Exploring Life and Mental Health aspects of ADHD

Another engaging conversation with Andrew Taylor from Octagon Mentoring. Andrew Taylor is a young adult mentoring leader, working in the USA and Costa Rica.

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Executive Functions Are Not Just Important for School Tasks

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Childhood Anxiety: The Prison of Your Mind and the Way Through

Anxious student at Chrysalis School in Montana being supported by staff and peers as she works her way up and through her fears and self-limiting beliefs.

As we’ve discussed before, the most current research on childhood anxiety indicates that the most effective treatment for our kids is parent training. Parent training in the right way; offering tools and perspectives that strengthen and support our children, without weakening them through over-accommodating their anxious behaviors. The way in which parents and caregivers are wired to protect their children can unwittingly reinforce a child’s own self-limiting beliefs. When our own nervous systems are hijacked by our children’s anxiety, we do and say the wrong things. And in doing so, we signal to the child that their imagined threats are real. This is what encourages, accelerates, and perpetuates a child’s anxiety.

Spring Washam a noted meditation teacher recently taught me more about how we can be imprisoned in our own minds: a mind-made prison created by false and self-limiting beliefs from our own unique wounds of childhood. Unexamined, they limit our reach and connection to our children, especially as they struggle and meet obstacles. Ms, Washam teaches, among many other topics, on the life and strength of Harriet Tubman. Harriet of course is known for her leadership and bravery with the Underground Railroad. Harriet was also a champion, role model and teacher of freeing one’s mind of self-imprisonment. In effect she voiced “They may try and break me, they may lock me up, but am I a slave? Heck no. I am free.” Nelson Mandela spoke of this years later.

If we want to unburden and free our children of anxious thoughts and beliefs it’s crucial that we examine our own beliefs and triggers about what our children are capable of and when and how we protect. With therapy and/or training it’s vital we explore the anxious parts of our own minds and hearts, which are often triggered when our kids are struggling and in anxious distress.

Resources and references:

“Over-Accommodating a Child’s Anxious Emotions Can Backfire”www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/the-athletes-way/202004/over-accommodating-childs-anxious-emotions-can-backfire

Spring Washam www.springwasham.com

Chrysalis School, Montana www.chrysalisschoolmontana.com

Waypoint Academy, a program for teens and young adults with anxiety: www.waypointacademy.com/home/new/

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It’s Just a Kid’s Story, Right?

In fables, myth and adventure lies the power to evoke resilience in our children and our selves. Because…we’re… never…too…old….

Fables, myths, and tales of adventure have held a power to remind us of the human condition. For more than a thousand years, across lands and cultures, they’ve evoked in us our universal questions, our sacred selves and an enduring power to prevail during the toughest of times.

Children’s stories hold a special value, often in their simplicity. And when we read them to our children, the doors to our our own imaginations open.

During these times of uncertainty…Because we’re never too old.

An article about my new book for kids “A Light Within My Dyslexia”

Overcoming Self-doubts and nay-sayers
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Working Together + Personal Grit= Success for Children and Struggling Teens

In this excerpt from my new book ‘A Light Within My Dyslexia’ Bear and Turtle counsel a distraught Beaver about individual “Core Gifts,” following one’s dreams, and the power of collaboration and connection.

-As Beaver’s tears began to fall, Fred and Sam began speaking. They took turns but spoke almost as one voice…    ”Beaver, fear not. We’ve seen you.  We see things you don’t realize yet. For all your struggles…we see your talents and the ways that you are so important. Your dreams are your golden light and this light is your gift and power.”

…By now Beaver was fully listening. But he was still upset. So he asked, “What good is it if I can’t finish the job and the town washes away?”

…Fred piped up. “You’re missing an important part of most solutions. For one thing, you’re missing a team. You make a mistake that many of us do. You are trying to do this alone. Who can you ask for help?”

Available on Amazon at amzn.to/3g1i2xN

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My New Book “A Light Within My Dyslexia” Available Now

Available now on Amazon.  amzn.to/3g1i2xN

When I helped start a school for dyslexic learners years back, it never occurred to me that one of our first students would become my illustrator years later. His talent was quietly evident even then (for those of us lucky enough to pay attention). Getting the right kind of instruction (Slingerland/O-G) gave Sean the green light to explore new confidence and to develop his extraordinary skills as an artist.
PS. Any purchase made before 9 am Monday (EST) and I will be donating 48% to “To Write Love on Her Arms” a wonderful non profit dedicated to helping kids and teens with depression, anxiety, self-harm struggles.

“When I was younger I had problems with reading. Now I love to read and can read fast. This book makes me feel like I’m not the only one who has some trouble, and makes you feel more comfortable with who you are. It’s celebrating how you are perfect just the way you are. For me the lesson of the book is to pay attention to your core values.”

-Finn Mellor, age 10

“This book bestows such a powerful message for its young readers and also parents and educators: be compassionate and open to ourselves and to others for all the ways we can use our skills and dreams to live healthfully together. As Finn has learned the basics of “self-literacy” he is secure that he has the ‘right rocket’ as Sanford describes personal strengths.”

-Jean S.Carlton, RN and Finn’s grandmother

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“A Teacher and a Student.” The Story Behind the Story of My new book “A Light Within My Dyslexia”

It’s been one of the great privileges of my life to help teach and inspire kids who learn differently. When Jeff Allyn and I started the Thomas Allyn School (now The Chartwell School) for kids with dyslexia, Sean was one of the first six nervous founding students. They were looking for a new beginning and so were we.

Too often, kids who simply learn differently aren’t taught in the right way. Giving them explicit, multi-modal teaching that teaches them the logic, structure and predictability of language makes reading and writing possible for them. For Sean it was life-changing.

It was easy and natural for me to stay in touch with Sean over the years. As my career continued, Sean graduated high school, and then Arizona State University.  Sean and I stayed in touch.  When he was at ASU I visited him so I could pay off a long-ago and still unpaid spelling bet. I had a long- running wager with my students, a kind of nerdy one I’ll admit.  But it was fun and nobody had ever solved my riddle. Until Sean. The bet’s payoff was a BBQ ribs lunch. Seeing him in college and paying off that debt just before he completed his degree in computer graphics was awesome for us both!

Fast forward. A few years ago I wrote a story for another young student of mine who was struggling with anxiety in addition to his dyslexia. It’s not uncommon for bright kids with learning differences to develop anxiety. I decided to write a story about a turtle and a bear who worry and fret and who struggle to come out of their shell and den. And, who overcome.

When I decided to publish, I knew I needed a great illustrator. Of course I thought of Sean. After he agreed to help, I realized, “holy mackerel” there’s no one better suited for this than Sean. He knew the journey my characters were facing. And in his illustrations I saw the same whimsical humor and intelligence I’d noticed and loved so long ago.

This is a match made in heaven I thought. Sean was thrilled to get back to what he loves, illustrations and creative work. We love working together and are often shaking our heads and full hearts.

When our first book, “A Light Within” received the designation of # 1 New Release,” we couldn’t believe it—except we could, we can. And now, we’ve completed a second book, “A Light Within My Dyslexia.” This one’s an adventure story to help develop grit and resilience in spite of obstacles.

There you have it. Our story within the story.

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The Myths of “Fixing” Children and Teens with Learning and Attention Struggles

Photo: Getty

Teenagers with school struggles due to Learning and Attention problems make up the largest single demographic in treatment programs for addictions, defiance, depression and anxiety. 

The evidence is overwhelming that kids with attention and learning disabilities are more likely to experience trauma, depression, anxiety, and life challenges including job instability, injury and incarceration.

Far too many of these children, even with well-intentioned schools and teachers, are misunderstood and mis-educated.  In addition, because of the very natural instincts for parents to protect and regulate their kids, the “Myths of Fixing” these children are strong and often counter-productive.  

What do the neurobiological and psychological sciences tell us about how to help turn parents’ desire to protect and accommodate towards real healing and treatment?

Over the coming weeks I’ll lay out the most critical areas to attend to for treatment providers; for therapists and parents.

Areas we’ll cover:

  1. The Differences between Fixing and Treating
  2. The Prison of One’s Mind
  3. The Challenging Aspects of Multiple Parent Roles
  4. The Messiness of Understanding and Acknowledging the emotional neighborhood of your child with Learning and Attention struggles.
  5. The Role of Grief and Guilt
  6. The Need for Acknowledgement and Parent Approval; Building blocks for self-efficacy
  7. How the wrong kinds of Positivity Can Hurt Children.
  8. How we’re incorporating UDL into training and treatment at Evoke Therapy Programs.
  9. How Racial Bias impacts Treatment for kids with LD’s

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What’s the Most Effective Treatment for Childhood Anxiety?

Up until recently the most studied and effective treatments for childhood anxiety have been medication and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. Both of those treatments, however effective have serious shortcomings. Long-term fixes from medication especially for young children, are hampered in part because their use is not universally accepted as safe by parents. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy requires a professional and a child who is at least nominally receptive to treatment, willing to engage in change.

By it’s very nature, a child’s anxiety becomes a relational family system problem. Parents are wired to protect and help their children regulate.

When mammal babies are threatened they don’t look to fight off the danger, they signal the parent or caregiver for protection and regulation.  This is a critical bio-neurological loop of attunement between parents and their children.

In the case of anxiety disorder as opposed to real and imminent danger, when a parent accommodates a repetitive anxious behavior, he/she is sending the signal that the danger is real. This expands the child’s sense of insecurity and lessens the opportunities for the development of resilience.

The threat response disorder highjacks the system INCLUDING THE PARENT’s.  We’re wired to protect and soothe and help regulate. But since our systems are hooked to the child’s disregulation, ours becomes disrupted as well.  And we seek to soothe ourselves instead of healing the child.

Since the secondary language of childhood anxiety includes verbal and physical resistance, anger, swearing hitting etc. it’s easy to understand the need for parent training in order to avoid the pitfalls of over-reacting to those behaviors.

Without training most parents will be at an increased risk for feeling rejected by their own children, and will re experience their own childhood, feeling rejected or not fully seen by their parents. This is the meaning of getting re-triggered

Parent training and engaging in some therapy or personal growth work is critical and probably number 1 on the list of first steps to healing one’s child.

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Autism and Trauma Meet Comedy

Jill Greenberg/Courtesy of ID PR

We understand perhaps now more than ever, that humans are wired for connection. Whether we identify as introverted or extraverted we need each other. Feeling the protection of others, our family, our tribe, and our community holds important survival benefits. Those on the Autism Spectrum (ASD) have a primary struggle with social communication, both receiving and sending. No matter what other strengths someone on the autism spectrum may have, struggling to connect (in neurotypical ways) has significant and potentially traumatic consequences. An ever- present feeling of being the outsider, getting shunned, insulted and rejected is a terribly consequential wound. It’s the very definition of trauma in the making. In this NPR article, Autism Spectrum Diagnosis Helped Comic Hannah Gadsby ‘Be Kinder’ To Herself, the Australian comic describes how stand up comedy helps her through the struggle to connect.

“People on the spectrum … sort of feel like an alien being dropped in from outer space, and you can’t quite connect properly,” she says. “Being on stage and making a room full of people laugh, felt like a connection I hadn’t been able to establish in any other environment.”

“I was getting a lot of things wrong, and the most difficult was my interpersonal life, because on stage in interviews, the boundaries and the rules of engagement are very clear. But once you step out of these things and you’re talking to people, you’re building relationships with people, there’s so much more uncertainty, and I don’t read the room nearly as well. I’ve spent my whole life really trying to study the room — that is one of my one of my special subjects. So in many ways I appear very good at being social. But it’s an incredibly exhausting process for me.  So when I was diagnosed, it just gave me permission to be kinder to myself…”

In my new and upcoming book “A Light Within My Dyslexia” I write in the afterword and directly to kids:

“Everyone has a learning profile. It means we all have some strengths. Some are obvious and some are hidden. Having a learning profile also means we have areas that don’t come easily for us, are hard. Put these two things together and call them strengths and weaknesses, or strengths and challenges. I like to think of them as rockets and rocks.

Rockets are the things that help you rise up. They’re parts of you that give you a feeling of strength. Rocks on the other hand, can get in the way.

If your rocks, your struggles, are big enough especially when you’re going uphill, we sometimes feel defeated. Our rocks can seem like quite the obstacle. But they can be useful in the long run.

Everyone has some rockets and some rocks.”

As I have learned over the years, those of us who are more neurotypical have plenty of lessons we can learn from those with ASD. Curiosity, respect and compassion to name a few.

At Evoke Therapy Programs we are operationalizing this compassion and respect with a unique integration of Universal Design for Learning with mental health therapy for teens and young adults.

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The Glance of Mercy

My friend Dr.Brad Reedy describes good therapy or a good therapist as a place where you get to find yourself, and as part of that process, as the messy parts of you come into view, you find that your therapist simply nods their head as if to say, “it’s ok, you’re ok” and “this is part of being human, fallible.” This is true in an ideal sense of any other trusted relationship; teacher, partner, parent. By acknowledging and accepting a child’s feelings and perceptions of their struggles and the parts that feel like failures, a child is more able and willing to see their core gifts and strengths. This only means giving them understanding and a listening ear. It doesn’t mean that you have to agree or disagree with how they see their challenges, only that you hear them, that you get what they are saying. It means not moving too quickly from listening to fixing mode or smoothing out the rough edges by attempting to “put a positive spin” on whatever it is. Reframing can come later, but not first.

When children have struggles in school, do you as a parent want a teacher that’s a gifted technician of educational approaches but with little relationship skills and lacking that accepting and forgiving way? Or would you rather your child have a less skillful technician but blessed with relational excellence and who can give your child that “glance of mercy” that sees all sides of your child and says “you’re ok?”

For my money, why not both?

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Helping Children Cope With Stresses and Worries

Mostly what children need to start working through difficulties is to have a parent or a trusted someone really listen. Even when a child works with a clinically sophisticated therapist, no matter what technique or approach is used, the most important part is the listening. Listening in a way that makes it safe for the child to be in distress, to feel badly and to be able to show one’s self, messy parts included. A parent must have a self that’s able to bear their child’s struggles without taking it personally.  For a deeper dive into the wisdom of this I highly recommend my friend and colleague Brad Reedy’s work and notably his books, “The Journey of the Heroic Parent” and his latest “The Audacity to Be You”

In my upcoming children’s book “A Light Within My Dyslexia” two characters sit as one of them cries after a tough day in school. Beaver shows us that listening is all we really need. Not advice or even “cheering up.”

“When Beaver sat down next to her, she was crying softly. She was upset about her day in school. She told him about misplacing her homework, losing her place several times during class reading time, and how her teacher assumed she hadn’t studied enough because she only got 9 out of 20 correct on the spelling test…
…Beaver didn’t try and solve her problems. He couldn’t. And he didn’t attempt to say something to cheer her up right away. He’d learned from his own life that when he was feeling down or frustrated about school, he really didn’t want his mom to try and cheer him up. He just wanted her to listen and be there next to him.
So he sat there beside Sherry and nodded his head while she spoke. After a few minutes he gently put his arm around her shoulders and she didn’t seem to mind. They sat in silence for a few minutes, watching the passing birds overhead. They heard the buzz of a few bees. Beaver noticed that the sun was moving lower in the sky and towards the horizon. The air had cooled slightly.
Sherry’s tears dried up and her mood seemed lighter, less sad.”

Please also see my first children’s book, “A Light Within” aimed at helping younger kids through anxiety.

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