Activity League: Bowling | A sports league for quirky kids.

Join us this spring for the 5-week Aspiring Youth Activity League! Sports offer a unique opportunity for our students to develop in both body and mind, as they work to build their athletic abilities as well as the nuanced social skills needed to form a cohesive team. The Activity League brings Aspiring Youth’s social skills curriculum to the playfield, providing a new learning environment for students to improve their communication, friendships, teamwork, and self-confidence!

Bowling Club: Players develop social and athletic skills, good sportsmanship, and a sense of belonging to a team as they prepare for the Championship Game.

Join us for FIVE WEEKS of the Aspiring Youth Activity League!

  •  Location: Kenmore Lanes, 7638 NE  Bothell Way Kenmore, WA 98028

  •  Dates: Each Saturday from Mar 4 to April 1, 2017

  • Time: 3:00pm – 4:15pm

  • Fee: $275 for five weeks ($75 if already enrolled in another group).

  • Shuttle: Optional shuttle from Ryther leaving at 2:30pm and returning at 4:45pm for pick-up. Parents not using the shuttle will drop-off at 3pm and pick-up at 4:15pm from Kenmore Lanes.

Contact us for more information on enrolling.

Introducing Magic Mondays!

Group members work on communication skills while playing Magic: The Gathering (card game) in a facilitated setting. Our group facilitators make sure that there is productive conversation during the game and that group members learn about being a good sport win or lose.

Ages 8-18. Group members bring their own decks.


Seattle: Mondays | Co-ed | 5:45-7pm | 1/23 – 4/3 (except 2/20)

Aspiring Youth Running Club competes in first 5k

This gallery contains 7 photos.

On Saturday November 19th, the Aspiring Youth Running Club took to the trails at Carkeek Park to compete in the team’s first 5k. Despite the rain and mud, our runners showed up with a positive attitude and support for one another. They did an incredible job navigating hills, stairs, and the occasional fallen tree, with […]

Dungeons & Dragons & Social skills

What is Dungeons & Dragons? Why does Aspiring Youth use it in one of our social skills groups? And why is it one of our most popular groups?

While some of our students’ parents have played it themselves, many don’t really know what it’s all about. Read on if you’re either unfamiliar with the game or how we use it.

rpg-468917_1280The game

Dungeons & Dragons (or D&D) is the best-known table top role playing game in the world. It has been around since the early 1970s, though it has changed and evolved over time. The basic concept is fairly simple. Each player has information about a customized character, and the leader (or Dungeon Master) is essentially a combination of narrator and referee. She or he tells an imaginary story while the players decide how their characters interact within that story – and act it out.

The game evolves each week and takes on the personality of the group as players progress and encounter consequences. Some games are serious or cartoonish. Some are filled with diplomacy and intrigue, or with epic battles that the characters race to stop. All require collaboration and symbiosis between the players and the leader.

Why use it for social skills?

Role playing has been used by mental health clinicians for decades to help people rehearse interpersonal interactions and coping strategies. When moderated by professionals, D&D can serve the same function.

Aspiring Youth social skills groups (the first in Washington to use D&D in an organized way) accomplishes these same goals:

  • Players think about how someone else would act through coaching and creating a (generally prosocial) character whose motivations and personality are different.

  • They have to mimic the behavior and words of that type of person.WP_20160328_003

  • The game provides a safe, flexible framework in which a person can practice those social skills.

  • What’s more, the players are rewarded with in-game prizes for successfully doing so.

In addition to that, we often co-facilitate the game to track player’s behaviors. With a white board, we visibly tally various behaviors such as raising one’s hand and waiting to speak versus disruptively talking out of turn. We also track whether a player is ready on his or her turn or there is a delay in the game due to the player being distracted. The target behaviors are collectively rewarded with in-game points and the opposite behaviors are penalized. The peer pressure to exhibit target behaviors for rewards (and avoiding penalties) leads to significant improvement.

How parents can help

How can you support your student’s efforts? Here are five tips to practice in your home:

  1. Basics: Learn about his or her character and the motivations that drive the character. Ask about personality, class/job, race, physical skills – learn all you can.

  1. 14543462957_c0a257e3ef_zMotivations: While you may not understand at first (What is a lawful good, dwarf knight who wants to bring justice to the world?), all of these details such as morality and background impact how a character would act in a given situation. Coach your student on how that type of person might act. That’s what we want the players to think about.

  1. Reviewing the rules: If your student doesn’t have answers about his or her character, it’s probably time to read the rule book a little better, which you can do together.

  1. What’s new: Ask about new developments each week. Players love to talk about their experiences. Maybe the character succeeded at a seemingly impossible feat and saved the day! Or perhaps, the character is trapped and in need of rescuing by the party.

  1. Check in with us! Stop inside when picking up your student and chat with us, the facilitators. While teens might groan a bit, this is a great way to catch up on behavior goals among parents, students and facilitators.

Hopefully, this gives you some tips and a better idea of how Aspiring Youth brings growth to students’ social skills in a dynamic, captivating and unique way. If you have any questions, please visit our website or call 206.517.0241.

Our Spring 2016 Dungeons & Dragons social skills group meets Tuesdays in Seattle and Fridays in Bellevue.

If you liked this article, please check out our how board games can also become a valuable way to teach or reinforce skills.

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, 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.

Photo credit: D&D characters

Why Games? Why Not?

chess-775346_960_720When I consult with parents about our Aspiring Youth groups, they often ask me why I use so many board and card games. Most Aspiring Youth participants are dealing with challenges from social anxiety or something called executive functioning (more below) – or a bit of both.

With a little thoughtfulness, games help our students work on both. Given it’s the holidays, here are some suggestions for games to enjoy – just in case you want to try them at home!

Think of executive functioning as the manager of our brain that makes decisions. This helps us understand others’ emotions, resist impulses, control emotions, manage mental data, plan tasks, solve problems, and flexibly deal with change. Many diagnoses such as ADHD, autism spectrum disorders and even anxiety and depression can interfere with executive functioning. There’s also evidence that more than two hours a day of recreational screen time is linked to problems in executive functioning. This includes all screens (phones, computers, TV, tablets, etc.).   

How do games help in these areas?

Board and card games bring people face to face to read social cues in a way that electronics do not provide. To be successful, they to take turns and resist impatient impulses like talking over others. They have to remember rules. They have to make plans, and often have to flexibly change plans. They have to control frustration when they lose and not be obnoxious when they win. Board and card games also reduce screen time. What’s more, because our students are invested in the games, they offer a lot of teaching moments that lectures and other activities don’t.

Let’s look at a few of the games we use.

Most of these games are available from Seattle-area retailers like Meeples Games, Mox Boarding House, Games and Gizmos, Card Kingdom, Heroic Knight Games and Uncle’s Games, as well as online retailers like Amazon.

We Didn’t Playtest This At All – (2 to 15 players) – This was, by far, the most popular game in my Wednesday Kirkland group last year. It’s a fast-paced, chaotic, and silly card game that can be played in as little as 30 seconds. It helps our students practice reading skills, mental flexibility, impulse control, and frustration tolerance. The rules are (theoretically) pretty simple: you draw a card, and you play a card, following the instructions on the card you play. This may be something like, “Anyone who uses the words ‘I’, ‘me’, or ‘mine’ loses, starting now,” or, “You Win!… if you are the shortest person in the game.” We often played ten or more hilarious boss monsterrounds.  Fluxx is another, similar game, but with less chaos and more strategy.

Boss Monster – (2 to 4 players) – A very stylistic, competitive game modelled after retro, 8-bit video games, especially the Nintendo Entertainment System. Players must think about strategy and sequencing as they take on the role of a video game boss to build a dungeon designed to lure and defeat heroes from town. This is a very popular game with smaller groups and with my individual coaching clients. Students love the video game theme.

Superfight – (3 or more players) – This hilarious game is all about flexibility of thinking, frustration tolerance, listening skills, and loving to argue. Two people each have a few cards, some with characters, and some with abilities. Each player has to play one character card and one ability card, and they then add a random ability card. For example, it might be Obama, riding a battle tiger, and who violently sneezes versus Justin Bieber, who has an axe, and who lays golden eggs.  The players take turns arguing why their character with those abilities would win in a fight. All other players have to be good listeners and eventually vote on the character they think would win. The winner stays, and new player steps up.

munchkinMunchkin – (3 or more players) – This game involves strategy, math, negotiation, and bluffing. This is the current favorite of the Wednesday Kirkland teen group. It is a parody of other fantasy games like Dungeons & Dragons with a strong love of puns. Players take turns raiding a dungeon, fighting monsters or curses, and getting treasure to help them (such as the Potion of General Studliness). If they can’t beat a monster, they can negotiate with other players for help, trading cards, treasure, or even favors. Alliances shift quickly, as players must stop those about to win.

The Resistance – (5 to 10 players) – This is a game all about deduction, bluffing, and reading non-verbal cues. Each player is randomly assigned a role either as a resistance member or a spy trying to break the resistance. The resistance members do not know who the spies are. Teams are created to go on missions, and it’s the spies’ job to sabotage them without being detected. Accusations fly like crazy as people try to figure out who they can trust and who is a spy. Even if a spy is caught, a clever spy can make misleading accusations to keep other spies safe.

sentinelsSentinels of the Multiverse – (2 to 5 players) – This one is about strategy, planning, and cooperation. Each player is a superhero with a specialty such as speed, armor, martial arts, mystical energy, and so on. They must strategize and coordinate in order to collectively defeat a villain and survive a hazardous environment. A current favorite of mine.

Snake Oil – (3 to 10 players) – Empathy and flexibility are the name of the game here. This game is well-suited for some of my younger clients and is similar to Apples to Apples (another great game), but with a twist. Each round, a player acts as a “customer” of some type, such as a prom queen, gangster, plumber, caveman, etc. Each other player has to think about what that type of customer needs and play two cards from their hand that combine to create a new item. This might be “beard comb”, “pipe rope”, “war ring”, or anything the players can imagine. The “customer” then judges which item they most would want, and that chosen player wins the round.

Forbidden Island – (2 to 4 players) – More cooperation, planning, flexibility, and strategy are needed in this randomized board game. All the players are trying to collect the treasures and get off the island before it sinks. Each player has a different special ability such as scuba diving, navigation, and engineering, among others, which they use to aid the whole party.

R BoccamazzoR. Boccamazzo, PsyD, LMHCA

Dr. Boccamazzo is a doctor of clinical psychology and social skills coach with Aspiring Youth. Additionally, he has a private psychology practice in Bellevue offering individual therapy and psychological assessment to adolescents and adults, as well as parent and clinician trainings on technology in psychology. Much of his work focuses on high functioning autism, problematic technology usage, social anxiety, trauma, and schizophrenia. In his spare time, he enjoys acting, board games, video games, and weight lifting.