Janette Gerber - Textile Artist / Designer
"Open to Brain Plasticity"
Brain Plasticity refers to the ability of the brain to change itself, to rewire.
This work is an expression of my gratitude for the professionals of the many healing paths I have taken to get my “Self” back, post injury and concussion. The umbrella, made of constructed cloth, is a loose representation of the synapses made by our magnificent brains. From the head spring many of the symptoms which occur simultaneously. Think of the inside of a telephone cable, with multiple colored wires, bare in spot and shorting out as they touch.
Each of the eight sections of the umbrella is devoted to a phase of healing with dangling visual representations of some of the healing steps, a process that is ongoing.
This is a very brief summary of a long and difficult internal invisible injury and journey. Integrating Traditional Medicine and Alternative Therapies, I build a dancelike interweaving of complimentary approaches, each working toward the common goal of brain plasticity.
Dr. Deborah Zelinsky O.D. referred me to Cognitive Therapist Donalee Markus Ph. D. who said that her exercises would result in the return of the “pictures in my head.” It is a frightful loss for an artist to the pictures. Mine had gone, along with my creativity, in the moment of the crash nearly three years ago. Cognitive exercises brought the pictures back.
Patrick - 16 year old athlete
Before getting help from Dr. Markus, I struggled in a lot of areas in school. I got bad grades, I couldn’t focus and I just hated being at school. After spending time over the spring and summer working with her, everyone could see a change in the way I thought and the way I did things. She helped me think about my thinking and I became more confident about my problem solving abilities.
Coming back to school this past fall was a different feeling. I felt ready for this school year. Before working with Dr. Markus, I would give up on difficult school work but now I’m able to be more persistent. After the first semester I’m doing better than I have ever have done in school and a lot of that is due to the work I’ve done with Dr. Markus. I’m glad I got the chance to work with her. Not only does she care about me as a learner but she cares about me as a person.
She has made a big difference is my life – I actually don’t mind school now and believe I can be successful in college. Thank you Dr. Markus for helping me.
Aleksa - Student
Aleksa started the Learning How to Learn Program two months ago. Since she began the program, we have noticed that Aleksa has developed an awareness of order in the universe. She has demonstrated an increased awareness of time, direction in space and how things are organized in relation to hierarchy. Almost overnight, she has become interested in which direction she is traveling, how long a trip will take, and if we estimated correctly. She is more aware of her environment and notices when something needs to be done, without being asked.
Aleksa reports that she noticed that homework is easier now. In fact she approaches homework with a much better attitude, and perseveres through longer assignments without getting frustrated. Consequently, her self confidence has improved. We are thrilled with Aleksa's progress in such a short amount of time.
Richard - 26 year old entrepreneur
I took Designs for Strong Minds™ to give me the edge that I so desperately needed. After completing the class and doing homework on my own, the mental skills and fluid-thinking patterns that I have acquired, have made me a success both in my personal life and my business life.
Before I took the class, I was consumed with mental stress, inhibiting me from unlocking my true potential. I knew that there must be a key to help me unlock my true potential and I found that in Designs for Strong Minds™.
Learning alternative ways of perception has re-designed my thinking patterns, alleviated stress, and made "the big picture" much more clear.
Maria L. - Parent
My daughter has seen Dr. Markus for a little over a year now. Most of her visits have been private sessions, but she has recently improved enough to join the group sessions. Since starting with Dr. Markus in November of 2006, my daughter is more focused (partially due to a medication recommended by Dr. Markus), more socially appropriate and more independent (at home and at school). Her conversations are more appropriate and consist of longer exchanges. She is more on task than before. I have actually been able to ask her to do two and three-step tasks and have her complete them (we are still working on this as her success is still inconsistent). Tasks that were extremely difficult for her to complete (only done with much verbal and visual prompting and help) she can achieve now with relative ease.
Another benefit of being a patient of Dr. Markus is that she has a great network of other professionals to whom she has referred our daughter. She has been helped immensely by the other professionals we have taken her to see.
Yet another positive aspect of Dr. Markus' treatment is the positive feedback we have gotten from friends and family as to our daughter's behavior. It is so rewarding to hear others remark positively about our child!
Moira M. - Student
In October 2006, I was interviewing a new client of the publicist who employed me as a writer of press materials, when I suddenly experienced what felt like a sledgehammer blow to the back of my head. I lost consciousness, and upon awakening – on the floor – found I was hallucinating. Day-glo colors of pink, green and yellow were swirling all over the faces of the people clustered around me trying to help. I knew something was direly wrong with me, and I was right: a giant brain aneurysm (that I didn’t know I had) had ruptured, causing a cerebral hemorrhage and the first of three hemorrhagic micro-strokes.
I remember the paramedics arriving and lifting me onto a stretcher – and my next coherent memory was fully three weeks later. I was in Northwestern Memorial Hospital’s neuro intensive care unit, and just beginning to discover – to my horror -- the extent of the brain damage.
While my verbal skills seemed intact, I found I could no longer read an analog clock (the kind with hands.) I couldn’t identify black-and-white line drawings of familiar objects: a hammer, a bed, a horse. I had trouble sequencing. I couldn’t do simple math problems like long division – even subtraction, as long as it involved borrowing. My head felt like a Cuisinart, with disjointed thoughts whirling around so fast I couldn’t get a fix on them. As for multitasking, I figured those days were gone forever.
In addition to the publicity job, I’d been a longtime freelance journalist, and my main outlet was at that time (and still is) the Chicago Tribune, Once the full import of my brain injury registered with me, I was terrified I wouldn’t be able to write an article again. I had all the words, but did not know if I could sequence them, or link them with the ideas that would make them into a feature article.
Leaving intensive care a week or so later, I entered in-patient rehabilitation. After two weeks, I could identify line drawings once again, and seemed to have improved in other cognitive areas as well. But I was far from being recovered – and it was at that point I began to see Dr. Donalee Markus.
With Donalee, my high-level recovery began. After a few weeks, I was able to hold more than one idea in my head simultaneously. I began to regain my ability to multitask. And two months after the ruptured aneurysm had felled me, I had my first post-trauma article published in the Tribune. As part of the writing process I used an invaluable organizational tool I’d learned from Donalee: mind mapping. I’ve continued to use mind mapping with each subsequent Tribune article I’ve written – a general process that has gotten less and less difficult, thanks to Donalee.
One very important skill that Donalee’s neurocognitive therapy restored was my ability to navigate. My visuospatial center had been hard-hit by one or more of the strokes – and I’d found, to my considerable distress, that I could no longer visualize the street grid of Chicago in my head, in order to get from one place (or set of coordinates) to another. I couldn’t picture north, south, east, and west in relation to where I was at a given time, which made getting around the city where I live much more challenging than it had ever been – if not, in fact, utterly daunting.
But the visual puzzles Donalee had me do – ramping up their complexity bit by bit – brought back my ability to see the grid in my mind. Once again I could stay oriented, figure out where I was going, know which major Chicago street would be coming up next in the direction I was walking.
I even began trekking to New York City in the fall of ’07 to visit my daughter (a freshman in college there), and my work with Donalee had so improved my visuospatial skills that I was able to navigate around Manhattan and even Brooklyn with few mistakes.
I loved doing those puzzles – especially the wonderful dots that are Donalee’s trademark. I swear I could feel the damaged connections in my brain knitting back together, or rerouting themselves. I found the puzzles simultaneously relaxing and stimulating, and I looked forward to doing them daily the same way you might anticipate getting a massage. Donalee’s visual puzzles – as well as Sudoku, which she taught me and which I still do almost daily -- also helped me with my scanning, which had been severely impacted.
Another issue that had given me much grief, even half a year after the rupture – was that I had focusing problems. I would forget to retrieve my ATM card from cash machines; I’d forget to close the lid of the coffee maker when setting up my husband’s morning coffee the night before. After working several months with Donalee, my attention to those details (and others) noticeably improved. I continued to feel more and more like myself as time went on, thanks to Donalee Markus and her remarkable, cutting-edge neurocognitive therapy. I am so fortunate to have been able to work with her: it’s no exaggeration to say she gave me my life back.
Ari - Student
The program that Dr. Markus has established for her students is one that holds tremendous value to all those who she helps. I first started doing her exercises when I was in third grade, and it is from years of working with her that I can say I am one of her many success stories. My severe learning disabilities began to affect me more and more in my studies as I advanced in school.
It was with the help of Dr. Markus that I am where I am today in school. Not only did her exercises help to change the way my brain works , but also Dr. Markus worked with me to establish tools that I would be able to use in and out of the classroom to help m compensate for my disability. I am now a successful senior at Chicagoland Jewish High School because of Dr. Markus' dedication. Without her I would not be able to overcome the obstacles that my learning disability placed before me. Her warm heart and dedication is shown not only with me but with all of her students. Thank you Dr. Markus!!!
Ari Glasser, Age 17, Student (Chicagoland Jewish High School)
Martina - Parent
I have 12 year old triplets that are currently in Donalee's class and working with her material at home daily. I can say at this point, Donalee is nothing less than a blessing to my children and their future.
Watching them is like seeing desert flowers blossom. It is a joy to experience. I have the utmost confidence in Donalee Marcus and the program she has created.
Most Sincerely, Martina Mathisen mother of: Bjorn, Janeen and Eric Mathisen
Rachel - Student
The first time my family met Dr. Donalee Markus we were struggling emotionally with our daughter Rachel. We were at our wits end and Doctors told us she needed to be medicated. At age 4 ½ we knew that was the wrong path for her. After the first evaluation Donalee turned to us and said, “She’s great, I can help and she will calm down”. My husband just sat there stunned and I cried. This was the first person who said they could help, this was the first time someone could see her potential. You see through all the difficult times, we didn’t realize Rachel was very bright – Donalee Markus did.
Rachel from the beginning tested Donalee and the environment. The first several sessions she sat under the table and wouldn’t come out. Donalee respected Rachel and slowly engaged her to participate. With love, patience and coaching Rachel began to work on the puzzles Donalee created. At first she resisted them and eventually couldn’t get enough. It was the first time, for Rachel, that someone understood how her brain worked and how it needed to perform better.
Right in front of our eyes, we watched Rachel begin to socialize, calm down, build her self-esteem/confidence and want to participate in the world around her. She truly blossomed into a unique and beautiful girl, the child we knew she was. Today Rachel is coaching other students, attends a private gifted school and is truly happy. Her experience was so successful that her brother and mother (me) joined the program. I guess at the end of the day, we could all use a little retraining of the brain. Thank you Donalee and staff for your dedication to the needs of children greater than any pill could give. We are truly blessed.
Gail G - Parent
My older daughter, Mara, who has the visual processing disorder that some call dyslexia, had no idea how intelligent she was until she started working with Donalee: as early as fifth grade, she was staying up till midnight every night, just trying to keep up with her homework. But when Mara started going to Donalee when she was almost 16 years old, it was like her brain just started switching on. Mara's math, science and music improved to the point that she made the honor roll, and now Mara's a junior in college going for dual degrees in education and in psychology, with a minor in history. Donalee is truly a godsend – everyone should take her classes.
Patsy T. - Parent
Our 11 year old son Michael is very intelligent, but because of his ADHD-related learning disabilities he didn't think he was smart, and consequently lacked confidence. He started seeing Donalee Markus four years ago, and the improvement in his spelling and writing has been dramatic. He loves working with Donalee – and so does our other son, who goes with Michael and does Donalee's neurocognitive exercises along with him voluntarily – simply because he enjoys them. She is truly amazing.
Maureen D. - NASA
My personal experience with Dr. Markus' work is that it lays a foundation for enabling personal mastery and enhances one's ability to understand his/her own thinking process. I introduced her exercises to NASA and our NASA employees felt that these exercises allowed them to see, understand and move beyond their own limits to thinking and awareness. Specifically, Dr. Markus' exercises open an individual's ability to explore and learn in a non-threatening and creative way.
Jeff U. - Ameritech
I have to be honest, when you gave your proposal although I love the exercises, I was highly skeptical of DSM being able to change my thinking and problem solving ability. I remember thinking, "How are a few exercises going to change my thinking or help me develop critical thinking skills?" Then after I went to the classes and continued to do the exercises I realized that I looked at problems differently and approached resolving them with a different attitude.
Kathy A. - Parent
A catastrophic car accident at age 16 left my daughter Krysty with a traumatic frontal-lobe brain injury and a broken neck. Her physical wounds healed, but her brain did not – until we took her to Donalee Markus. Krysty arrived at Donalee's office with her higher functions, including executive function and critical thinking, gone – along with 20 points from her IQ. She was almost emotionless and operating at an 11 year old's social level.
After working with Donalee, Krysty regained her higher brain functions, emotions and IQ, got back on the honor roll, and is now on the honor roll in college and an officer in her sorority. I simply cannot thank Donalee enough for what she's done.
Don K. - Traumatic Brain Injury
I was on the job for SBC one Saturday morning four years ago, parked in my truck, when I was hit head-on by a reckless driver. I recovered quickly from a concussion, but was subsequently plagued with post-concussion syndrome: I was hypersensitive to noise, my field of vision was broken down to pixels rather than a whole integrated picture – in fact, all my systems were hyperactive.
Doctors wrongly told me I'd be good as new in a year; what did make all the difference was working with Donalee, who said, “Life's going to be different from now on, so let's make good use of it.” It took me less than four years to retrain my brain with Donalee Markus, and I'm back with SBC, splicing cable – thanks to Donalee, I'm able to lead a normal life.
Traumatic Brain Injury Rehabilitation
Responses to the workshops ranged from participants who could document personal behavior change to others who perceived change in their thinking styles. Participants related improvements in their communication and decision making skills, particularly with managers, and an increased appreciation for others cognitive processing methods. Your approach is extremely valuable to a large number of audiences.
DSM puzzles and the DSM mediation technique are vital tools in helping adolescents and adults with mild or moderate post-traumatic head injuries. DSM treatment focuses on the difference between how a patient dealt with the world cognitively prior to injury and how they deal with it post-injury, helping them bridge the gap and working with them to repair and rewire their cognitive processes so that they can again function at what they consider to be an acceptable level.