For years, Amy Downing's first-born child struggled with school, making friends and just about every other facet of growing up. Diagnosed with ADHD, he was put on medication, given one-on-one counseling and sent to social skills workshops. Still, his mother says, "He would go to after-school programs and get in fights with kids."
After seeing him bullied during his freshman year of high school, Downing placed him in a boarding school in Missouri. That school had ties with a Kansas City branch of Brain Balance, a nationwide system of after-school learning centers for children with social and behavioral disorders. The center's assessment?
"I have a 15-year-old who has the emotional maturity of a 4-year-old," Downing said. "I went 'Boom, that is the problem.'"
Within three months of beginning sessions, Downing says, she saw her son's behavior improving.
"I was amazed," she said. "I was like, 'Why is this not here?'"
Now it is, thanks to Downing and Michelle Robertson, her partner in the Wichita branch of Brain Balance. They opened a 3,000-square-foot center in the Shops at Tallgrass in July. A grand opening featuring Brain Balance's founder, Robert Melillo, is scheduled for 10:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. Sept. 19.
In addition to ADHD, Brain Balance tries to help children aged 4 through 17 who suffer from Asperger Syndrome, autism, dyslexia and other conditions, plus those experiencing academic, social and behavioral issues.
After an assessment, the non-medical, thrice-weekly program focuses on improving childrens' motor, cognitive, perception and processing skills.
"Our assessment looks at their strengths and weaknesses," Downing said. "From that, we can tell which side of the brain is weaker. We tailor our program to target the lobe that is the weakest and give the strong side of the brain a break."
The result, she said, is the growth of neurological pathways and "communication between both lobes gets much faster. That's when the lights go on. They communicate better, they can read non-verbal social signals better."
Many children they work with are still dominated by "primitive reflexes" they learned in their mother's womb and should have grown out of by the age of 3, such as the urge to put things in their mouth.
The center includes a "gym for your brain" fitted with monkey bars, balance beams and other equipment designed to improve motor skills, a "cognitive room" where children do eye exercises and work on math and reading skills, and two small assessment rooms. There are three full-time employees and five part-time workers.
Downing said Robertson first became interested in Brain Balance a couple years ago. When Downing contacted the company about starting a branch, they put her in touch with Robertson, who is a professor of marriage and family therapy at Friends University.
"The timing was right and we just hit it off," she said.
Downing said her son "still has some struggles today but is loads ahead of where he used to be." The first-time business owner said owning one is "a lotta, lotta work, like everybody says. I love it because my passion is to help children and families. I've been there and felt like there was nowhere else to turn."