“Nature, meet Nurture.” Attachment and Autism

Photo Credit: Nature vs. Nurture/Philosophy Talk

In general, infants with autism spectrum have eye gazes that focus more on objects than faces.

And that impacts the mechanisms of attunement between mother/father/ and child.  Less oxytocin, the “love chemical,” and less “feel-goods.”  

Unfortunately this dynamic can trigger the wounds of the parent. All parents are wounded because no parent is perfect because no parent was raised perfectly. Wounding is part of the human condition. It’s nothing to feel guilty about; it’s something to be aware of.

 Without the usual and expected validations from smiles, giggles, gurgles and reciprocal eye gazes (joint attention), the risk increases for parents to feel rejected by their own child. The result is often a subtle but very real moment-by-moment withdrawal by the parent from the child in an attempt to avoid painful feelings.  And round and round we go. 

“Nature, meet Nuture.”

What’s needed is for the parent to build a solidity and resilience of self that supports persevering through the hurt.  A great new book on what it means to develop your healthy self as the greatest gift to your child and partner is Brad Reedy’s new book “The Audacity To Be You.”Continued touching and gazing and talking to their baby will build attunement and foster self-soothing and repair when needed.  Studies show that when this happens babies and their parents increase the chemical oxytocin in their brains and with it, the feelings of healthier attachment and relationship.

There was a time when Autism was considered purely in psychological terms. At one point autism was thought to be a result of repressed emotions caused by poor parenting. Of course now we know that it’s an organic, neurobiological condition with struggles in social communication and sensory differences as primary markers. Most all efforts focus on the child and how to stimulate social learning skills. Applied Behavioral Analysis (ABA) and Social thinking and perspective taking curriculums are two examples of evidenced practices.

Findings – by Ami Klin and Warren Jones of Atlanta’s Marcus Autism Center and Emory University, appeared online in the journal Nature.

“In a ground-breaking report (2013), researchers describe measurable decreases in in eye contact between 2 and 6 months of age in babies who went on to develop autism spectrum disorder (ASD). The babies actually started out with typical eye-gaze patterns. But month by month, they showed steady decreases in the amount of time they looked at a caregiver’s eyes in a video. Baby sibs who did not develop ASD showed the opposite pattern – with eye contact increasing month by month.”

Jones, W., Klin, A. Attention to eyes is present but in decline in 2–6-month-old infants later diagnosed with autism. Nature 504, 427–431 (2013). doi.org/10.1038/nature12715

“Such an early decline in eye contact would represent one of the earliest signs of autism identified to date,” emphasizes developmental pediatrician Paul Wang, Autism Speaks senior vice president for medical research. “It may also suggest a new window of opportunity for effective early intervention, as eye contact is so crucial for learning and the normal development of social skills.”

#CognitiveScienceinParenting. #AudacityToBeYou

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Learning Differences and Oppression

The Many Faces of Educational and Racial Oppression

The racialized reality black students experience every day in American schools mirrors the bias and injustice that is psychologically, culturally and institutionally ingrained.

For example, even when displaying the same behaviors as white children, black boys are almost three times as likely to be suspended than white boys, and black girls are four times as likely to be suspended than white girls. Black students’ (mis)behavior is more often criminalized compared to other students.”

Studies and experience show that oppression looks and feels like:

  1. varying levels of self-hatred (including one’s own group) and isolation from the system one finds oneself in
  2. disengagement when few people in authority look like you
  3. lack of self accountability and self worth
  4. separation of language
  5. shame and hiding who you are
  6. disruption of identity formation

I’m quite certain that the same issues exist in most all communities of color most especially brown and Native Americans.

Now imagine being a black boy or girl AND you have a Learning Difference, such as Dyslexia— another group independent of race that is already being mis-educated. These children, our children, are already experiencing toxic shame.

Go beneath their behaviors and instead learn what they are a symptom of.

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Are Children and Teens with Learning Disabilities Potential Geniuses, or Victims of Educational Neglect?

Senators, Inventors, Entrepreneurs, Nobel and Pulitzer Prize Winners have all been people with Dyslexia.  So are kids with Learning Differences budding geniuses and leaders, or  are they victims of metastasized educational neglect?

Both are true.

Carol Mosely Brown, African American former Senator and US Ambassador, Philip Schultz, Pulitzer Prize winning poet, Dr. Carol Grieder Nobel Prize recipient, and Charles Schwab all belong to the first prestigious group.

Photo Credit, Richard Ross

However on the underside, up to 80 percent of incarcerated juveniles suffer from learning disabilities, and belong to the second group. (Center for Substance Abuse at Columbia University)

 A metastasized growth is defined as “the development of secondary malignant growths at a distance from a primary site of illness/cancer.” Having known and lost family and friends to stage four cancer I don’t use this term lightly when referring to the effects of educational neglect.

Children with learning differences such as dyslexia are misunderstood, often poorly educated and are victimized daily from the shame of feeling the very real protective need to hide their struggles. To hide who you are diminishes a healthy self. Daily trauma and wounding leads to a type of helplessness and hopelessness that can later metastasize into depression, anxiety, self-harm and addiction. Often the success stories we often (and thankfully) hear about, are the result of achievement “in spite” of one’s education or because a kid’s been fortunate enough to be born into a family that can afford the right private school or expensive educational therapists.

FACT: Individuals in substance abuse treatment have a higher incidence of learning disabilities than the general population.  One study revealed that 40 percent of people in substance abuse treatment have a learning disability, while another indicated that in residential substance abuse treatment programs, the percentage of people  with LD has been found to be as high as 60 percent.

Educational Traumas like these result in behaviors mentioned above, that get the treatment attention, but we need to acknowledge and treat the underlying wounds.

Hidden Reality: Educational Trauma and Wounding happen on a regular basis to students with Learning and Developmental Differences

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New Brain Imaging Research Debunks a Controversial Theory

In a new study from Georgetown University: Finding upends theory about the cerebellum’s role in reading and dyslexia

Science of Reading and Dyslexia Moves Forward

New brain imaging research debunks a controversial theory about dyslexia that can impact how it is sometimes treated. The cerebellum, a brain structure traditionally considered to be involved in motor function, has been implicated in the reading disability, developmental dyslexia, however, this ‘cerebellar deficit hypothesis’ has always been controversial. The new research shows that the cerebellum is not engaged during reading in typical readers and does not differ in children who have dyslexia.

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Conversations on Retirement and the Nature of Work.

***POOL PHOTO*** Former New York Yankee Derek Jeter participates in a ceremony to retire his number at Yankee Stadium in New York, Sunday, May 14, 2017. (AP Photo/Elsa Garrison, Pool)

The other day I got a call from Derek Jeter, Hall of Fame New York Yankee baseball player.

Me: “Derek, what’s up?”

Derek; Dude, “Are you retired or what? I can’t figure you out.” 

Me: “Look who’s talking, heh heh. Listen D, I got a call from Clint Eastwood the other day and we were talking about some of the same stuff. Clint was venting a little. “Sanford,” he whined. “Everyone seems to want to put me in a small box.” (“Pine? I joked”) “I want to keep directing even though I’m not in front of the camera much any more.”

Me now to Derek: “Derek I get it. For a while I wasn’t exactly sure either. When we moved to Ecuador in 2016 I was clear that I’d given up part of my work and definitely my day to day job. And for sure when my dad died last year the question of retirement became even trickier for me. In my own mind “retirement” was now connected to my own aging and even mortality. So full on “retirement” wasn’t something I was comfortable looking at too closely. And I didn’t like the box it seemed to be.”

But Are You Retired?

Derek: “Man, there you go getting all deep on me. I just wanna know if you’re working or not. Are you retired?”

Me: Derek look, when you left the Yankees you weren’t done with life. In fact you’ve gone on to do some pretty amazing things that contribute to Sports right? So when I sold the Bend Learning Center in 2016 it meant I’ve given up big parts of my work as a special educator. But I’ve come to see that I needed to redefine what working now means to me. The easiest way I can explain my “retirement” is that I’ve transformed the ways in which I now work, contribute and express myself.” 

Derek: “OK. What’s that mean, practically?”

Me: “It means I’ve let go of my role as an educational placement consultant. I gave up the Bend Learning Center which was my day clinic in Bend Oregon. It means If I get a call from someone looking for guidance on school or treatment programs for their child, I’ll refer them to someone else. The Bend Learning Center goes on because I was able to leave that legacy in other people’s capable hands. But there’s more to my desire to work and contribute than placement.”

Me: “What I’m telling you is this: I’ve hung up my cleats but picked up my hiking shoes. You see when I say I’ve changed the ways I work…here’s some more of it. I’ve written a children’s book on Anxiety that was recognized as the best new release. I’ll soon have another children’s book on Dyslexia coming out. And now that I’m free from placement work and the day to day clinic work I’m able to focus more on the parts of my ‘work’ that are also my true passions, not to mention learning a new language and exploring this beautiful Latin and Native culture.”

Derek: OK, I understand. So what else is going on? I mean I get the passions part. What’s that look like for you? 

Me: It means I get to choose projects that are most important and current for me. I’m now focused on using my experience in the cognitive sciences of learning, memory and attention, executive functions and motivation, in order to help programs that treat mental health issues of depression anxiety and addictions. 

Derek: Sounds good man. Thanks for the update. 

Me: Cool. Hey gotta go; Clint’s on the line.

Note: If the satirical nature of this isn’t clear, let me simply say that I also got calls from Abraham Lincoln and Satchel Paige.

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First Public School for Dyslexic Learners in NYC

With Timothy Castanza at the helm, and spearheaded by frustrated but motivated parents, NYC now has a public school geared to the needs of students with dyslexia.

News article about the The Bridge School, a public charter school that will use Orton Gillingham approaches to teach dyslexic students.

Contact Bridge School

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Adapting Best Practices of LD Instruction Can Improve Mental Health Treatment for All Kids

Since rates of anxiety, depression and self harm, including suicide and substance abuse are decidedly on the rise, there’s s striking need for clinicians, counselors and mentors to think differently. We can and must learn different and better ways to connect and communicate with struggling kids and teens. The sciences of learning disabilities, motivation and attention can show us some roadmaps to those better ways. The best practices from specialized populations gives insights to help everyone.

The focus of Universal Design for Learning (UDL) is in designing and delivering (teaching) curriculum in ways that give greater access to the widest range of abilities and learning differences. By varying motivational approaches (engagement), how information is presented (representation) and the ways in which kids interact and show understanding (expression), we can reach more kids with better results. This approach reduces the need for specialized instructions tailored only for one type of learner. While there will always be a need for special and intensive instruction, UDL helps to reduce that need. As is sometimes mentioned, building a ramp for wheelchair use or for someone on crutches winds up creating easier access for all.

We can take best practices learned when treating and teaching kids with learning disabilities, and apply some of them when working with all students. Think about using visual prompts when stimulating written expression for someone with dyslexia. It can help prompt and organize language for them; but this approach can also be useful when treating kids with anxiety and depression. Whenever you want to communicate and build connection with kids and teens who are struggling with mental health (whether or not they’re caused by or are secondary results from LDs), using approaches that put less wear and tear on working memory and processing speed are useful for anyone. They use smoother and more direct neuronal pathways, reduce cognitive load, and in many cases lessen resistance to therapy. Understanding the impact of a child’s learning profile can be an incredibly powerful part of communication. Understanding one’s own Learning Profile is to understand your own defaults, biases and preferences, all of which can either hinder or build communication and relationship.

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Testing and Evaluating Struggling Kids; a Tool, Not the Goal.

“When working with children and teens who are struggling in school, a thorough psycho educational evaluation is so helpful and necessary. But it is a tool for understanding. The goal is understanding, connection and treatment. 

Don’t confuse the tool for the goal.”

Posted in Education Issues and Ideas, Learning Disabilities and Mental Health | 2 Comments

Universal Design Approach to Therapy

In treating teenagers and young adults with depression, anxiety, and addictions, knowing the intricacies of their Learning Profile is powerful.

What are the easiest neurological pathways to accessing feelings and ruminative thoughts? 

I’m privileged to be leading and partnering with Evoke Therapy Programs, a long-time trusted leader in this field. 

We’re working to apply the latest and most important parts of Cognitive Science to help heal struggling teens in treatment through on-going clinical and staff trainings. The staff are incredibly engaged and reflective. High-level understanding of our children’s Learning and Cognitive Profile dramatically increases our options to lessen resistance, heal the root causes of wounding, and build our own community. Perhaps most importantly, this approach frees the heart to speak its most important truths.

Five Keys of a Child’s Learning or Cognitive Profile:
1. Language Processing 
2. Visual Imagery 
3. Kinesthetic Sensing
4. Executive Functions  
5. Processing Speed and Depth

These things matter. All Minds Matter. All Brains Matter.

 #HeartsandMindsTogether #BuiildingTreatmentSuccessFromWithin


#UniversalDesignInWildernessTherapy #PuttingMindInServicetoHeart

Evoke: “Bringing Out Your Voice”

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Questions to Ask Wilderness Treatment Programs

Photo Credit: Laura Collins-Hughes

Many struggling teens and young adults in Outdoor Behavioral Programs (Wilderness Treatment) have LD (Learning Disabilities) profiles. What do parents need to know?  Important Questions to Ask, from All Kinds of Therapy.Com

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How Art Therapy Can Help Children With Autism Communicate Better

Photo Credit:Donovan Valdivia

Guest Article by Jane Sandwood 

Jane has many articles related to education and children and can be reached at janesandwood.writer@gmail.com

About 1 in 59 children is diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), and one of the early signs observed by parents and caregivers is a delay in their social and communication skills. Children with autism have a hard time expressing themselves and communicating with others, and these difficulties can become more debilitating as they grow older. This is why early diagnosis and interventions are crucial for children with ASD. Apart from traditional interventions, parents and practitioners have utilized alternative methods like art therapy to improve the communication skills of children with ASD.

The Importance Of Early Interventions For Children With Autism

Due to their difficulty in communicating with others, children with ASD may develop aggressive behaviors, self-injurious behaviors, social withdrawal, as well as feelings of loneliness and depression. Autism can also co-occur with other conditions such as anxiety, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), clinical depression, motor difficulties and sleep problems. Thus, it’s important to address these issues as early as possible and provide children with the interventions they need to cope with these difficulties. Traditional interventions include applied behavior analysis (ABA) therapy, social skills training and psychopharmacotherapy.

Alternative treatments and interventions are also being used to provide children with ASD with the techniques and tools they need to have a better quality of life. This includes mindfulness-based therapy and art therapy. Mindfulness is all about awareness of one’s mind, body and environment. It can help children with ASD improve their interpersonal skills as well as control their behavior. In one study, a mindfulness program was able to decrease anxiety, depression and rumination among individuals with ASD. Meanwhile, art therapy can help children with ASD identify and recognize their feelings as well as use art to communicate with others.

How Art Therapy Can Improve Communication Skills

Art therapy can help children with ASD pay attention and engage with their surroundings more as well as communicate better with other people. As visual and concrete thinkers, art therapy can be used to explain certain situations to children with ASD and give them a visual way of solving problems. This can be more effective compared to a theoretical discussion that deals with abstract situations or problems.

Art therapy can also be adapted to the specific needs of a child diagnosed with autism. For example, a child with sensory modulation difficulties may become more engaged when provided with a variety of art materials and mediums. The sensory nature of drawing or painting can encourage these children to express themselves more.

As children become teens or adults, art therapy can still be used to enhance their social and communication skills. Art-based group activities can provide individuals with autism a social environment that is supportive and understanding of their experiences. Within the group, they can share about their artworks and a therapist can provide prompts that will encourage them to successfully converse with others.

Aggressive and self-injurious behaviors from children with ASD can be due to difficulty expressing themselves and communicating effectively with others. Studies have found that alternative interventions such as art therapy, especially when utilized at a young age, can help with self-expression as well as improve their communication skills. Not only that, parents, caregivers and teachers can also use art therapy to understand children with ASD. Their artwork can provide insight into how they view others as well as their unique experiences. As such, art therapy can be a very valuable tool not just for children with ASD but also or their families, teachers and friends.

Posted in Discussion Topics, Education Issues and Ideas | 2 Comments

The Effects of Educational Wounding

A BRAVE FACE Masks, a charcoal drawing by Alexandra Kelso, grapples with the feeling of trying to act like everything is fine while also struggling with mental illness. – IMAGE COURTESY OF ALEXANDRA KELSO

The Effects of Educational Wounding

Two of the most significant stressors for U.S.school-aged youth are academic struggle and failure. Pressures to achieve and succeed have become so pervasive and at the same time kids have access to fewer and fewer supports. For students with Learning Differences such as Dyslexia the problems are even more critical. We are routinely wounding and traumatizing our creative and sensitive students.

Though students with learning disabilities can achieve greatness, they all too often fall into depression and behavioral distress. Common experiences include feeling shamed, “less than” or damaged. And the results are alarming,

Some years back a white paper put out by the National Center for Learning Disabilities and the National Institute on Drug Abuse, as well as the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse (Columbia University) referenced studies that indicated what may seem obvious:
1. Children with LD are at greater risk for school failure and
2. dropping out

But more Striking:
3. As many as ½ of children with ADD self-medicate with drugs and alcohol
4. One study indicated that 40% of individuals in substance abuse treatment programs have Learning Disabilities.

Solutions need focus on adjusting treatment and communication approaches that are sensitive to the cognitive/learning profile of students and not the other way around.

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