How to Support a “Scattered” Child

8081866129_45189a1250_z“How can my child be so smart, yet fail every subject?” This is a common question from parents of bright children. The answer: your child is smart, but scattered. Peg Dawson, international author and presenter on executive functioning, described the impact of executive functioning in her presentation to special education staff in the Federal Way Public Schools.

Executive functions are brain-based skills that help us to be successful in monitoring and achieving goals. They include response inhibition, working memory, emotional control, flexibility, sustained attention, task initiation, planning/prioritization, organization, time-management, goal-oriented persistence, and metacognition. Executive functioning deficits are common in children and adults with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), autism spectrum disorder (ASD), and in others who are neurodivese.

The impacts can have huge effects on their behaviors at school and home.

Common ASD deficits

  • Emotional reactions inconsistent with the incident

  • Difficulty being flexible when something changes

  • Struggling with sustaining attention in non-preferred situations

  • Impacts on prioritization, often seen in a child’s written expression

  • Difficulties creating and maintaining organization systems

  • Inability to self-reflect and change behavior based on these reflections

hyperactivityCommon ADHD deficits

  • Impulsive behavior, especially when the reward is immediate

  • Struggling to remember several steps to a task and implementing those steps effectively

  • Difficulty attending when the situation is not stimulating

  • Procrastinating on homework or chores

  • Struggling to plan out steps of a project

  • Inaccurately estimating how long something will take

  • Inability to persist towards a goal

How to Help

It’s our job as adults to help children develop these skills and provide opportunities for them to practice. For children with executive functioning deficits, these skills may not be learned from their surroundings; they need to be explicitly taught. Until they are developed enough to practice, adults will need to be surrogates for our kid’s executive skills.

Here are some ideas for facilitating the development of these skills:

  • Provide alternatives to highly stimulating environments. It may be hard for the child to effectively use executive skills when overstimulated.

  • Give close-ended tasks with explicit steps.

  • Shorten tasks or provide breaks

  • Make a checklist for your child first and show him how to use it; then, help your child to make his own checklist.

  • Give 3:1 positives to correctives feedback, with the positives specific to executive functioning (i.e. “Nice job leaving that cookie on the counter, I know that is not easy to do sometimes”; “You did great adjusting to our change of plans”, “I like how you made a goal and then planned out the steps to achieve it”

  • Ask your child two simple questions: “What do you have to do? When are you going to do it?” This helps facilitate the process of goal setting, planning, time management, and task initiation. Then, hold them accountable to their plan.

Want more information about how to help support your child’s executive functioning skills? Consider one of Aspiring Youth’s social skills groups, or red Smart but Scattered by Peg Dawson and Richard Guare, which is an excellent book that helps explain executive skills and how to intervene.


057-aspiring-headshots-webBreea. 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.

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.

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.

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.

Developmental vs. Chronological Age: What’s the difference?

A psychologist at my first internship rotation hammered into all the students who would cross her path the concepts of developmental age and chronological age. She emphasized how important they would be in all of our future careers—she was right.

background-84678_1280But how are they important to parents?

Chronological age is pretty straightforward: it is simply how physically old your child is. When a small child holds up her fingers and says, “I’m this many old,” she is telling us her chronological age (if she’s right, of course).

Determining a child’s developmental age is trickier.

Developmental age measures someone’s behavioral, cognitive and physical development in contrast to the typical person in the same age range. Consider behaviors and learning tasks that a typical 1st grader displays: learning to read, basic addition, cooperative play and taking turns. If a person’s developmental and chronological ages match, we tend to not notice because it’s expected.

However, it can be a problem when the two don’t match.

Stevie and his different “ages”

Recognizing that a child’s developmental and chronological ages can be different is an important first step.

Let’s consider 10-year-old “Stevie,” who has a diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder. While he has the vocabulary and memory of a typical 10-year-old, his ability to read body language and control impulses (such as interrupting people or angry outbursts) is more typical for a 6-year-old. Stevie is going to have a challenging time in school and in making friends.

child-929935_1280Often, adults and other kids expect Stevie to “act his age” because they see a 10-year-old and expect 10-year-old behavior. This potentially creates a problematic cycle:

  • Adults expect 10-year-old behavior when he legitimately cannot give it in all ways

  • They get angry at him for not meeting that expectation

  • Stevie gets frustrated that, despite his attempts, he continues to fail and get punished

  • Stevie starts viewing himself as “broken” or “dumb” and stops trying

  • Adults get more angry as his skills continue to fall behind

What can parents do? Think in different domains.

Parents and professionals should work together to identify what areas correlate to the child’s chronological and developmental ages. I often coach parents on how to think about their child’s developmental age in different domains.

For Stevie, his parents can expect him to use the language of a 10-year-old. Their behavior should reinforce, challenge and support his behavior in that domain. However, they shouldn’t expect a 10-year-old’s emotional or behavioral control.

An important clarification is this adjustment of expectations is not done to convince them that Stevie cannot succeed in the future. Quite the opposite, in fact. It can help parents have realistic expectations of where his challenges are right now, in order to help build foundational skills for future success.  If they are looking for him to master typical 6-year-old skills, they can praise them instead of being frustrated at Stevie’s lack of “obvious” skills. Ironically, this lowering of (certain) expectations can lead to the increase of skills that parents are seeking.


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.

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 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.

Photo credit: D&D characters

So, they play video games. But what does that mean?

Video games have grown up – as have those who play them (average gamer age is 35). Some classics like The Legend of Zelda or Super Mario Brothers are at least 30 years old, so it’s safe to say that video games are part of our culture.

joystick-1216816_1280Despite this, I routinely encounter clinicians and parents who use the term “video games” as if the media are homogeneous. They’re unaware of the differences among games, as well as what people gain from playing them. In other words, they are missing the “why” someone plays the games they do.

Someone who plays Minecraft does so for different reasons than someone who plays role playing games such as Skyrim or Dragon Age: Inquisition. A teen who plays stealth action games like Metal Gear Solid V: Phantom Pain does so for different reasons than those who play massively multiplayer online (MMO) games like League of Legends.

These differences are clinically important. When clinicians wants to help someone eliminate a behavior (perhaps like an adolescent playing video games too much), we cannot just tell them: “Stop it.”

Why? Finding a substitute behavior that fulfills the initial need of the other behavior is absolutely vital. Here are some examples:

  • Social connection: If you gain a sense of social connection by playing a MMO game, then simply stopping cuts yourself off from social inclusion (plus the fun!).

  • minecraft-1106252_1280Creativity: If you enjoy the accomplishment from building creative worlds in Minecraft, then stopping has the potential to leave you unfulfilled.

Success lies in offering a similarly fun, in-person social activity that you can do instead of the MMO – or a creative building activity instead of Minecraft.

Have a child who plays an excessive amount of video games? Take some time and ask in a nonjudgmental way about the games they’re playing. Go at it with the mindset of just learning for the purpose of learning. Maybe even play the games. Don’t pretend to be an expert on them. Just let your child teach you. Over time, the info helps you…

  • Monitor the appropriateness of the games your child is playing.

  • Bond with your child or teen

  • Understand their motivations and the rewards they experience playing their games of choice.

If you believe their playing is excessive, this will help you brainstorm alternative activities. Remember, video games are a diverse and rich form of media—with motivations for playing as diverse as the games we play. In the process of learning your child’s preferences, maybe you’ll discover one you like.


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.

 

Like this post? You may like “Why games? Why not?”

Changing behavior: The ABCs

Understanding behaviors can be… challenging. We often hear from parents and teachers:

“She won’t stop doing it, even though I’ve asked her to stop.”

wood-cube-473703_640“It doesn’t matter what punishment I give. He still does it.”

To truly understand the behavior and how to change it, we need to know exactly what the challenging behavior looks like, what “triggers it”, and what happens after.

The ABCs of Behavior

  • The antecedent (what happens right before)

  • The behavior (what the child is actually doing)

  • The consequence (what happens immediately after)

When we understand the consequence, we often understand the function, the “why.”

There are four main functions that maintain behavior:

  • Escape. The child is doing something to escape or avoid doing an activity. Picture this: Every day, after a teacher finishes the social studies lesson, she moves on to math. The child has a melt down and is sent to the principal. Can you guess what he’s trying to avoid?

  • Attention. Some kids do things so they can get attention from their peers or adults. A girl consistently makes inappropriate jokes and her classmates laugh, reinforcing her behavior. What can be less obvious is when the attention is negative. After one joke, the teacher asks her to step in the hall so they can talk. Despite being punished, she’s still getting attention for her behavior.

  • 2105532204_3eacd04af5_zTangible. Things obtained can also maintain behavior. This could be a physical object or a preferred activity. A 13-year-old boy argues with his mom and is sent to his room after dinner for the rest of the evening, where he plays video games. Normally after dinner is electronic-free family time. He is inadvertently being rewarded for his behavior.

  • Self-stimulatory. This can be the most difficult function to address. It’s when a child likes the sensory or stimulatory sensation the behavior provides. A boy with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is constantly getting out of his seat during teacher instruction. Regardless of the punishment, getting up and moving around provides a stimulatory reinforcer.

 So what can we do?

Once we understand why the child is doing the behavior, we can better understand what to do to change it. Recognize though that it’s not always straightforward. Sometimes multiple functions of the behavior make looking at the antecedent vital.

8081866129_45189a1250_zIf a child has a melt down before each math lesson and is sent to the principal, the antecedent might tell us that he is escaping math. But the child also likes the one-on-one attention he gets from the principal. Now there are two functions of the behavior.

The goal is to let the child have his or her needs met in a positive way. One possible option might be that the child does 8 out of 12 math problems and then gets to spend 10 minutes with the teacher, eventually increasing the math problems and having the attention switch from the principal to the teacher.

So next time you’re struggling to change the behavior of your kid, think about the ABCs and get creative about ways to have your children’s needs met when they’re doing the appropriate behaviors.


Breea M. Rosas, B.A., Ed. S. Candidate

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 the coursework for an Educational Specialist degree in School Psychology in Spring 2015, with an anticipated graduation date of Spring 2016 upon the completion of an internship with the Franklin Pierce School District. Professionally, Breea has worked with Aspiring Youth as a lead facilitator for summer camp 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. She is interested in social emotional learning, educational implications of social/emotional and behavioral disorders, supporting youth with behavioral disorders, and the trajectory of students with disabilities post-high school. In her spare time, she likes to read, particularly historical fiction and non-fiction, bake, and spend time with her family.

Photo credits: Child screaming; Girl in class

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.