Through our eyes: School

The “Through our eyes” series invites you to hear and learn from the perspectives of young adults in our community living with autism, Asperger’s, ADHD, learning disabilities or other social challenges.

Asperger’s (along with other autism spectrum disorders) sometimes come in a nice little package along with ADD/HD, depression and social anxiety. And, naturally, these did impact my school life. I always struggled with focusing and developing my social skills the most.

I went to a Montessori school until I was twelve, so kids had to do hands-on education where we would sometimes scatter across the classroom to work on one math assignment, one reading assignment, one writing assignment and one “other” or elective. We wrote all of our progress on a little worksheet of what we did. Because I was so easily distracted, whether it was because someone making noise or because I was spacing out too much, I didn’t always finish my work, so sometimes I would have to stay inside during recess to finish it.

I did have friends (or at least, acquaintances) that I got along with, but because I got nervous and didn’t know how to behave around my peers, I would try to spend time with people outside my age group. I guess it was because that they were more patient around me and understood some of what I was going through in life, so I could rely on them for advice.

I hopped around from service to service trying to “alleviate” the problem, but nothing ever really worked until my college years. I was in something called the Autism Spectrum Navigation Program (ASN for short) at Bellevue College. I’m not really sure how, but having a navigation assistant and taking classes on things like self-advocacy and job hunting for people on the spectrum really helped me be more responsible about school.

School life wasn’t horrible though. Since I have a fixation on creative writing, English class was always my best subject. I was always excited when my teachers in middle and high school announced an assignment involving creative writing or using a favorite movie or game as the subject of a compare and contrast essay. I also managed to avoid hanging out with kids my age that would have obviously been a bad influence on me.

Currently, I am on course to graduate in the fall of this year with an Associates Degree in Digital Media Arts (which is basically an umbrella term for video production, video games, animation, graphic design etc.). I am really glad that despite my challenges, I have been able to make it this far. I’m really looking forward to the future outside of school.

If your student is having trouble focusing in school or building lasting friendships, consider Aspiring Youth’s programs for children and teens such as our social skills groups or individual tutoring.


Sara Breidenbach is an intern helping with Aspiring Youth summer camps. She is also a student at Bellevue College where she will graduate with an Associates Degree in Digital Media Arts in the fall of 2016.

School year programs now enrolling

105-Aspiring-Candids-Web (1)Enrollment opens for social skills groups

UPDATED: Enroll now through our website in Aspiring Youth’s Social Skills Groups!

Beginning in early October, our master’s level facilitators help participants identify and practice new skills, establish friendships and boost self-esteem.

TIMES & LOCATIONS >>

New to Aspiring Youth social skills groups? Schedule your enrollment meeting.

  • AGE-BASED GROUPS: Topic-driven discussion ● Reinforcing games and activities ● Groups available for ages 8 to 19.

  • THEME-BASED GROUPS: Social skills curriculum through shared interest activities such as art, Dungeons & Dragons, rock climbing and more!


142-Aspiring-Candids-WebStart off strong this school year

In your home setting, individual coaching improves executive functioning, social skills, communication, conflict resolution, self-moderation of screen time and other similar areas.

Offered throughout the school year, we collaborate with therapists and psychologists to reinforce office sessions. 

Contact us to schedule a free initial assessment.

CONTACT US >>


Aspiring Youth provides innovative social skills groups, summer camps, tutoring and other services for students ages 8 and up in Seattle, Bellevue, Renton, Bainbridge Island, Kirkland and the surrounding areas.

Some of our students are shy, some are quirky and some are twice exceptional. Many have a diagnosis of Autism, Asperger’s Syndrome, ADHD, learning disabilities or other similar traits.

Through our eyes: Discussing autism

The “Through our eyes” series invites you to hear and learn from the perspectives of young adults in our community living with autism, Asperger’s, ADHD, learning disabilities or other social challenges.

I usually never tell people that I’m on the autism spectrum (specifically that I have Asperger’s Syndrome) unless it’s relevant to the situation.

For instance, when someone makes a passing comment about the spectrum and the conversation goes from there. Or when I’m at school or work and need to advocate for myself for certain reasons. And yet, it seems that almost every time that I tell people I’m on the spectrum, they seem surprised.

“You don’t act like you have Asperger’s,” they say.

“You seem pretty social for a person on the spectrum,” they say.

I’m not entirely sure if they’re just saying that to be nice or if they really mean it, but it’s a pet peeve of mine. But I also need to remind myself that some people don’t understand the autism spectrum and that getting annoyed isn’t going to help.

But the fact remains: yes, I was diagnosed with it. Since I was eleven years old.

I am a firm believer that autism (and any other mental disorder, for that matter) doesn’t affect each person the same way. Some people struggle more in the social aspects than the sensory-motor aspects, and vice versa. There seems to be a stereotype where autistic people are very blunt, do not socialize with others period, and that they come off as non-empathetic to the point of being borderline (if not, completely) sociopathic, which is not always the case.

The way that autism may “appear” depends on the individual and his or her life. In fact, there are tons of people who have been confirmed to be on the spectrum who you would not expect to have the disorder. One of the most prominent is Satoshi Tajiri, the creator of the Pokémon franchise. Another example would be the actor Dan Aykroyd.

In summary, just because you’ve seen a little bit of this person, it doesn’t mean you know everything that goes on with them. Take what people say to you into consideration and privately generate your own conclusions from there.


Sara Breidenbach is an intern helping with Aspiring Youth summer camps. She is also a student at Bellevue College where she will graduate with an Associates Degree in Digital Media Arts in the fall of 2016.

Summer fun for young adults: biking and climbing!

Late summer is a great time to get active — whether outside or inside! Join Aspiring Youth for one or all of our activities geared toward young adults with any ability level.

Climbing

Learn how to climb and make new friends at Seattle Bouldering Project. An Aspiring Youth facilitator will be present to help guide this informal evening. Pizza and beer afterwards!

  • When: August 20 and 27, September 10, 17 and 24

  • Time: 4:30-6:30pm

  • Where: Seattle Bouldering Project

READ MORE AND SIGN UP >>


Biking

A day of cycling around Magnuson Park is a great way to build confidence, try a new experience and establish relationships. Join Aspiring Youth and Outdoors for All for both of these exciting outings!

  • When: August 27 and September 2

  • Time: 12:30-4:30pm

  • Where: Meet at Ryther, 2400 NE 95th St in Seattle

  • Bicycles are provided!

 READ MORE AND SIGN UP >>


There’s an app for that: online resources for mental well-being and support

One of the questions I’m freqbooks-484766_1280uently asked by our young clients and their parents is, “What other resources are out there for [insert their concern here]?” I chuckle at how obvious a topic this can be, especially for our blog, but seeking out other resources can be helpful.

First and foremost: if you have any psychological concerns, of course seek out a mental health professional. If you are looking for social skills coaching, Aspiring Youth is a great resource.

What exists as easy-to-access, supplementary resources for adolescents, young adults and their parents? There are many, but let’s take a look at a few I like and, in some cases, personally use.

How to ADHD

Jessica McCabe is a Los Angeles actress who, as an adult, received a diagnosis of 23280349432_a86bbcdc28_zADHD. She researched what that means, the likely effects on her life and how to overcome it, resulting in her very engaging YouTube series: How to ADHD. She is not a clinician, nevertheless her insights are well-informed. This includes tips for living with and overcoming some of the challenges of ADHD and other diagnoses.

Autism sensory simulators

Many who have a diagnosis on the autism spectrum experience sensations very idiosyncratically: some are sensitive to touch, some to lights or sounds and, for others, smell is overwhelming. For those with more neurotypical development, these challenges are difficult to imagine. Thankfully, some wonderful online simulations can illustrate these experiences, often created by someone with an autism spectrum diagnosis. Mashable collected five great representations of these.

Apps for to-do lists

For some (and I’m squarely in this camp), doing routine tasks is a serious challenge. “I’ll do it later,” really translates to, “I fully intend on doing it, and I’ll do it when – oh! I love this song! Did you know that the composer was inspired by – wait. What was I saying?”

Different apps exist for making tasks more enjoyable, or at least memorable. Habitica (my favorite) truly gamifies to-do lists and daily tasks. In this role playing game (RPG), your character gains experience points and levels for completing tasks and takes damage for tasks left unfinished. With group challenges, quests, and bosses – plus an extremely supportive forum community– Habitica provides an opportunity for me to monitor my lists and check off items as I complete them. Oh, and it’s also free to play!

Mindfulness

Mindfulness is a big deal in the psychology world. My colleagues and I use it within a variety of situations.  I checked out Headspace, and the feedback I’ve received from clients has been overwhelmingly positive. The program gently guides you in different mindfulness modules, all in 10-minute portions. While it’s a paid app (with a free trial), I think it’s worth it.

Datingrelationship-1261216_1280

I have written about this topic previously because it is so important and comes up often with adolescents and young adults.  Advice on the internet ranges from laughable to outright scary and misogynistic. I’ve said this before, but it bears repeating: don’t visit websites by people in the pickup artist (PUA) or seduction community. Their advice often relies on negating consent or assuming that one person is owed affection and/or a date, and your curious visit nabs them more site traffic and subsequent income.

My favorite resource in the dating domain is Dr. NerdLove, as he provides straightforward advice recognizing that girlfriends/boyfriends are not titles or prizes, but actual people with different needs and autonomy. Geek’s Dream Girl­ is another resource that offers solid, concrete advice from a woman’s perspective. While it’s no longer updated (though there are hints at its impending resurrection), the info is still there and accessible.

Hopefully, these suggestions give you a start. As I said, there are many resources out there that can be used in conjunction with social skills coaching.

What are your favorites? Feel free to comment below with your suggestions for online resources.


R BoccamazzoR. Boccamazzo, PsyD, LMHCA

Dr. Boccamazzo is a doctor of clinical psychology and social skills coach with Aspiring Youth. In addition, he is the clinical director of TakeThis.org, a national nonprofit focused on mental health and the gamer community, runs a private psychology practice in Bellevue offering individual therapy and psychological assessment to adolescents and adults, and provides parent and clinician trainings on technology in psychology. Much of his work focuses on high functioning autism, problematic technology usage, social anxiety, trauma and games. In his spare time, he enjoys acting, cooking, board games and video games.

Through our eyes: Becoming an adult

The “Through our eyes” series invites you to hear and learn from the perspectives of young adults in our community living with autism, Asperger’s, ADHD, learning disabilities or other social challenges.

I am twenty three years old as of this post. I am currently an intern at Ryther working alongside the Video Production and Building & Inventing camps, the team running the blog and many other staff members. In the short time that I have been an adult, I have noticed some things about myself that are different than from when I was younger, aside from the obvious things (old enough to drink, vote etc.).

In middle and most of high school, I was sort of shy and was embarrassed about myself and the things I liked. I was afraid that people would pick on me because of my rather narrowed interests. When I was younger, video game and anime enthusiasts seemed to get picked on a lot. I was also a lot less sociable when it came to other kids, and when I did socialize, it was clear that I was very awkward.

Now that I’m older, I find it easier to socialize with people and be more open with myself. However, there are times where I feel my “inner aspie” slip out, and I seem extremely awkward to other people. There are also times when I’m not really sure what to do in a social situation, so I always find myself winging it. So far, I haven’t been yelled at, so it must be working. The motor-sensory side of my Asperger’s has been pretty much the same throughout the years (ex. wool makes my skin feel itchy, dance clubs are too noisy, etc.).

The bottom line is: because I’ve gotten older and have gained a bit more experience in life, I feel a lot more confident about myself.


Sara Breidenbach is an intern helping with Aspiring Youth summer camps. She is also a student at Bellevue College where she will graduate with an Associates Degree in Digital Media Arts in the fall of 2016.

Emotion Regulation: The Key to Adequate Socializing

2105532204_3eacd04af5_zMany of the kids we work with struggle with regulating their emotions.

Inadequate emotion regulation can look different depending on the child and the situation. Often, we see kids get frustrated with a situation or peer. Sometimes kids may act out, throwing a tantrum, calling names or crying. Other times, we see them internalize their emotions by shutting down. Or even getting overly silly, like hysterically laughing or having a hard time focusing.

These types of behaviors in the classroom are often addressed as “behavior problems,” which they are. However, they also seriously impact a child’s ability to have successful relationships. Parents long for their child to have friends and want to know how friendships are going after camp or group, but it’s important to remember that without adequately regulating emotional responses, it’s difficult for a child to make friends.

What does emotion regulation look like?

Emotion regulation is the ability to cope with situations that illicit an emotional response from a person.

It could be that a friend doesn’t want to play a favorite game – or at all. Sometimes it’s a change in a routine. While these situations cause an emotional reaction in all of us, there is an expected and unexpected emotional response. According to Michelle Garcia Winner, an expected response is how others expect us to respond while an unexpected response is a response that is unexpected of us given the situation.

Oftentimes, children and teens who struggle with emotion regulation have unexpected responses. Our responses in these situations are indicative of our ability to control our emotions.

https://www.flickr.com/photos/maxwellgs/4267310664/in/photolist-7v65MN-89Pzn4-8x58zj-xukB7D-8TTT4C-869vEo-866knM-869vxA-869vvW-869vtE-866kdV-4z7FwW-cHKZYm-8S2ZCj-asF6u1-6RuNEs-5SsDL3-ch816-7v65E9-6y8hqQ-7SmrQ3-mQiJBL-bvkJkS-88TGHU-6vwwiV-4dJwrs-9AXSue-9o9ju-5CFgVX-nB844-93Q4Rz-7v65Ud-3aWiph-4oDYQU-6LxAu3-8WQ8dh-9HTBwc-KA9rU-8F792i-7nEiJU-7nAopc-7nAohe-7nAo56-7nEhWS-7nEhMj-7nEhF9-7nAnAx-7nAnuk-7nAnhz-7nEh9sWhy is this important for my child to make friends?

There are two keys reasons why emotion regulation is crucial for making friends.

  1. Tantruming, yelling, hyperactivity and withdrawal are competing problem behaviors as they all compete with acquiring or using appropriate social skills. For example, if a child is overly excited and cannot attend an event, he cannot learn how to get attention from peers in a positive way. If he is throwing a tantrum, this is interfering with his use of appropriately communicating feelings.

  2. Emotion regulation demonstrates that you are taking other peoples’ perspective. While it’s completely appropriate to feel frustrated or upset, how we act upon those feelings shows how we have considered the thoughts and feelings of those around us. The goal of social interactions is to have people thinking about us the way we want them to.

soccer-1341849_1280 (2)For example, when a child loses a game and engages in unexpected behavior like a tantrum, what might others be thinking? Most would probably think “Gosh, he doesn’t have good sportsmanship. I don’t think I’ll play a game with him next time”.

Tackling emotion regulation can be a challenging task. There are different coping strategies like taking a few deep breaths, practicing mindfulness, taking a walk or a break, or counting to 10 before responding.

Working on emotion regulation with your child is crucial for him or her to have successful social relationships.


Breea. M. Rosas, Ed.S. graduated from Central Washington University with a Bachelor of Arts in 2013. Her undergraduate major was Psychology, with a minor in Family Studies. She completed her Educational Specialist degree in School Psychology from CWU in 2016. She is currently a school psychologist for Federal Way Public Schools. Breea has worked with Aspiring Youth as a program coordinator/facilitator for summer camps and served on the curriculum development team. Additionally, Breea has experience working with adults of varying abilities, including autism spectrum disorder, as well youth in the school setting.

Why Aspiring Youth Might be the Perfect Camp for Your Child

Picture 047_resultNow that school is out, it’s time to think about getting your kids involved in summer programs. With options like sports camps, tutoring sessions and wilderness clubs (not to mention good old fashioned unstructured boredom) it can be hard to decide which camp might be best for your child. Maybe you want your child to try something new, but aren’t sure he or she would be interested. Maybe you’re concerned about your child’s behavior if they’ve struggled at a camp or in school in the past.  Aspiring Youth summer camps might be the perfect for your child.

Aspiring Youth offers a variety of camps based on interest, as well as a general age-based camp (the most popular program). This camp is great for kids who are typically functioning but have some difficulty making friends, or those who have diagnoses of Asperger’s, autism, ADHD and other varying ability levels.

There are a few key components of Aspiring Youth camp that make it unique:

  • Small group ratios with masters-level facilitators. The camper to facilitator ratio is 4:1, which is almost unheard of for a summer camp. This allows for activities in small group settings and consistent feedback and facilitation of social interactions. Lead facilitators have masters degrees in fields such as social work, mental health counseling, special education, applied behavior analysis, and speech language pathology. Their knowledge and skills provides meaningful integration of social skills in all activities.

  • friendship-1081843_1280Outdoor-based activities. Many of the kids we work with prefer to stay indoors playing video games and spend little time exploring the outdoors. Our camp is outdoor-based. We meet up at various parks in the greater Seattle area for games, hikes, and unique experiences with nature. Twice a week, campers engage in trail renovation projects. This gives kids a greater appreciation for the parks they visit and instills a sense of pride in accomplishing something important. It also provides an opportunity for working together in groups on a skill most have not done before. Campers stay motivated to engage in trail restoration by the $15 stipend earned at the end of the week.

  • Goal setting around friendship. One thing we like to make clear to our campers is that everyone at camp is working on friendship or communication goals. At the beginning of each week, campers do small-group goal setting: a strength goal to demonstrate one of his or her strengths and a stretch goal to work on something he or she struggles with. Facilitators remind campers about their goals and provide opportunities for them to work on their goals throughout the week. At the end of the week, campers and their facilitators reflect.

  • Options in activities. As most understand, kids need to be able to make choices about their activity if we expect them to be engaged. They like to feel empowered. At camp, we always have options for kids. Some involve structured activities and others less structured. Regardless of the option each child chooses, there is always a facilitator providing feedback and assistance.

With six weeks left of summer, there’s plenty of time to get your child involved in Aspiring Youth camp.  There are several sites in the greater Seattle area. Please visit our website for more information and to schedule an enrollment meeting for your child.


Breea. M. Rosas, Ed.S.

Breea graduated from Central Washington University with a Bachelor of Arts in 2013. Her undergraduate major was Psychology, with a minor in Family Studies. She completed her Educational Specialist degree in School Psychology from CWU in 2016. She is currently a school psychologist for Federal Way Public Schools. Breea has worked with Aspiring Youth as a program coordinator/facilitator for summer camps and served on the curriculum development team. Additionally, Breea has experience working with adults of varying abilities, including autism spectrum disorder, as well youth in the school setting.

I was sitting around bored, one day…

bored-16811_1280Boredom can be a good thing, and summer is a great time for it. This may seem counter-intuitive advice coming from a social skills coach for a program with a thriving (and awesome) summer camp program, but your kids need some boredom and unstructured time. Structured activities are beneficial, especially if you have concerns about your kids spending too much time with video games, phones and tablets (i.e., “screens”)–but don’t go overboard!

Why boredom?

One important developmental task milestone for teens is learning to create their own sense of autonomy. As they grow, children need to make the decisions of how to responsibly fill their free time. As parents, it’s easy to feel pressure to fill their schedules with activities. It’s important though to recognize that boredom is also a gift that allows them to fill their own “schedules”. Though they may be resistant at first, self-discovery and creativity are often born of boredom.

“Brad” and the Scotch tape roll

In one recent Aspiring Youth social skills group, teenaged “Brad” fiddled for quite some time with the empty, plastic center of a Scotch tape roll. I watched him absentmindedly fiddle with it as he described proudly how he entertained himself with it all day.

Inspiration struck very suddenly as he flicked it across the table. I took five coins from my pocket and placed them in a line on the table. Each coin marked a different zone. I challenged him to flick the plastic roll in such a way as to get it as close to the opposite table edge as he could while not going over the edge, with double points awarded if he flicked it with enough backspin to roll back to him. The closer he could get it to the opposite edge, the more points he received. The other teens trickled in and one by one took turns with this game. Everyone ended up playing an hour-long tournament which I refereed. The guys enjoyed it so much that the following week several asked if we could do it again.

Boredom as a skillchild-241749_1280

While the guys were pretty impressed that we came up with that fun game so quickly, it became a teaching point about how creativity can spring from boredom, and how being bored is actually a skill one has to practice. We have to generate our own interests. Not coincidentally, I love tabletop games because they are both fun and social. I would never have tried them if my parents hadn’t limited my video game exposure and allowed me plenty of unstructured time in which to fill.

Here are a few ways to facilitate productive boredom:

  • Limit your kids’ recreational screen time to no more than two hours every day (as recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics). This includes use of smartphones for purposes other than directly communicating via text or phone.

  • Schedule some structured or semi-structured activities (Aspiring Youth’s summer camps are a great example of a mixture of structured and unstructured time).

  • In order to create more autonomy with your adolescent, discuss the structured activities that they would like to do.

  • friendship-1081843_1280If they’re used to an abundance of structured activities and/or screen time, be prepared for push back!

  • If and when they say, “I’m bored!” work with them to come up with some activities–but don’t lead too much.

  • Encourage them to explore new activities that they have never tried.

Aside from the fact that this can help them develop their autonomy and creativity, giving them unstructured time can also make it easier on parents since you don’t have to schedule every minute for them.

In any case, have fun! Who knows? Maybe your teen will come up with their own fun games in the process.


R BoccamazzoR. Boccamazzo, PsyD, LMHCA

Dr. Boccamazzo is a doctor of clinical psychology and social skills coach with Aspiring Youth. In addition, he is the clinical director of TakeThis.org, a national nonprofit focused on mental health and the gamer community, runs a private psychology practice in Bellevue offering individual therapy and psychological assessment to adolescents and adults, and provides parent and clinician trainings on technology in psychology. Much of his work focuses on high functioning autism, problematic technology usage, social anxiety, trauma and games. In his spare time, he enjoys acting, cooking, board games and video games.

Announcing: Bainbridge Island Summer Camps!

New location on Bainbridge Island at Strawberry Hill Park!

In our traditional camps we offer exciting activity choices from Legos to art to nature hikes. With these incredible enrichment activities as a foundation, our master’s level counselors help campers build confidence and connect to new friends.

Social Growth Topics

We work with parents and campers to formulate individualized social learning goals such as: Conversation initiation, flexibility, leadership, sharing ideas, sustaining conversations, self-identity, teamwork, independence skills, long-term goal setting, assertive communication, emotional regulation, personal wellness, and more.

Picture 047_result

Enroll now

Cost: $500 per week

Time: Camp runs Monday – Thursday, 9:30am – 3:30pm

Bainbridge Island Camp Dates:

  • Week of 7/18

  • Week of 7/25

  • Week of 8/1

Age groups: 

  • Navigators (ages 10-12)

  • Teen Crew (ages 13-15)

  • Delphi (ages 15-19)

We engage in outdoor games, field trips and other group activities to propel social growth. Through weekly habitat restoration projects, campers build confidence and teamwork while earning a $15 weekly internship stipend. Campers choose from additional activities such as indoor rock climbing, Parkour, therapy dogs, swimming, Museum of Flight, guided nature tours, comedy improv games, art, and many more.

Enroll now


Our Campers

We welcome campers ages 8 and up who benefit from a small group environment. Some are shy, some are quirky, and some are twice exceptional. Some of our campers have a diagnosis of Asperger’s Syndrome, autism, learning disabilities, or other similar traits.

About Aspiring Youth

  • Nationally accredited, innovative program serving families since 2004

  • Dynamic master’s level professionals with a 4:1 camper ratio

  • Social skills growth through small group check-ins

  • Sustainable friendships through year-round social skills groups and alumni events

  • Free enrollment meeting with clinical coordinators to ensure group fit and identify goals

  • Connect through weekly parent groups and receive updates on your child’s progress