alzheimer’s and those types of things, a lot of myths that persist that are grounded in that old outdated way of thinking. So I love that you’re grounding your work in that, like, hey, the brain can grow new connections and change throughout the lifespan.
Yeah. It’s really incredible. I went on to then see clients and help other people with what I’d done for myself. In the beginning, they were really just what I would call guinea pigs. I was doing what felt right to me, what felt natural, and then books started being published. I was like, “Oh, I’ve got to read this book about the brain, I bet that’s going to help me.” Three pages in, I’m like, this is exactly what I’ve been doing for the last 10 years, and now it has words, and now there’s a vocabulary.
Now I know what to research and how to really put it together in a way that I can convey it, that isn’t just “Whatever he does, whatever magic he does”. There’s a real science behind it, so I could start to develop strategies that I could teach other people. Now while that was happening, and that was a very big through line in my career, if we just back up for a minute to third grade, which is an epic part of my life, which is when parent-teacher conferences come around, and my third grade teacher who I won’t name because she was doing the best she could do, she said, “Trent really struggles with reading. We need him to be a better reader.” And so in typical fashion, “Oh, you struggle with reading. So what we’re going to do is we’re going to give you more of the thing that you’re terrible at, because that’ll make it better.” That didn’t make it better, but I already had a hard time reading in class, so I always had homework. In third grade at that point, it was unheard of. Now, it’s a little more common, but then you didn’t have homework in third grade. I had homework because I was behind. And then I had this big green — I wish I still had this bucket. I had this big green tackle box full of these books. You had to read a book every day, answer the questions to prove comprehension, and it was a nightmare. That persisted. That challenge of reading persisted. It wasn’t literacy. I could understand, but it was literally when I would read, I would just fall asleep. I just couldn’t stay present and read. Fast forward to when I was 33, and I was working with a client and I was saying to her, “I’m reading this book that I really enjoy.” Now, I was doing an audiobook, because at that point, I had shame around the fact that I had a hard time reading, so I did audio books and everything. So I was well read. I was well-listened. I was talking as if I was reading, and I said “I’ve got to get this next book when I go to this conference, I have all this time and I want to read this next book in the series.” So the next time she came in, she brought me the copy of the next book in the series, and I’m like, “Okay, now I’ve got to buy the audiobook, listen to it on my trip, make sure that I can get it back to her and tell her how great it was”, feeling all the people pleasing showing up to try to do this. And so I take the book with me and I get on the plane, and I can’t read on the plane because it always made me sick. I get to the conference, and I just happened, at the conference, to meet a vision therapist, and the vision therapist did a couple assessments on me with my eyes, and discovered that my eyes were weak and they didn’t work well together. After just a couple exercises, I went back to my booth, and a friend stopped by and left me a note that she missed me and I read the note like I’ve never read In my life. I still remember the feeling “Is that what reading is supposed to feel like? Easy and doesn’t make me fall asleep and make me feel like I want to just jump off a cliff here? This is amazing.” And I read so fast, and I just went “This is the other piece”. Looking at training the senses like we look at training the rest of our body, to make them strong and flexible and coordinated. It was just “Okay, now I’m on fire.” I lit the fire, but now I really have this really powerful mission that I can fulfill.
Dr. Nicole Beurkens:
So good. What I appreciate about the pieces that you shared of that story is so often, when a child or an adult — when there is some sort of obvious physical limitation like toe walking or an awkward gait or poor balance, physical coordination, those kinds of things, the idea is that that’s in the body. And when there is a reading issue or something like that, the idea is well, that’s in the learning or the brain. The reality is that all of those things are interconnected. Those are not separate things, especially thinking about cerebral palsy, thinking about those kinds of conditions, it’s not just about casting and making the physical body look a certain way. It’s about the connections between the brain and the body, and the same for reading as well, the connections between the eyes, and physically what the eyes are doing and the brain. This brain-body connection, and building and strengthening those connections is so important, and it impacts everything from mobility and balance to things like reading and communication and comprehension. It’s all so interconnected.
Yeah, it’s incredible. When I work with somebody, I want to measure things. I want them to feel what’s changing, because it can feel so bizarre to think after a few minutes of doing a game, that something powerful could happen. What it comes down to is that if you have better perception, you have better action. So if we can get your senses stronger, you have better actions. And just like you said, you named all those things, and it reaches into a ripple effect into all parts of your life. If you can identify what it is that you really want to improve, then you can focus on measuring that. That’s why I think, for parents — I know for me, in my own kids, you can get so overwhelmed with looking for solutions and trying things. It takes so much time and money and effort, and you don’t really know what you’re doing, and you don’t really know if it’s working. You think it is, but how do you know? So I really just really like setting it up to measure pre and post, so you get an idea of what’s really happening.
Dr. Nicole Beurkens:
Yeah, I want to get into some of the specific ways you work on this, but I think it might be helpful at this point in our conversation for you to share a story or two about kids or people you’ve worked with, really to set the stage. You talked about your own experience and the diagnosis that you had. So cerebral palsy, but also — don’t know if you were formally diagnosed, but you had some reading issues, and you described that, but I want our friends who are listening to understand that this isn’t just about people or kids diagnosed with something like cerebral palsy or something like dyslexia. This goes way beyond that, right? So can you share a couple of stories of maybe different types of kids or people?
Yeah, for sure. Let’s also just be clear that every one of us has a brain, and every one of us has the senses that feed information to the brain. So if you feel like you’re stuck on “Oh, you have to have a reading problem to work on your brain.” I’m here to tell you: One of one of the most exciting things to know is that you can improve anything you want to improve if you can strengthen your senses and your brain performs at a better level and a more efficient level. That’s the most exciting news these days for me, when you can share that with somebody and they can go “Oh wait. That’s a different lens to look through. That isn’t like, “Okay, you’re thirsty, so drink water, you’re hungry, so eat food.” It’s like no, you have a brain. So exercising the brain is good. You don’t have to have a diagnosis. You might even suspect something. You don’t have to go through a whole process. This is a fun game. So I teach a fun game.
So I’ll tell you a story, my favorite one to lead off with, because this was this young girl who was 13, that I’ve never met. I was at a conference, and I had a movement professional bring my BrainSpeed Ball that I was selling back home with her. She gave it to one of her clients, for her client to use to help her with her balance. Her client takes it home, leaves it on the counter, her daughter comes home from school, finds it on the counter and on her own, starts playing a game of BrainSpeed Ball and kind of making up her own games. And with very little guidance and just a little bit of instruction, she was able, for the first time in her life, to sit down and do her homework. Let’s just talk about what that does for a family dynamic. If you have kids, and you have a struggle with homework time, that’s painful for the whole house, and it’s pain that lasts for years and years, and you go to bed and you wake up with it, and you have that cycle every day. So it still gives me goosebumps, because I know that pain. And so if you can imagine, it’s not just “Oh, that kid could do her homework.” That’s amazing. That’s so remarkable. But also the whole family benefits because that stress gets dissolved, and as parents, we want to still feel like we have hope for our kids, and when that hope can get a shot in the arm and feel like it’s still there. It’s pretty powerful. So that’s an important aspect.
Dr. Nicole Beurkens:
Absolutely. I think that hope piece is critical. I love how quickly that transformation happened. I think sometimes along with that idea of hope, people lose hope because they feel like the issues they’re facing or that their kids are facing are just going to take forever to see any progress or do anything with, and what you’re really talking about is: When we activate things in the brain and the body in the right way, when we’re forming these connections, actually, change can happen pretty quickly, especially in kids. It doesn’t have to take years and years and years of slogging away at things for the brain to be able to make connections that really fundamentally shift a person’s function.
Yeah. The amount of time spent on playing this game is five minutes or less, and that seems really unreasonable and unrealistic. What are you talking about? But I just want to say, if you think about having a really big deficiency, and I mean that you don’t ever do sensory training. If you’ve never done sensory training, then you have a whole component that’s not being addressed, especially when it comes to your eyes. Your brain listens to your eyes. There’s really research that shows they’re the same thing. Your eyes are your brain. That connection is so powerful. So if you’re not ever incorporating any kind of visual exercises, or vestibular, which is the balance in the inner ear, then you’re operating at a deficiency, and not because you’re not good enough, or you just don’t know, but you just are not hitting the right mark. So it doesn’t take a whole bunch of time. It just takes hitting the right mark, and when you know that that’s the mark you’re trying to hit, it does make it easier.
Dr. Nicole Beurkens:
Yeah, absolutely. So tell us about this activity. Tell us about the book, tell us about some of these techniques, because I know people are like, “Okay, I’m hooked! Tell me, tell me.”
It’s a bright orange ball, for those that are listening and not watching, and you have A through Z, and 1 through 12 printed on the ball. So if you and I were playing a game of catch here, we’d be throwing the ball back and forth. So first, we just want to make sure you can catch the ball and just kind of create a rhythm. And by the way, if you have anybody who’s struggling with regulation, the rhythm component of playing catch back and forth is really, really nice to help with regulation at all ages, and some of my clients that I have that are experiencing Alzheimer’s and dementia, it is my number one regulation tool. When they get dysregulated, I go right to the ball, and they come back and they’re smiling and laughing, and we have them back in the room. It’s amazing. But anyway, so we’re playing the game back and forth. What I asked you to do is to catch the ball and tell me what you see on the ball. So you can catch the ball and say, “S” out loud. Throw it back to me, I throw it back to you, you catch it again, you say our “R”, and throw it back. And that would go on back and forth for a few minutes. Or if you by yourself, you could do this against the wall, catching the ball the same way. And here’s what’s happening: You are tracking the ball, and the ball is coming in different pathways, different speeds. By tracking the ball in different places, you’re asking the eyes, muscularly, to move in different directions, and you’re asking the eyes to track one spot with both eyes. So you get both eyes to work together, so you get improved convergence because you’re asking both eyes to converge in the same spot. That’s the eye exercise part of it, but what’s really cool is that you don’t really have to know the science of it for it to work, is that because you’re catching it and saying it out loud, we’re tapping into how your brain already processes. So your brain’s going to sense what’s going on through whatever senses you’re using, decide what to do about it, and then act on it. That sense-decide-act cycle is always happening. So when you play the game and you’re saying it out loud, we’re tapping into a brain processing situation that’s already happening. And because we’re really asking for movement here, we’re asking for your eyes to move, your body to move, your head to move, it compounds what can happen. If you think about how we currently mostly understand how the eyes are measured, we sit really still, we don’t move, and we measure acuity, how clear a letter is on the first row, the second row, on that chart that the eye doctor is giving you. Now, visual acuity is important, but for most of us, that’s where it ends. So this is about much more than visual acuity. It’s about range of motion and strengthening coordination, while asking the brain to go through that processing that’s already built in.
Dr. Nicole Beurkens:
Yes, and it’s that visual processing piece that actually is a much bigger problem for most kids. I see so many kids who come into our practice, who have had their eyes tested for acuity. The issue isn’t whether they need glasses or not, but they very much are having an issue with visual processing, their ability to make sense of what’s coming in through their eyes, or the ability to fluidly integrate what they’re seeing with their body movement, with higher level thinking. And that creates all kinds of functional issues for kids, especially in the classroom. So I’m glad that you drew the distinction because people will go “Oh, no, his eyes are fine. He sees fine.” That’s just the tip of the iceberg, can you see clearly? There are so many other pieces of that.
Yeah, the other thing that comes up for people is, well what if they don’t know their letters and numbers? Well, then that’s how they learn their letters and numbers, there’s a really beautiful video that I was able to see, that we can’t really share with the public because we don’t have permission to share this, but I was able to see this, where it’s a classroom of preschoolers sitting in a circle, and they’re rolling the ball to each other. And when they stop the ball, they pick something out on the ball, and then if they know what they can say it, but if they don’t know yet, the teacher is like, “Okay, that’s this letter, that’s this number.” And then the kids, as a community, get involved, like “What’d you get? What’d you get?”, and they get excited for each other as they’re rolling the ball back and forth. And so instead of the kid feeling like they’re put on the spot to have to know something, they have this game they’re playing, and the kids are supportive with each other, and the teacher can jump in when they need to. For the teacher, it’s beautiful, because they don’t have to be the person who tells them they’re right or wrong. It’s more like, “Where do you need me?”, and they can insert themselves.
Dr. Nicole Beurkens:
A wonderful, guided community process. That’s so beautiful. I would love for you to say a bit more about the importance of incorporating movement into these kinds of things, because I’ve long been preaching to people that movement is so key for how children develop, across the board, how our brain develops connections, and we unfortunately, in the way our current educational systems, in at least US culture and society is set up we’ve become more and more sedentary, less and less movement-oriented, particularly in our school settings, particularly for younger and younger kids. Preschool is no longer about playing outside and doing active play. We’ve got preschoolers now at desks, and I’d love for you to talk from your perspective about how problematic that is and how important movement and physical activity is for brain development.
Yeah, I want to say this: At one point, we had it right. Put the kids in a playground, put them on a swing, take them back and forth. Put them on a merry-go-round, spin them in a circle. Go up and down a slide. Hang from monkey bars. This wasn’t just like, “Go play” time. It was actually pretty brilliant brain development built into the day, and as soon as the view is, “We need more time in school, we need less recess time.” Recess wasn’t a break. Recess was the power for the rest of the day. If there were two recesses, you get double power for the day. And so it’s amazing. If you can play a game that taps into those same senses for less than five minutes, and go do an activity and just feel like “Wow, I can do this”, it just speaks volumes to how right we had it at one point, and removing that piece is not helpful. It’s giving them more processing work to do, while taking away strengthening their senses and how they process and regulate. It’s no wonder kids are dysregulated, they don’t have the ability to move. And then you put them in a gym class — If they get gym. And it’s infrequent, it’s not every day, and they really don’t get challenged at the level that they need to be challenged at. Everybody’s expected to be the same for the most part, and it’s a lot like art in the sense it’s like “Well, kids are going to be more STEM-driven, so give them more STEM classes. We don’t really need as much art.” Well, actually doing the art will make them better scientists. Doing recess makes them better scientists. Doing this makes them better at that. It’s all interconnected, and like you were saying earlier, You have these stereotypes and assumptions that are held over, of old science and old understanding that’s still driving how we make decisions. So it’s really why I wanted to make this affordable for people, because I know with parents, it’s expensive. You spend a lot of time and money, and your resources — and emotionally expensive also to try to find solutions. They’re not going to get more recess time anytime soon. If you’re in a school district where they’re very competitive, like my kids, if you can get on a sports team, that’s bizarrely rare because there are so many kids, and it’s so competitive. So even — when I was in school, everybody made the team. So you could play a sport, you could play two sports a year and have no problem with that, to actually contribute to your own brain development that would help you with your schoolwork. So anyway, that was a long answer. But that’s…
Dr. Nicole Beurkens:
No, it’s so important because I think you’re right, we’ve gotten so far away from developmentally what’s actually necessary, and we’ve moved into this bizarre realm where what is actually the most efficient and effective options for supporting kids brain development and academic learning is seen as not needed, or is seen as like a bonus or whatever. And it’s really kind of a Bizarro world, when you think about it. And I’m going back to what you shared about your own story with reading, and you said it so perfectly, you’re like, “Oh, great, well, I’m having trouble with reading. So give me more of exactly the things that I already can’t do”, and boy, that is the standard approach today in education, in therapies, in all of these things is: We’re just going to give you more of what you’re already struggling with, with the idea that if you just grind away and keep doing that, at some point, it’s going to click, But what is so ridiculous about that is when we can look at the developmental foundations for a skill like reading fluently or comprehension, or verbal communication, or whatever it might be, and when we can fill in those gaps and understand what actually allows the brain to move to those higher levels of organization and thinking, that’s such a more effective, efficient way to do it, but we just are sort of hell-bent on doing it the hard way these days.
Yeah, sometimes I feel like because shame was used so much in education when we were kids, and then before us, and before them. That shame gets passed through. So what happens when you say, “Oh, you’re terrible at that? Let me give you more of that”, because it’s really going to point out — and let’s say your parents know that you’re really terrible at that, let’s bring all the shame. Let’s bring a shame storm upon you. I want to share another story because there’s a young girl that I had, she’s on the autism spectrum, which is really irrelevant to the story. But because she has a diagnosis, her mom has been caring for her, and she’s a great kid. I didn’t want to make it about this label that she’s been given. Her mom wanted me to work with her, and that’s cool, but let’s make it about something else she loves. I’m not going to talk to her about her label. What does she love to do? She loves to dance. Well, okay, I got you. So I was out at a conference, and was kind of holding private sessions at my booth, and she brought her by. And it was like, “So I hear that you love dance, and she lit up, she was like “Yeah!”, so I was like “Well, what’s something that your dance teacher tells you that she wants you to improve on?” She’s like, “Oh, my jumps. I don’t jump very high, and I look down all the time. She’s always telling me to look up when I’m jumping.” I’m like, “Okay, so let’s play this game, and measure before and after to see if we can improve your jumps. And that’s just what we’re going to make it about: Something you love to do, see if we can make it better.” And notice I said, “See if we can make it better”, right? Because I promise one of three things will happen: It’s going to get better, it’s going to stay the same, or it’s going to get worse, I promise. Ultimately, we’re just trying to discover what we can get to happen, so there’s no pressure to “It has to happen, make it happen,” but just try to discover what could happen. So she did her leaps, and yup, they were pretty low, and she was looking at the ground the whole time. Okay, I’m not going to teach her how to do leaps. This isn’t about my dance instruction. We’re not going to talk about that at all. But I played the game with her for about three or four minutes, and said “Try it again.” And she went across the floor and it was higher, and she wasn’t looking down. And I said “Well, what did you notice?”, before I told her what I saw, She was like, “That was really cool. I need to know what’s going on here. Why did that just happen? Because that felt easier. I felt like I was jumping higher.” I was like “Yeah, that was really cool! So then, let’s try some other things.” So I just made it about improving her dance. I didn’t know much of her story, I just got a little bit of her story. Conference is over, I get home and I get a long note from her mom, and she said, “I want to give you a little bit of context for why this was so important to her: The day before you met with her”, the conference was in Las Vegas, “The day before you met with her, we were out, and she wanted to see what the strip looked like. So we were crossing the street, and the sensory overload was just too much. And she just fell to a heap in the road, and I had to pick her up and physically carry her off, and get back to the hotel so she could regulate and kind of come down from that. And then you worked with her, and then that night, there was a big party, it’s about a three hour party. Lights, DJ, music, a 1000 people.” And she said, “Normally she lasts…” — because she brings her every year to this conference, “…normally, she lasts about half an hour.” And she said, “Trent, she lasted all three hours, and when we got back, she was fine. No issues.” I was like, “That’s the win.” You don’t have to talk about the issue that you feel the pain as a parent, that you want to help, but we can still address it. And to me, that’s so beautiful, because she knows she’s different, and she knows people see her as different, and they give her a label, and there’s something wrong with her and “Go to this therapist and that therapist”, but what if the therapist is not going to talk about that label? I think that’s kind of magical, you know?
Dr. Nicole Beurkens:
Yeah, just helping people be the best people they can be, and to embed function into what’s meaningful in their lives. I think that’s so key, across the board, and so often missed as we try to have kids practice and get better with things in contexts that completely lack any meaning for them. And when we embed it into something meaningful, that’s powerful in terms of building those brain connections too.
Yeah, and it takes away that shame storm and helps them feel empowered. Kids need that. There’s so much pressure on them from every angle, and they are supposed to know what they’re going to be for the rest of their life by the time they’re 15. They’d better be looking at colleges, they’d better have an idea. It’s like, wow, that’s a lot of pressure. And then if you’re in a school that has a lot of kids that excel, and it’s a big school, and you’re fighting to try to get to the top, so you have a shot at whatever it is — this is for all levels of performance. I think if a young girl who is a senior, and she’s taking all advanced placement classes, she can barely manage her workload, just so stressed out and so much pressure, no diagnosis per se, no focus issues per se, but she was so dysregulated from the pressure of getting it all done, that that’s what would help. It would help just regulate, just calm the system. Just put that fire in your body out so your brain can function and be efficient, and have the fire be there versus creating a problem.
Dr. Nicole Beurkens:
Well, I love it. You’re talking about things that can support and remediate challenges, even in people with very significant symptoms, but you’re also talking about high performance training: Taking people or kids who are already doing pretty well, and helping bring more ease and kind of bring them to the next level. This is something we all can benefit from. I’d love for you to share maybe a story of —because I know some parents are listening, and they’re like, “Okay, but I have a child who doesn’t even have the coordination to be able to catch a ball”, or “I have a child who would really struggle to stay in the area and retain interest” or you made the point about a kid who doesn’t know the letters and numbers, can you talk about maybe a story or how you adapt this game or these kinds of activities for kids or adults with more severe or significant symptoms?
Yeah, so this really can start at just reciprocity. They can start with, “Well, what’s mine, I’ll share with you, and you can share with me.” And however I can get that to you, and you can get it back to me, that’s where it can start. And I’ve had some really, really young people that I have been able to work with that were like two and three years old, didn’t speak any English, spoke Chinese, and I’m able to roll the ball back and forth on the ground, and eventually able to get her to point to something. Not say it, but just point. I would point and roll it back, and then she would point, and have this exchange. And that reciprocity is really powerful. So from a functional level, you don’t have to throw the ball. You could roll it, you could hand it — I think of an older client of mine who was experiencing dementia symptoms, and catching a ball wasn’t really going to be a fit for her in the beginning. And so I said “Okay, I’m going to throw you the ball.” I used the word to keep it fun, but I just handed her the ball. I was just like, “Here it comes!”, and I put it in her hands, and she just lit up smiling, and then she said what she saw, and we just kept going back and forth like that. Eventually, she could catch the ball, and eventually she could bounce it off the wall and make it faster. So that was really exciting to see. But I did make a mistake one time. I had a really advanced CrossFit athlete, and I said, “Okay,” I was all ready to give her this challenge, and so she stood up and I was like, “Okay, you ready?” She was like, “Yeah,” and I threw the ball at her, and it just hit her on the face. And she’s like, “Yeah, I’m really afraid of balls, and I really can’t catch a ball.” And I was like, oh, I’d better make sure people can catch a ball!. Here I’m thinking “She’s a CrossFit athlete, she surely can catch a ball!” No, that’s not the case. So, definitely, you can modify it to who you have in front of you, because catching a ball can be a real fear for people, but it doesn’t have to be fast, it doesn’t have to be a game of catch. One of my favorite things to do with people, especially if they have limited ability with their hands, clients that have suffered a stroke, even, they only have maybe use of one hand and barely have a pincer grasp, is I’ll take half the air out of the ball, so that it’s really mushy, and then they can they can snag it, and it’s the same systems, same sense-decide-act, it’s just giving them the ability to actually catch it, and believe in themselves because that’s a big thing. If you can help somebody believe in themselves a little, you can open some doors to get further.
Dr. Nicole Beurkens:
That’s right, build those feelings of success, and then it snowballs. Yeah, I just think it’s so important that people understand that there are lots of ways that these things can be modified, but the principles are the same, and the benefit is the same. I want to talk about this idea of BrainSpeed, or what as a psychologist, I might call processing speed, because I think this is really relevant, what you shared earlier about this idea of integrating all these senses, the ball, the movement, the visual, tapping into the cognition, and then the verbal with saying it. A lot of kids, especially kids with neurodevelopmental issues, even kids with trauma backgrounds, kids with learning disabilities, those types of things, one of the real challenges is a slower processing speed. It’s not that their brain can’t take in and sort through and act on the information, it’s that they can’t do it quickly and efficiently. And so I love the idea of this game as really a tangible way to help make processing speedier and more efficient. Can you talk a little bit about that?
Yeah, I’m so glad you use the word “efficient”, because sometimes parents can get a little like, “I’m not sure I want them to go faster. They already go so fast.” It’s not that they go faster, it’s that the brain processes faster. That makes it much more efficient. They’re not wasting energy, they’re not getting frustrated and kind of squeezed up in their body and brain, so that things can flow easier and there’s less strain and what they’re trying to accomplish. That’s a really important distinction to make, because the kid who struggles with homework or focus, and they sit down, they’re already ready to feel how terrible this is. And then it feels terrible, and it just kind of snowballs and then they’re not going to do it because why would they? I mean their brain is like “No, that’s terrible, don’t do that.” It really speaks to the element that really is required for all these games, it’s that they have to be fun. So when you’re talking about making this work, and bringing in the movement, and the sensory and the rhythm for regulation, what’s required in that whole circle is fun. Because if you can make it fun, your brain is like, “Okay, let’s do this, let’s do more of this, I love this.” And you’re more willing to try something because your brain isn’t threatened. It doesn’t trigger fear, hopefully, if you’re not throwing it across with an athlete that can’t catch a ball, but it helps to break through, and you’re not making it about their dysfunction or their label or whatever they think is wrong with them. You’re making it about accomplishing something they love. So it changes the whole lens. But keeping it fun keeps the brain listening, and as long as you’re talking through the eyes, primarily. It’s really powerful and fast.
Dr. Nicole Beurkens:
Yeah, and I think that piece of fun reduces the anxiety. That anxiety, that stress that just shuts down the brain’s ability to take in things, to change, and I see that getting in the way so much for kids. They’re anxious. They’re anxious, they’re stressed because it’s hard, and then we are, right out of the gate, shutting down the very things in their brain that we need to open up to be able to form new connections. So this idea of keeping it fun, keeping it successful, keeping it focused on them feeling regulated, that’s so key to the brain being able to form these connections.
And what if you can teach anybody — kids or friends or whatever, what regulation even is. That’s a word that we should be taught very, very young, because if you can improve your ability to self-regulate, it affects all parts of your life. I’m thinking back to when I first started playing this game with my kids when they were really little. My favorite way to play this game with my kids is what’s called Stair Ball. If we had them on right now they could tell you stair ball is their favorite game of that, because you can play easy, and you can play hard. So one kid at the top of the stairs, I’m at the bottom of the stairs. It’s a stairway that has walls. And so you’re throwing a ball up and down the stairs, and it bounces off the walls and the stairs, and it’s crazy, but everything is safe, because you’re not breaking anything because it’s a little corridor. But you put them at the top of the stairs, it’s easy for them to bounce it down, and it’s funny to watch dad go for the ball, and then they have to catch it when I throw it back up. But if you flip it and you put them at the bottom, and you at the top, they’ve really got to make so much effort to get that ball up to you, and now they’re really moving their body without you saying “You should exercise, you should move your body more, you’re not good enough, you’re not enough because you don’t move!” but just “Get that ball to me!”, and then you can maybe go down a couple stairs if they can’t quite get it to you. It’s just built into the game, and you’re just having fun yourself.
Dr. Nicole Beurkens:
I love it. It’s so great. There are so many other things that I want to ask and that we could talk about, but I know we have to wrap up. I want to make sure that people know where they can find out more about your work, where they can get the ball, the instructions, the information about this. Tell us all the details on that.
Yeah, so you can go to my website, it’s called fireupyourbrain.com. That’s where you’ll find the programs, the training, and they’re meant to be simple to consume, easy to go through quickly. It isn’t a long course where you have to study. It’s like “Here’s the game, here’s how it works. Now go play. Stop with the computer and go play the game.” And the kids program, which is the one that’s available right now, they have the ability to learn the games, but also there’s coaching on how to come up with your own game. There’s actually a download you get that gives you like a check-off sheet so they can set like “I’m going to do it with this many people in this room, at this speed and with two balls or one ball”, and kind of form their own game and get creative, because if they can get creative with it and own it, it multiplies the effect also. So they can find out about the training programs there. We have new programs that are coming in the next two months, one for seniors, one for athletes.
Then there’s a program called “Ask Trent”, that’s an important part of this because I want everybody to know that they’re not alone in this. And so what I do is every month I go live and I answer questions from people that are using the ball or curious about the ball or in the program, thinking about the program, so they get an idea that they have support. And there is a community of professionals that are using this all over the world. There is support to get answers to questions so you don’t feel like “I have this ball. I took the training, but I’m not sure I’m doing it right.” Ask a question and get your answer. And then we provide the video. If you’re not able to watch it live, you can get the video later on. So you can just sign up for “Ask Trent”, and it’s free, it’s a nice way to connect.
Dr. Nicole Beurkens:
I love it because that community is so valuable and important. And so really, you provide everything that people need to get started with this, and I love the idea of kids coming up with their own, because that just engages them more, but it also brings in a lot of executive functions there with planning and thinking through things ahead and perspective-taking. That’s just amazing. So many great things you can do with really a simple tool that you developed. I think it’s amazing. I can’t wait to get some for the clinic. I hope all of you listening will go check out Trent’s website, check out what he’s doing. I think it’s great. Parting thoughts, or something that you would want our listeners to just take with them from this conversation today.
We talked a lot about a lot of things. It’s really simple. It’s a fun game, and it’s easy to do. At the very, very foundational level, I just want people to know that it’s a possibility that by making this sensory training fun, you get access to really new and exciting possibilities for you and the people that you love, and it’s easy. So much of what we do in our life is so hard, that it doesn’t have to be hard. It’s easy, and it’s accessible. I think the more we can bring the brain and sensory training into our normal everyday conversations, and better understand the connections between improving perception equals improving action, then we can better understand it. We talk about it, we understand it, we share it just like any other piece of information that becomes wildfire. We all know parents that are struggling with their kids or with their parents or with themselves, so making it normal to talk about your brain, my goodness, it’s about time that that’s mainstream and not just for professionals to understand higher science.
Dr. Nicole Beurkens:
Amen. So good. Trent. I really appreciate you taking the time to be on the show today, to share your own personal story and all the things you’re doing. It’s just amazing, and I really appreciate you spending the time with us today.
My pleasure. Thanks for having me.
Dr. Nicole Beurkens:
And thanks to all of you, as always, for listening. We’ll catch you back here next time for our next episode of The Better Behavior Show.