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”

Posted in Education Issues and Ideas, LD Support Sites, Learning Disabilities and Mental Health | Leave a comment

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

Posted in Camps and Residential, LD Support Sites, Learning Disabilities and Mental Health | Leave a comment

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.

Posted in Learning Disabilities and Mental Health, Social Issues and Ideas | Leave a comment

Dr. Helen Taussig, Pediatric Cardiology Leader, Dyslexic

“Dr. Helen Taussig was the founder of the field of pediatric cardiology. She overcame opposition to become a preeminent cardiologist and physician. Despite severe dyslexia and discrimination because of her gender, Taussig obtained her medical degree from Johns Hopkins in 1927. Suffering from hearing loss due to a childhood illness, Taussig mastered non-stethoscope ways to monitor the heart. Using these innovative techniques, Taussig discovered the cause of ‘blue baby syndrome’ and helped design a surgery to correct it.” — via the National Women’s History Museum

Posted in Personal Stories | Leave a comment

The “I Can’t Help You” Podcast with Danny Conroy

Thanks for a great interview Danny Conroy,  a leader in the Recovery field.   Listen to Danny Conroy interview me on subjects related to learning, learning differences and mental health.

Podcast with Sanford on LD and Mental Health

Posted in Discussion Topics, Education Issues and Ideas, LD Support Professionals, Learning Disabilities and Mental Health | Leave a comment

“I’ve Looked at Life from Both Sides Now” (Thanks Joni Mitchell)

Philip Schultz, a Pulitzer Prize winning poet proves that learning differently (dyslexia) can result in greatness. His writing is powerful. If you listen to his story you also hear about anger and deep shame as a result of being an academic outcast and misunderstood. Loss of connection and shame are too often the legacy of an education system ill equipped for Learning Differences. Responding to this burden isn’t a binary choice. LD’s can be opportunities for success but they also carry great risks for struggling with anxiety depression and self-harm. How do we carry both?

Posted in Discussion Topics, Education Issues and Ideas, Learning Disabilities and Mental Health | Leave a comment

On Becoming Heroic Parents and Grandparents

I’ll be presenting to professionals, parents and teens in the beautiful city of Cuenca, Ecuador

Raising Resilient Kids by Becoming Your Best Selves

Posted in Events and Conferences, Learning Disabilities and Mental Health | Leave a comment

Privilege is not Always Protection

Kate Middleton’s Brother James Reveals His Struggle With Depression, Dyslexia and ADD

The coin is sharp and two-sided:  We know that people with learning disabilities and developmental differences can have tremendous lives, professional success, great fulfillment and joy. There is however, always a shadow, and ignorance of the increased risks our/these children, teens and adults face serves no one least of all them.

No doubt, wealth and privilege can give access to services and can soften consequences if legal issues arise, but the bottom line as sharply shown in this article is that LD and Mental Health issues cut across all lines

“I know I’m richly blessed and live a privileged life. But it did not make me immune to depression,” Middleton said.

“It’s not a feeling but an absence of feelings. You exist without purpose and direction. I couldn’t feel joy, excitement or anticipation—only heart-thudding anxiety propelled me out of bed in the morning.”

Posted in Learning Disabilities and Mental Health, News, Personal Stories | Leave a comment

Learning Disabilities, The Gift or The Burden?

There are support groups, blogs, and  websites that  land on one side of a false choice about kids and school.  Parents and some professionals tend to land on one side or the other.

Are Dyslexia and related learning differences and even Autism Spectrum a gift in some way?  Or are they burdens filled with deficits that must be fixed ?

I tend to walk  the middle path.

In  a recent post (on a Facebook “dyslexia support page:”)  I commented on the subject:

“OK; I’ll weigh in, knowing that people view stuff like this from different angles, and that it’s highly personal and emotional for most on this thread.

I’ve been working with kids and adults with learning differences for over 30 years. I’ve also raised a son with LDs and have been involved with both gifted education and struggling teens with depression, addictions and anxiety.  Too many times their self-worth have been damaged by unsettling school histories.  That said, what has worked well for me both personally and professionally is to avoid choosing between the idea that it’s a gift and the opposite message, that it’s a terribly heavy burden.

Let’s think about it this way: What if you had a condition that resulted in real world struggle but if approached the right way can give you some advantages, like learning to work hard or learning how to take good care of yourself, or learning to surround yourself with good support (there are many other attributes that can come from challenges).  If one sugar coats the real challenge of struggling ( to easily read and write) it’s to no one’s benefit.  Alternately if what you mostly do is try and “fix the problem” (work on deficits), then you may inadvertently be teaching your child that’s who they are; a problem to be fixed. The middle road is in my opinion usually better. Find age appropriate ways to be honest about challenges and deficits AND also focus on strengths, affinities and seeing the whole child.  It’s not particularly helpful to pretend that reading disabilities are the same as having green eyes.  Although they are both simply genetic variations, the consequences in the real world are quite different. “

If anything, thought leaders in the fields of mental health and positive psychology tell us this:  It is not what happens to us that determines our futures but how we make sense of the things that happen and then our responses.  Victor Frankl a holocaust survivor and psychiatrist helped us understand this.  Trauma is real, and learning disabilities can lead to educational trauma at its worst.  But it’s neither a gift outright nor a terrible block to a bright future all by itself.  It will  lean towards one or the other depending upon how it’s treated and how we respond and help kids see it as a part of them, not all of them.

Posted in Education Issues and Ideas, Learning Disabilities and Mental Health, Social Issues and Ideas | Leave a comment

One Person’s Path to Literacy


This was written by Richard Wanderman back in 2000, in which he chronicled his path from “school failure” to artist, writer and educational consultant.  Richard was the founder of this website.

“I’m 48 years old, married, live in a nice house, have a successful career as an educational consultant, and I have a learning disability, dyslexia. My life was not always so great. I was a premature breech birth, had meningitis, polio, and every childhood illness. I was tested for everything including language problems from an early age so I was labeled “dyslexic” early. I went to a special school until 6th grade where I had plenty of extra help and remediation. Still, I had to repeat 6th grade at that school. I suffered the rest of my school days in public schools where I did poorly.

When I went to college my life improved markedly because this is where I discovered art. The art world gave me a chance to express myself without words, so I took a lot of art courses. I got good at making things with clay and I learned my first important lesson about my language disability: I could be smart and articulate with clay and still have a language disability which made it hard to be smart and articulate with words.

My next big life lesson happened a few years later. I drove Volkswagens because they were the only cars I could afford. I knew little about cars and had never even changed the oil in one. One day the engine in my VW bus seized up and I didn’t have the money to have it fixed. I bought the book How to Fix Your Volkswagen for the Complete Idiot. I started reading, slowly. I bought a few metric tools, pulled the engine, and dragged it into the backyard where I took it apart. Two weeks later when I got the engine into the car and it started I learned that when you feel good about yourself and are willing to take risks you can transfer confidence from one domain to another. I knew nothing about engines but took the confidence I’d gotten with art into a totally new domain.

My next domain was rock climbing. Hey, I don’t bungi jump; I’m not crazy. I got into climbing because it was a fun thing to do with friends. We all got into it at the same time and were all chicken from the start. However, we noticed that the more we did it the easier it was to take “exposure.” So we did it more. And the more I did it the better I got. It wasn’t a talent thing, it was practice. After about five years of climbing I found myself in Yosemite Valley on a big wall. What had I learned? I’d learned that if you enjoy something and do it all the time you get better at it. Practice makes better.

Later I took that idea into a very scary place. I decided to see if I could actually learn how to read and write by practicing. I read and wrote every day for two years. This may seem obvious to you but it wasn’t to me; I had no idea that most people read things every day. I had avoided reading things as much as possible and avoided writing completely. Nevertheless, for two years I took my prior experiences and mapped them into learning how to read and write, and at the end of two years I’d learned a lot. Most importantly, I was literate.

Then came the dawn of personal computers. Once I used one, and then bought one, my writing and then my reading improved at a rapid clip.

Here’s the point: had I been given a computer as a child in school I doubt I’d have been mature enough to take full advantage of it and I doubt the school would have allowed me to use it in a way that would have been meaningful to me. I needed to go through the long, messy process that I went through with art, cars, climbing, and reading and writing to get to a place in my life where I knew I was smart enough to dive into an area that was totally unknown, hard, but interesting.

For me growing up was particularly painful and messy. My father used to tell me the bumps would build character and I would roll my eyes. Well, he was right. And even though I wouldn’t want to go through it all again I have plenty of character because of it all. And I can read and write.”

Posted in LD Support Sites | Leave a comment

Treat Parents to Help Childhood Anxiety


Children with Learning Disabilities are at higher risk for anxiety-related struggles. It’s not surprising when you think about how the brain’s system for vigilance/hyper-arousal  is frequently activated when kids are not receiving the right kind of help in schools.  Given that they are more likely to be on high alert for being called on to read aloud for example, for being teased, and are too often hiding shame, it’s not a surprise that anxiety is prevalent.

The bulk of the “cure” for schooling that’s not well designed for dyslexic learners is proper instruction that’s well matched to their learning profile.

However these days children also struggle with anxiety much more frequently than ever before due to a whole host of additional factors, though school stress is the number one ingredient.  As seen in this article, treating a child’s anxiety  requires good education for parents,  and as presented in this Yale study (link below), is as effective as good treatment for the kids.


Parents of anxious children almost always try to accommodate their child, Lebowitz said. For instance, if the child suffers from social anxiety, no friends are invited to the house; in the case of separation anxiety, parents sleep with the child or never leave the home. Parents constantly reassure a child with generalized anxiety. While the responses of parents are natural, studies have shown they also leave children suffering from debilitating anxiety into adulthood, Lebowitz said.

Posted in Discussion Topics, Learning Disabilities and Mental Health, News | Leave a comment