by Photo by Sarah Berjan

While many happily anticipate the holiday season, families and individuals who are neurodivergent may experience unique challenges when schedules are interrupted and routines are broken. 

The COVID-19 pandemic has already exacerbated the crisis of care and learning, which contributed to social regression and increased anxiety in many children according to UNICEF. Programs like Brain Balance support struggling individuals through a personalized drug free approach offered in centers or at home, designed to improve attention, focus, behavioral skills, executive functioning and academic performance. 

“The struggles that people have are always there. It will keep being there unless the root issue is addressed,” M.A.Ed, Center Director of Brain Balance San Diego Amanda Lee said. “We can't do it all, but we are a part of the big puzzle,” Lee said. 

Brain Balance currently caters to youth aged 4 to 24 and does not require members to have a medical diagnosis. The program does not clinically diagnose medical conditions, rather the program conducts their own assessments in understanding the child’s strengths, weaknesses and finding gaps and holes in their development. 

“We really want kids in our program to be developmentally appropriate. It’s not about getting to the highest level and beating each other. It's about doing your best and making those connections in your brain,” Lee said. 

The program aims to take a comprehensive approach in treating the whole child by integrating brain connectivity with foundational core strength, sensory processing, better awareness, primitive reflex, coordination and synchronization of the brain and body. According to Lee, those foundational pieces add to social/emotional, nutritional, and learning skills components. The program will then work with children on their academic skills. With the emerging holiday season, routines and diets are oftentimes disrupted which causes a unique set of challenges for individuals.

“Even a neurotypical person can be over stimulated during the holidays. If the noises, the lights, the smells tend to affect your kid on a daily basis,  it will absolutely affect your child during the holiday season. Just telling them to behave will not do anyone any service,” Lee said . 

According to Lee, it is possible to prepare for the challenges faced during the holiday season. Parents are advised to pay close attention to the foods their child eats, sleep patterns, and shifts of mood to assess when they may become overstimulated. 

“In the holiday season it’s usually a change in diet, routine, and a change in sleep. It's not exactly the not the best recipe for success during the holiday season, but you can prepare and not just bear for the worst. You can still have a great holiday season anticipating these changes by planning ahead.”

One of the main triggers for struggling children is sugar. According to Lee, a lot of families discover a change in their children's focus, moods and ability when they reduce sugar, particularly especially refined sugars. Other food items like gluten and dairy tend to be the most inflammatory. 

"People don't realize food affects you. It doesn't have to be hours but it could be days later,” Lee said. 

Another way families may prepare are with headphones, a quiet space and escape routes to provide to children when they are feeling overstimulated at holiday events.

“Families don't have to do this alone. I think that is the biggest thing. We are in a society where we are all on our own, especially if your kid and your family are struggling. You don't feel like anyone who understands you, but there are many communities that understand. There are organizations just like us that are here to support, lend an ear and provide advice and resources you can use all the way,” Lee said. 

Brain Balance plans to open a program to help struggling adults to help improve focus, anxiety and memory. The timeline for it's release remains unclear.  

“This is not something you grow out of. You can cope with it to an extent but if you are struggling, you're struggling," Lee said. "It’s never too late to change the brain and that is a great thing. Science shows that you are continuously evolving as long as you engage your brain. The best way to really improve those neural pathways is to be intentional and to meet you where you're at. ”

Brain Balance Center is located in the heart of Chula Vista at 310 3rd Avenue. Free educational webinars and further information about the program may be found on their website. 

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