Book Review: Bright Kids Who Can’t Keep Up by Ellen Braaten and Brian Willoughby

A few years ago, I was going through some kids’ files and noticed a pattern in the  results on the Wechsler Intelligence Scale for Children or WISC. The WISC is a commonly used test of cognitive functioning consisting of 10 subtests, which yields a full scale IQ, as well as 5 indexes that provide scores in more specific aspects of functioning, including Verbal Comprehension, Visual-Spatial Reasoning, Fluid Reasoning, Working Memory, and Processing Speed. I noticed that for many of the children attending groups at Academy MetroWest, the Processing Speed Index scores were significantly lower than the other index scores and I started to wonder why. Soon it dawned on me that there would seem to be an obvious connection between processing speed and social skills. I thought of all the auditory and visual processing inherent in ordinary, everyday, social interactions. Think about having a conversation with someone and all the cognitive tasks involved in it. You need to screen out background noise and stimulation, attend, listen to and determine the concrete meaning of the words being spoken, interpret non-verbal cues such as body language, facial expression, tone of voice, context, the perspective of the speaker, and others, while simultaneously formulating a sensible, appropriate response that conveys the meaning you wish to convey. All of this happens fast – almost instantaneously –  and repeatedly over the course of just one conversation. When you think of all the “micro-tasks” involved, it’s miraculous that any of us can do it.

Since arriving at my hunch, I’ve shared it with a number of parents and professionals. I’ve made a special point to discuss it with parents when their kids have been found to have slow processing speed. In direct work with kids, knowing a child’s processing speed is helpful in understanding their social behavior and in offering useful feedback. In sharing my hunch about processing speed, I had only one problem: I had no idea if anything I was saying was actually true.

Bright Kids Who Can't Keep Up

It was with this uncertainty in mind that I recently read Bright Kids Who Can’t Keep Up, by Ellen Braaten and Brian Willoughy. Drs. Braaten and Willoughby are  neuropsychologists at the LEAP Program at Massachusetts General Hospital. Their book draws upon research and the authors’ extensive clinical experience to provide a vivid, insightful picture of the effects that slow processing speed can have on children’s cognition, academics, family life, and emotional functioning. It’s an excellent book that’s well worth reading. For me, it would have been enough if all it had done was to assure me that I haven’t just been talking nonsense to my clients for the last 5 years. It did that but it also accomplished much more.

Processing speed has not become a sexy subject in the way that ADHD, Autism Spectrum Disorders, and Anxiety have. But it’s going to. Taken by themselves, processing speed deficits do not constitute a diagnosis or a mental disorder. However, slow processing speed figures prominently in all of those disorders and can make many aspects of life an uphill climb for many people. According to the authors, processing speed “refers to a complex process and so is defined and measured in many ways. It also can’t be understood in isolation from other areas of thinking such as language, memory, or attention.” Because processing speed deficits are intertwined with so many other cognitive processes, its effects on an individual’s functioning can be very pervasive. For a powerful illustration of this, take a look at this video by Richard Lavoie. It poignantly illustrates the day to day experience of kids with learning disabilities in general and, although it’s not specifically mentioned, processing speed in particular:

Because these effects are described with such clarity and purpose in Bright Kids Who Can’t Keep Up, the book becomes relevant and potentially invaluable to families struggling with a host of issues. In this regard, Bright Kids Who Can’t Keep Up reminds me of Quirky Kidsby Perri Klass and Eileen Costello, another wonderful book on child development.  . Both books, by describing problems that cut across labels, provide a more comprehensive  understanding of children than do most books that focus on just one.

Bright Kids Who Can’t Keep Up is divided into 3 sections. Part One provides an overview of the concept of processing speed. It gives a good description of what processing speed is, how it’s assessed, and how it affects daily life. The next section goes into more detail about slow processing speed and the challenges it presents to life at home, at school, and with socializing. For each of those areas of functioning, the authors present some excellent suggestions for parents to help maximize success for their children with slow processing speed. They provide downloadable questionnaires to help parents collect more information about their child’s processing speed, the effects it may have on social skills, as well as their emotional functioning as it relates to processing speed. The third section of the book ties everything together by printing excerpts from 2 neuropsychological evaluations and offering clarification on terms found within the reports.

The recommendations found in Bright Kids Who Can’t Keep Up go beyond those found within most parenting books. As I was reading itI found myself enthusiastically saying “YES!” in response to many of the observations and recommendations. I’m betraying a bias and perhaps being a tad self-serving in writing this but the quality of their recommendations and insights comes from not only being up on the latest research, but also from the authors’ many years of clinical experience sitting and just being with kids.

My only criticism of Bright Kids Who Can’t Keep Up is that I wish the authors had gone a little bit deeper in the third section of the book. It was helpful having excerpts from neuropsychological evaluations included in the book but it would have been even better had the authors devoted more space to fleshing out the tests, the test results, and the terminology. I found the instances in which they did to be the most valuable passages in the book and the final product would have been even better with more of that. On the whole, this is only a minor shortcoming in a book that I recommend highly to both parents and professionals. Processing speed hasn’t quite attained the status of a “hot topic” in the world of human services but I have no doubt that it will. This book is ahead of the curve and a great read.

Posted in Books, Children, Mental Health, Neuropsychology, Parenting, Social Skills, Special Education | Tagged , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

A Hidden Perk of Working with (Middle School) Kids

In a 75 minute group here at Academy MetroWest, we spend about 60 – 65 minutes in our gym playing cooperative games with our kids. Cooperative physical activity is the primary focus of our program but during most sessions, we spend the last 10 minutes or so in our offices having snack and doing some quieter activities with our group members.

Snack time accomplishes a few goals for us. For one, it’s really not fair to parents to send their (often hyperactive) kids straight from an active, stimulating, loud gym straight into the car for the ride home. Kids would be bouncing off the walls of the car. So we try to bring the activity level down a bit before dismissal. Snack also serves as something of a bonding time for group members and helps to make the groups more cohesive. These intervals also tend to be more language-based and conversational than the gym-based segments of our groups. This gives us the opportunity to focus more intently on those skills.

Over the years, snack time has involved a number of “go-to” activities. We often do Mad-Libs together, or work on a lateral thinking  or a situation puzzle. Sometimes we just chat. Awhile back, some kids started asking if we could watch videos on YouTube together. While I was reluctant to do so at first, watching YouTube videos has become a popular  way for us to finish up our sessions. The process of working together as a group to come up with a video selection that’s fair and agreeable to everyone provides an opportunity to address issues around communication style, flexibility, and perspective taking. Kids need to be aware of what video genres the other group members are likely to enjoy. They also need to develop an awareness of what videos are likely to be viewed by their counselors as being inappropriate for their age group. Watching videos with kids has also given me a chance to develop another common frame of reference with my clients and to develop a better understanding of their perspectives and personalities.

Aside from having to shoot down videos that are way beyond the pale in terms of their language and subject matter, there are certain types of videos that I’m reluctant to watch because they’re just too ridiculous or boring. Personally, I don’t ever need to see another video about Minecraft. Most of the ones that kids have shared during group time have been videos created by other kids and are painfully boring for non-Minecraft aficionados. Ditto for most videos about video games in general.

On the other hand, many of the videos that kids have shown me have been eminently watchable and some have been very funny. With our quirky clientele, videos that center on the random, the marginally sick and twisted, parodies, and the unintentionally funny have been mainstays in the rotation. Most of these have been shared by kids of at least middle school age. I have some modest examples to share with you here.

The first category I’ll share with you is what I’ll call the “Pre-Historic.” In our internet age, pre-historic refers to those ancient videos that came out at or before the advent of YouTube.

The first internet series that I saw kids getting excited about was Home Star Runner. I watched a few of them and was mildly amused at first. One summer, however, a bunch of our campers started singing a song in a heavy metal vein about a dragon named Trogdor the Burninator. The song came from a Home Star Runner clip. I watched it and cracked up. Not a lot of kids we see today are big into Home Star Runner but whenever I show them the Trogdor video, they too are smitten.

Around the same time, an otherwise intelligent teenager I worked with for years came in raving about a video he had seen on YouTube (in its early days) and he insisted that I watch it and share in his glee. He’s a guy with a great sense of humor and I was optimistic that what he wanted to show me would be funny. I have to confess. Its appeal eluded me and, really, it still does. Over the years, I’ve warmed up to the Charlie the Unicorn series a bit although it’s still not one of my favorites. I include it here only because it’s pretty representative of the humor centering on the random and surreal that our kids find so compelling.

There’s also this nugget from the pre-YouTube days:

Other entries from the Random Humor category are:


and, on the still random but slightly more sick and twisted side:

Also on the Marginally Sick and Twisted side is the Cyanide and Happiness series, currently the rage among my middle school kids. Some C & H videos cross beyond the marginally sick and twisted to become downright dark and disturbing but I can usually manage a laugh or two regardless.

Among the parodies that have become favorites, most also blend into the marginally sick and twisted category. Of course, one of the best ones – only shared with and among groups of older kids of course – is the ever popular Honey Badger. Watching this one is always accompanied by my warnings about the imperative of not carrying  the “colorful language” from the video to other aspects of our groups.

The True Facts series is also quite good. Take a look.

Unintentional humor occupies a good deal of space on YouTube and some of these videos have become favorites of mine. Again, these are best viewed by kids no younger than middle school age. Parental discretion is advised.

Most of the kids with whom I’ve watched that clip with have quickly pointed out the irony in the fact that although Ol’ Mary Sue brags about never cussing, she doesn’t hesitate to drop the N word over and over again.

But the one I’ve found myself coming back to again and again lately is this one, shown to me first by a very funny, enterprising young 7th grader. I’ll warn you in advance though, once you see it, you can never “un-see” it. It will stay with you forever.

I’m not sure what it is about that video that cracks me up so much but I’ve found myself approaching people who’ve watched it with me and telling them – “Hey – I respect you and chickens!”

Anyway, happy viewing everyone. Feel free to share some of your favorites as well.





Posted in Children, Humor, Social Skills | Tagged , , , , | 4 Comments

Great Moments in Hype!

Every March, the staff and kids here at Academy MetroWest take part in one of our favorite annual rituals – March Madness. No, we do not have our kids fill out brackets and bet on the NCAA basketball tournament. Although I’m sure we’d have some interesting picks if we did that, in our program, March Madness takes on a different connotation.

Throughout the school year, Academy MetroWest runs small, gym-based groups. The groups are aimed at helping children change the way they view themselves and interact with others. Activities center on cooperative, non-competitive games and are structured to emphasize the idea to children that, as a member of a group, their responsibilities extend beyond looking out for their own immediate self-interest. They need to be aware of their teammates’ needs and be able to take some initiative to help them. In March, most groups get the same choice of 8 different activities. What the 8 activities have in common, other than their cooperative structure, is that they all afford groups the opportunity to earn points. At the end of the month, we pool the points that each group earns and if we collectively reach our goal of 100,000 points everyone wins a prize. Usually that prize is a candy bar and some small goodie (a water bottle, sunglasses, small backpack, etc…). We’ve been doing it for about 10 years now and it’s something that our staff and group members look forward to every year. The kids have won their prize every year but somehow, even multi-year veterans of March Madness don’t usually catch on that it might just be fixed.


Some Academy MetroWest participants modeling their March Madness 2013 swag ( L ) and last year’s grand prize.

March Madness, like some other ideas we’ve had over the years, relies upon “presentation” (trans: hype)  as much as substance.  We’ve found that, presented with enough enthusiasm and creativity, kids will throw themselves fully into just about any activity. I have some modest examples here.

The first 2 great moments in hype I witnessed took place during the summer of 1991 at Camp Academy.

Camp Academy is the dearly departed, large, recreational day camp that used to be affiliated with our “parent” organization, The Academy of Physical and Social Development. It had about 200 kids enrolled in it and although it wasn’t structured as a therapeutic camp, it used the same cooperative approach to recreation that we use today. Before camp started that year, Stew Pruslin, a long time counselor and current member of our staff, approached the director and told him that he wanted to try to build the world’s largest lint ball that summer at camp. Stew used to run the end of the day assembly and he figured that if he presented it as an all-camp attempt to get into the Guinness Book of World Records, it would be a fun, silly thing to do. Well, he was right. At the end of each day, with the whole camp assembled for dismissal, Stew would start off each meeting by commanding in a loud, dramatic voice “Groups 1-3, BRING ME YOUR LINT!!,” whereupon a giddy  group of kids would run up to Stew with the crop they had harvested from their dryer, pocket, belly button, or anywhere else lint could be found. He’d continue through all of the groups each day and by the end of the summer, as you can see from the photo, we had a very respectable ball of lint. Word of the lint ball traveled far and wide. We were in the newspapers, as well as on the radio and tv in areas as far apart as Concord, NH to Washington, DC. My own contribution to the lint ball endeavor, was the theme song (All You Need is Lint…set to a possibly recognizable tune). Unfortunately, we were not accepted into the Guinness Book. They said it was too specialized or something. Their loss.

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All You Need is Lint – The lint ball is prepared and displayed for our campers and the media in 1991.

That same summer, we played host to another great moment in hype. Every Friday, we did a different special event. We were growing a little tired of one of our events and decided to do something different. All week long, we put up some mysterious signs around the campus. Each sign was printed with the cryptic message “Fred is Coming.” By mid week, there was a noticeable buzz among the campers who were all wondering who this mysterious Fred could be. On Friday morning, we told everybody that Fred was going to be revealed at an assembly after lunch. Well, at the assembly, we brought out Fred, veiled in some lost and found towels. After a big build up, we dramatically unveiled Fred, a toilet that we had picked up from a local junkyard. We made up a story that Fred was a God-like figure who demanded tribute and it was up to the campers to provide it. Earlier in the day, the other directors and I had spray painted about 300 rocks metallic gold. So, for an hour or so, our 200 campers had the times of their lives searching for rocks to put in a toilet.


In 1991, Camp Academy proved that all you need for a fun afternoon is a toilet, a bunch of rocks, and a sense of humor!

Fast forward to the late 90’s. By this time, Academy MetroWest was operating. and we were in the midst of our summer program,  Creative Adventures,  This next great moment in hype was my partner Gary Steinberg’s big idea. I was skeptical. Gary was convinced it would work and, as much as it pains me to do so, I must admit that I was very very wrong. Gary’s brainstorm was the International Small Camp Olympics. We told our campers that Creative Adventures had joined an international consortium of small camps who were all participating in these games. All the camps would do the same activities and would periodically call in to headquarters to get an update on scores. So, after every activity, our campers and staff members would gather in the meeting area as Gary “called in” to HQ, using one of the gargantuan cell phones from that era. He’d report our results and to get the results from other camps around the world (The only camp I remember by name was “Camp Kangaroo” from Australia but I recall there being some camp from somewhere in Scandinavia as well). In the morning, we were not doing well. We’d be down near the bottom of the list after every event. Of course, we started to make our run in the afternoon and when the final results were announced, we won by a very close margin. The kids bought it – hook, line, and sinker – and were ecstatic. No one caught on that no one was on the other end of the line for all of Gary’s phone updates and no one figured it out that there was no such thing as Camp Kangaroo.

I’m sharing these stories to illustrate a few points. The first of them is that kids can be incredibly gullible sometimes. I’m sorry but it’s true.

The other points are a bit more constructive. For one thing, in the world of kids’ activities, it’s important to remember that presentation is everything. If we had introduced Fred by telling everyone “Today, kids, you’re all going to search the campus for a bunch of rocks and put them in a toilet,” it would not have gone over well at all. Presented with enthusiasm, the message that we’re going to search for gold nuggets to pay tribute to a God-like toilet….that’s another story. Hype works. When presented with some enthusiasm and creativity, it’s possible to get kids invested in lots of different activities that might otherwise seem very unexceptional. When kids see adults feeling enthused about something, it’s contagious and they usually buy right into it.

The other point I want to make is that these events all of something important in common. That is, they are all examples of kids having fun, working together as a team, and getting excited by working collaboratively. Even among kids who don’t normally do that very well or very willingly, when it’s presented with a little enthusiasm and a lot of craziness, they can do it.


Posted in Children, Children's Recreation, Humor, Social Skills | Tagged , , , , , , | 12 Comments

Book Review: Late, Lost, and Unprepared by Joyce Cooper-Kahn and Laurie Dietzel

“Bruce has been a positive factor in our program, as he is committed to doing a good job, is enthusiastic, and will push himself even if he is not really into a particular group. He does not have any glaring weaknesses although he could be a bit more organized.”

Dr. John Cloninger, Ed.D – 12/23/88

Yes…A BIT more organized. The passage above comes from an evaluation I received from my internship site supervisor when I was a first year graduate student.  When I got the evaluation, I was really proud of the overall positive tone it took. But I got a good, hearty laugh from the sentence about needing to be more organized and I ran to the phone to tell my mom about it. “Listen Mom….my supervisor thinks I should be A BIT more organized!” She had a good laugh too. Organization is a task that has never come easily for me. She and my dad spent many frustrating, thankless hours trying to help me have a clue. Someday I’ll find one. It’s been a long, hard slog and I know it’s out there somewhere.


Image courtesy of space


It’s fitting that I married someone who shares my “prowess” in the realm of organizational skills. And it’s been no shock to find that our 9 year old daughter is, shall we say, more successful at some of her other pursuits than she is at getting organized. Lucy is an excellent student but ever since she started getting report cards, we’ve been getting some feedback about her chaotic desk and overall elevated level of discombobulation. At her school, they grade on a 1 – 4 system. On her first report card, she got mostly 3’s and 4’s but next to “Takes Care of Belongings,” there was a 1. When I asked her about it, her response was “Well, I’m just glad they don’t give out zeroes!” Recently, her teacher let us know that she hasn’t always been turning in her homework. This came as a surprise to us because we know she’s been working conscientiously to get the work done on time. When I talked about it with Lucy, she wondered out loud “Why do I have to learn to be organized?” We talked about how much simpler it makes life when you have some systems in place to keep things on track. I told her that even though it doesn’t come easily for me, I do my best to create systems that help me stay on top of things at work and at home. Without them, I’d have a very hard time living up to commitments I’ve made and things would get ugly very quickly.


Fortunately, as this issue emerged for my daughter, I happened to be reading the book Late, Lost, and Unpreparedby Joyce Cooper-Kahn, and Laurie Dietzel. I’m very glad I did because it’s a wonderful book.

Late, Lost, and Unprepared is a handbook for parents who have kids with executive function challenges. It’s divided into two parts. The first part is entitled “What You Need to Know” and consists of a description of the executive functions along with information about their developmental course, assessment, and effects on the family. The second part of the book is entitled “What Can You Do About It?” which is what it’s about. Lucy and I sat down and read chapter 15 together- Helping Children Plan and Organize. We’re working on  checklists that she can tape to her desk and locker at school but there were a lot of other great ideas in that chapter we can try if our first attempt fails.

This book is written with parents in mind. The authors recognize that parents don’t have the time or motivation to tackle a heavy treatise loaded down with high falutin’, irrelevant theories. There are two different ways to use this book and I plan to avail myself of both of them. For one, you can read it start to finish in order to give yourself a good, holistic understanding of subject matter. It is well written and thoughtful, and it’s a pleasure to read. You can also use it as a reference for use with your own particular child and his or her own particular issues. For each type of EF issue described (impulse control, cognitive flexibility, task initiation, working memory, organizational skills, self-monitoring) the authors describe a number of different interventions. In each case, they recommend sitting down with your child and really examining the problem, tracing it back to the point or points at which problems develop, and then tailoring your intervention to provide support when and where it’s most needed. The authors draw heavily on their clinical practices and they’re clearly well versed in the many different ways that EF delays  play cruel pranks on our lives.

I’ve always felt that my life would improve if I just plastered post-it notes to my forehead with all the reminders I need for the day, (maybe even a embedding a railroad spike in my head with the same reminders – for those especially out-to-lunch days). Fortunately, Late, Lost, and Unprepared offers suggestions that may be more effective, more practical, and definitely less socially penalizing and than either of those options.

Drs. Cooper-Kahn and Dietzel also go out of their way to emphasize that even if readers were to faithfully execute every single idea described in the book, they would still not find a magic bullet.  It takes practice and patience. The goal is improvement, not perfection. According to the authors:

“One of the most effective ways of building executive skills is by developing habits and routines that eventually become automatic. Building habits requires repetition, repetition, and more repetition. Here’s the good news: Once you no longer have to think about doing something, you largely bypass the executive system.”

In a nutshell, the authors urge us to think of executive function delays through the lens of  Dan Patrick’s old ESPN catchphrase  – “You can’t stop them. You can only hope to contain them.” This book is rich with suggestions that can help your child build good habits in a systematic way. When it comes to your child’s EF problems, you can’t stop them, but this book will give you a fighting chance to contain them.



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Problem Solving Games…Just in Time for the the Holiday Gift Giving Season

For 21 years, Academy MetroWest has run therapeutic groups for children and adolescents that center on the use of cooperative, collaborative physical activity. Aside from the therapeutic benefits obtained through working this way, it’s an enjoyable way to structure physical activities for kids. Over the last few years, I’ve been happy to find more and more video games and board games using similar principles of cooperative play.

Recently, I’ve tried my hand at two cooperative board games and I’ve enjoyed them both. The first was Forbidden Desert, a popular game in which the players are cast into a vast desert, searching for a legendary flying machine buried in the ruins of an old city. I confess that I’ve only played it once. However, I did enjoy it and I found that there was a solid cooperative dynamic involved in the game. I’m sure I will play it again.

I have a stronger personal connection to the other cooperative board game I’ve been playing,  Space Cadets – Away Missions. This game was designed by two friends of mine, Al Rose and Dan Raspler. While both of these gentlemen are fine, upstanding human beings, Al is one of my closest friends.

Before I describe the game, I need to go on the record to say that I am not now, nor have I ever been, a board game geek. Until recently, my board game experience centered on the old standards. I come from a long line word nerd so I play a lot of Scrabble. Besides that, I never got too far beyond Monopoly. Al and his wife Shelley, on the other hand, are avid gamers. I play in a band with Al and we usually get together once a week to play music. Most nights, we stop around 10:30 so his neighbors don’t start egging his house. Then we shift our attention to gaming. Shelley is actively involved in the board gaming web site Fortress: Ameritrash, so she and Al always seem to be up to speed on every new game out there. Yes, Al is getting nerdier by the day. No doubt about it.


After contributing to the Space Cadets: Away Missions Kickstarter, I received my copy in the mail a few months ago. When I opened the package, I noticed a couple of things right away. For one, the art work is gorgeous. It’s based on 1950’s era science fiction and the drawings, figurines, and text all reflect that period very well. The other thing I noticed quickly is that it’s pretty complicated. Al tells me that gamers have told him that it’s not complicated enough but I reacted very differently. He walked me and a friend through the game and that was very helpful. Since then, I’ve played it with my daughter a few times and we’re both really getting the hang of it. The game traces a story arc comprised of a number of different scenarios. In each scenario, the players (Rocketeers) have to accomplish a task against an array of hideous aliens bent on enslaving or destroying them. Each human player gets a turn and then the aliens get their turn, following prescribed actions collectively known as alien AI. If the Rocketeers don’t work together, the aliens kick their butts. Sometimes, even when the Rocketeers do work together, the aliens kick their butts anyway. But if you don’t work together, you don’t have a prayer.

What I really like about Space Cadets: Away Missions is the dynamic that unfolds as you play. When you play it, you go through the same process that kids go through when they play some of the problem solving games we do here at Academy MetroWest. It not only allows players to collaborate, it requires it.

Among the many activities we do here at Academy MetroWest there are a handful that we conceive as being problem-solving games. These games present open-ended challenges that require kids to use a number of different skills that may not be in their everyday wheel house. First off, they need to see the big picture. They have to recognize that they’ve been presented with a problem that can be solved a million different ways, and  that 5 other kids are working with them. They need to see that the most efficient way of solving the problem is to have all group members collaborate somehow. They also need to be able to communicate effectively. For kids who come across as shy or tentative, that may mean speaking up in a more forceful way than usual in order to express ideas or to ask for help. For kids on the opposite end of this range, there’s also a need to listen to others’ ideas and respond to them with respect, receptiveness, and flexibility.

I created a new problem solving game a few years ago that some of my groups have really enjoyed. It’s called The Wacky Races. Kids are placed in teams of 3. In a large room, we scatter a lot of small, plastic cones. Each team gets their own “car,” made out of a folding mat laying on top of some cardboard cylinders.


Two versions of The Wacky Races – On the left is Hanna-Barbera’s conceptualization and on the right is ours.

One team member becomes the rider. That person is responsible for grabbing as many cones as possible but, in doing so, must remain on his or her car. Another group member is the pusher who, as the name implies, pushes the car forward, backward, or sideways. The other teammate is the mover, who has to keep moving the cylinders around in a way that enables the car to keep moving. The game lasts until all the cones are collected. Each team has to work together to figure out where the car should move, how it should move, who is going to take each role, and then they need to enact that plan as efficiently as possible.

The good news about The Wacky Races and all problem solving games, for that matter, is exactly the same as the bad news. That is, for the kids who play them, every single issue they have around socialization gets exposed. While this affords our counselors the opportunity to address these issues, it can be challenging to get the games to run smoothly. Because the games are open-ended, each child’s contribution will necessarily be a reflection of their own social style. As important as it is for kids to learn to negotiate and compromise with each other, for some kids, the skills required in order to do so – impulse control, emotional regulation, organization, central coherence, and perspective taking, for example – are just not there. In many cases, adaptations can be made to help accommodate kids like this but in others, it’s a steep climb regardless of how many tweaks we add.

Despite those obstacles, for kids who can manage them, the potential benefits derived from problem solving games are significant. A former colleague of mine was running a problem solving game with a group some years ago when he found that most group members were getting angry at one boy who was trying to dominate the game. When the counselor spoke to him, the boy said that his own ideas were clearly the best so the other group members just needed to get on board with him. My colleague told the boy that even if he felt that his ideas were the best, when you ignore other peoples’ ideas, you convey the message to them that their ideas aren’t worth listening to. He explained that friends don’t expect to be treated that way  and, even if the other kids’ ideas didn’t meet this boy’s standards, it was probably in his interest to be a little more receptive to them anyway.

For most families, setting up physical problem solving games like those we play here at Academy MetroWest at their home is, at best, impractical. Fortunately, playing Space Cadets: Away Missions is a much more accessible option for many families. Like gym-based problem solving games, it’s not for everyone. But, if you’re looking for a game that takes thought, collaboration, and creativity, it’s a whole lot of fun.


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Perpetually Groping – The Search for Uncertainty

“Albert Einstein admired (Niels) Bohr for ‘uttering his opinions like one perpetually groping and never like one who (believed himself to be) in the possession of definite truth.”

Richard Rhodes                                                                                              Making of the Atomic Bomb

Over the past few weeks, I’ve gone to 3 professional conferences. As a licensed mental health counselor, the state requires me to amass 30 continuing education credits or CEU’s every two years. As a hopeless procrastinator, that usually means I have to pack most of those hours in to the last couple months of each two year cycle.  The CEU requirement is not unique to the field of counseling. Most professional careers require some variation on the continuing education theme and most professionals have the same ambivalent feelings about the trainings and conferences they’re required to attend.

As anyone who’s had to earn CEU’s will tell you, the quality of these offerings varies tremendously. Some of the trainings and conferences I’ve attended have been invaluable. For instance, I’ve learned more about Autism from the incomparable Elsa Abele and her workshops than from any other source. By a long shot. I’m proud to call Elsa a mentor and a friend and I cannot possibly recommend her trainings highly enough. Also up there on that elevated plain is Jody Sleeper-Triplett, whose training on executive function coaching taught me a whole new way of working with teens and young adults.

Elsa AbeleJody Sleeper-Triplett

Elsa Abele’s (left) workshops on Autism and Jody Sleeper-Triplett’s trainings on Executive Function Coaching are the two best continuing education experiences I’ve had.

On the other hand, some speakers are “considerate” enough to provide all your learning for the day in the first 5 minutes of the training. In that abbreviated time period, you learn that your day is going to be a complete waste of time – other than the CEU certificate you get to take home at the end. Gary Steinberg, my fellow director at Academy MetroWest, has often said that if you finish your day at a conference or workshop with 2 or 3 new factoids that you can use with clients, it’s been a successful day. That sounds about right.

During the three conferences I’ve attended recently, I’ve noticed a new pattern in my reactions to the speakers. I’ve found that my receptiveness often has less to do with what the speakers have to say than in how they say it. Specifically, speakers who present their ideas with an air of unshakable certainty in their value and importance have been rubbing me the wrong way. Even if the speaker does not come right out and say it directly, when they imply that the approach they’re espousing will lead to sure-fire success, or even something close to it, my guard goes up immediately. About a month ago, I attended a conference organized by a prestigious Boston-based practice (who, in the interest of diplomacy and at great cost to my limited self-control, shall remain nameless) whose work I respect a great deal.  While some of the conference’s offerings contained everything I look for in continuing education, the ones that focused on the conference organizers’ model of intervention rubbed me the wrong way. This happened despite the fact that I like the approach they use in working with kids and attended the conference with the specific goal of learning more about it. The speakers who described the intervention took on a dogmatic tone that created the impression of hucksters peddling a one-size-fits-all cure for all the ills of childhood. When audience members cited problems they’ve had implementing the model, the speakers’ responses always seemed to suggest that the fault lay not in the model itself, but in the imperfect way it had been implemented.

I guess what I’m looking for is a little humility –  a recognition that, regardless of a practitioner’s experience, working with people in a helping capacity requires a recognition of, and respect for, the limitless range of individual differences that people bring to the process. Theories and models are valuable ways for clinicians to conceptualize their work but it’s a big mistake to become too confident in the effectiveness of any model. Doing so shows a disregard for the notion that people are not automatons. They can and do think and behave in ways that confound even the most beautifully conceived models. Think about the quote at the top of the page from Albert Einstein. In the realm of science, you don’t get a lot “harder” than physics. It’s not a field you usually think of as being mushy and subjective. And yet, the trait he admired most in his colleague, Niels Bohr, a pioneer and Nobel Prize winner in his own right, is Bohr’s willingness to acknowledge and even embrace the uncertainty of his own ideas.


Albert Eintein in 1930, with Niels Bohr, at the Solvay convention, photo by Paul Ehrenfest.

Albert Einstein and Niels Bohr in 1930 – two “perpetual gropers.” Image courtesy of


When I start working with a new family, I try to conceive the work as the start of a new journey we’re taking together. My value as a professional lies in the fact that the journey is likely to be similar to the ones I’ve taken with many other families in the past. I try to apply the lessons I’ve learned from those adventures at the same time but not to the extent that I stop listening for new ones or that I assume that those past journeys somehow place me in a position in which “I know better.” The  subtitle of this blog is Thinking Out Loud About Quirky Kids. Thinking out loud is usually what I’m doing when I’m talking to parents about their kids. Just as Einstein described Niels Bohr, I’m “perpetually groping,” as odd as that sounds. That trait is probably the only one I have in common with Bohr or any other theoretical physicist. But it seems like a good starting point to me.

Rhodes, R. (1987). The Making of the Atomic Bomb, Simon and Schuster.

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Encouraging or Pushy?: A Father/Daughter Baseball Odyssey

Early this month, Academy MetroWest hosted a free workshop for parents. Dr. Joe Moldover, a top-notch neuropsychologist in our area, talked about Non-Verbal Learning Disability, Asperger’s Syndrome, and High Functioning Autism. At one point during his presentation, Dr. Moldover  described the way kids with these profiles learn social skills by comparing the process to teaching baseball to little leaguers. With some players, if you show them how to hit just one time, they immediately get it. They might not be perfect hitters right away but as they watch other players swing the bat, they learn vicariously and intuitively and, with a little practice, their skills improve quickly. With other players, you have to give them repeated, concrete, step-by-step instruction and progress comes slowly when it comes at all.

It’s a good analogy. For most people, it allows them to compare something they’re familiar with (teaching baseball to kids) to a process they know less about (social skills development in kids with social/cognitive differences). For me, it’s exactly the opposite.

I haven’t played a lot of baseball since the early 1970’s – shortly after people were invented, if you ask the kids I work with. What this means is that I’m much more confident in my ability to work with a child on the autism spectrum and help that kid learn how to read social cues than I am teaching someone the finer points of throwing, catching, and hitting a baseball.

Imagine my daughter’s chagrin.

Lucy is 9 years old now. Her social skills are good but her baseball skills are not. She’s played some T-ball and some softball. She enjoys it but if we set our hearts on funding her college education with a baseball scholarship, we’re going to be dreadfully disappointed. Whatever. Like many parents, I’m sure we harbor some illusions about how gifted our child is but Lucy’s lack of a natural gift for baseball is pretty obvious.

At the end of spring softball this year, Lucy’s coach let us know that our town (Lexington, MA) had other offerings coming up for kids who enjoyed playing. We could sign up for a summer softball league or play Fall Ball. We had a very busy summer and didn’t sign up for summer ball. We heard that Fall Ball was pretty laid back so when Lucy asked us to sign her up for it, we did.

In early September, we brought Lucy to her first game and noticed some big differences between spring softball and Fall Ball. For one, Fall Ball is baseball. They use a hard ball, which is more intimidating than a softball, and kids pitch. A more obvious difference is that Lucy is the only girl on her team and, after 6 games or so, it appears that she’s the only girl in the league.


Here’s Lucy — all suited up for action.

In the spring, when I was watching Lucy’s games and practices, it was not hard to see the differences in the way the girls on her team approached the game compared to the way I remember the experience for myself and my friends. In elementary school, baseball was an obsession for me and most boys I knew. I collected and memorized baseball cards. I read books about baseball history and statistics. I played Little League. I watched as many games on TV as I could. My dad and I had a Sports Illustrated Baseball game that we played obsessively. Most importantly, when I went over to a friend’s house, we’d usually wind up playing catch. Our focus was on having fun, but when we played, we’d emulate our favorite players and keep trying to get better. Because playing ball was something we did all the time, our skills improved over time.

For my daughter and her friends, things are different. In all the play dates she’s had, I can’t ever remember her saying “Hey – let’s go outside and throw the ball around.” I play catch with her every once in awhile. It’s always fun but, until recently, it wasn’t something she’d ask for a lot. At her first softball practice this past spring, one of Lucy’s friends, a complete novice, was looking around for something and asked herself and her teammates “Where’s my mitt….glove…thingy?” The girls practiced conscientiously but their attitude about the games was much less intense than I remember from my childhood. At one point I wondered, “When does the coach teach them to heap abuse on the opposing team?” It never happened. Imagine that!

At Lucy’s first Fall Ball game, the differences in experience and skills between her and her teammates was glaringly obvious. She came up to bat 4 times and never even came close to making contact with the ball.  The ball never came her way while she was in the field, which is good news for everyone (except the opposing batters). As a parent, it was hard to watch. She was totally out-gunned and I was nervous that she was going to be ridiculed, hurt, or both.

After the game, I asked her what she noticed about her skills in comparison to her teammates’. I was trying to be diplomatic but her answer (“Oh…you mean how I’m the worst on the team?”) suggested that I didn’t really need to beat around the bush very much. I told her that if she wanted to stay with Fall Ball, I’d be willing to get up early with her a couple times each week to practice. She readily agreed. Initially, I thought this would a once a week or twice a week thing. In fact, we’ve gotten up early to practice almost every day since then.

By way of providing some context, let me tell you a little bit about the town I live in. The most obvious association people have with Lexington is that it was the site of the first battle in the Revolutionary War. Nowadays, it’s an upper middle class suburb populated by an overeducated, over-achieving group of adults and their families. The wealth in town is, in general, not old money. By and large, Lexingtonians have made their fortunes in the worlds of science, high technology, and finance. The school system has a great reputation but can also be a pressure cooker. A couple summers ago, as his daughter was preparing to enter Lexington High School, a friend of mine went with his wife to a meeting for parents of incoming freshmen. He told me that in the principal’s message to parents, the theme was “You people need to relax and ease off pressuring your kids and their teachers. This is not a do-over for you (to get into college).” In 2nd grade, Lucy wanted to take part in the school science fair. The exhibit next to hers, made by a first grader, was a 3D cutaway diagram of plate tectonics while a kindergartner down the row had an interactive, electronic exhibit about the solar system. In most towns, Little League is the prime vehicle for parents who want to live vicariously through their kids. Not in Lexington.

I mention these things to illustrate the pressure to achieve that a lot of kids in town feel from their parents. My wife and I have responded to what we’ve seen and heard by coming to the conclusion that one of our main challenges as parents is going to be keeping that type of pressure from weighing too heavily on Lucy. Additionally, in my professional life, the model of group therapy we use at Academy MetroWest relies upon cooperative, non-competitive physical play. The model emphasizes trying hard, having fun, and not worrying about how you stack up against your peers.

But practicing baseball with Lucy has taken me out of my normal comfort zone and I’ve found myself pushing her a bit harder than I expected to. On a very pragmatic level, I am decidedly NOT a morning person. I look at normal wakeful consciousness as something to ease into very gradually rather than something to plunge into all at once. So, my feeling is, if I’m going to drag my sorry carcass out of bed early, we need to keep our eyes on the prize and work on skills with some degree of focus. Another issue is that, at 9 years old, Lucy seems ready to really apply herself to something. When you practice consistently and find that your skills have improved, both the journey and the destination are rewarding. So far, I’ve tried to find a balance between pushing for skill improvement and having fun by following Lucy’s lead. It’s worked out well so far but I have to keep reminding myself that if it’s not fun, there’s really not much point to it.

So, here’s what we’ve gotten out of our experience so far. For one thing, Lucy’s skills have definitely started to improve. Let me make it clear that she is, by no means, a good baseball player yet. However, her throwing has improved dramatically and she’s made contact with the ball a couple of times in games when she’s been at bat. Catching is still hard for her but she’s working at it. Our next goal is to see if she can hit a ball into fair territory during a game. Even if she doesn’t accomplish that goal, we’ve gotten a lot out of our practice sessions. I’m immensely proud of her for her positive attitude about it. She has not once complained about getting up early and she’s been a trooper about working hard at something that doesn’t come easily to her. Her skills still don’t stack up all that well with her current teammates’ but when softball rolls around in the spring, I expect that she’ll do quite well. Most importantly, she and I have spent a lot of time together and have had a lot of fun in the process. Daylight Savings Time comes to an end soon and when it does, so will our early morning practice sessions. It’s inevitable that I will look back on them very fondly. I hope she does too.

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“I’m Not Arguing!!!” – The Battle Over My Office Chairs

In my office, I have two green chairs that are more comfortable than my other office chairs.  As chairs go, they’re entirely unexceptional. They’re comfortable enough but not extraordinarily so. But if you were to watch the way some of our kids argue over them, you’d assume they were truly heaven on earth for the butt cheeks of our nation’s youth!FullSizeRender

Groups at Academy MetroWest happen in a gym. In a typical, 75 minute session, we do two cooperative, physical activities and then head into the office for a snack.  Our kids  play pretty hard during our gym activities. But it’s incredible to see how many budding  Olympic sprinters are in our midst once they start heading for those green chairs. Kids have a knack for being able to argue about anything, but my chairs seem to possess some special quality that makes their occupancy something particularly worth battling over. If I let them, some of my kids with would argue for hours to prove that they are the ones most entitled to one of the thrones. In fact, I don’t let them do that because it really could go on for hours. Listening to extended arguments over this type of silliness will gradually eat away at your soul. Nobody wants that.

Among kids with social skills issues, particularly those on the autism spectrum, a propensity to argue can be a manifestation of deficits in any or all of three cognitive abilities; Theory of Mind – better known as perspective taking, Central Coherence – or the ability to see the big picture, and Executive Function,  “an umbrella term for the management (regulation, control) of cognitive processes, including working memory, reasoning, task flexibility, and problem solving as well as planning and execution.” (1) Seeing how deficits in perspective taking could affect one’s tendency to argue is pretty simple. If understanding others’ perspectives is something that doesn’t come easily or intuitively to you, you’re likely to view your participation in arguments as simply advocating for something to which you’re obviously entitled or for a position that’s clearly correct. This summer, someone wore a t-shirt to our summer camp that read “I’m not arguing. I’m just explaining why I’m right!” It made me laugh because it was such a great representation of the way some kids – and adults for that matter – think. It disregards the possibility that anyone else has a valid position that might be worth hearing. It also doesn’t take into account what a drag it is to being on the receiving end of one of those “explanations.”

Executive functions like impulsiveness, cognitive inflexibility, and deficits in emotional regulation also make it difficult for people to avoid “taking the bait” and becoming involved in arguments. They can also lead to people becoming stuck or being overwhelmed by anger and frustration, all of which make resolving the conflict or moving on from it very difficult.


A typical instance of “chair wars,” starts with claims of “I got here first!” or “He had it last week!” or “He only got to the chair first because he pushed me out of the way!” Cogent and captivating arguments, right?

Maybe the easiest and most obvious solution to the problem would be to set up a weekly schedule of who gets to sit in the comfy chairs. In fact, I’ve done this a few times with younger kids and it can, in fact, deflect these disagreements before they happen. You get some of the hard core arguers who might have a problem if they were absent on their scheduled week but, for the most part, it provides a concrete, structured way of ending arguments before they start. Even though this strategy can be helpful in facilitating a peaceful snack time, I tend not to use it much once kids reach 8 or 9 years old for the simple reason that learning to resolve conflicts is such an important aspect of social skills. By the time kids reach a certain age, it’s reasonable to expect that they should be able to settle petty disagreements, with or without adult support.

Another way to settle the argument is to listen to each kid state their case in an effort to fairly and equitably determine which of them is, in fact, most entitled to plant themselves in one of the chairs on any given week. Some of the kids I work with have spectacular verbal skills and I’m sure I’d hear some arguments worthy of a Supreme Court case. But if we followed that path, we’d never get to any activities and kids would inevitably leave the session feeling cheated and irritated.

I’ve found that the best way to resolve silly disagreements like the ones over my chairs is to  help kids take a step back and see the big picture. What I’ve been doing lately has been to ask the kids to stop arguing for a moment to ask them a few questions. First, I ask “Before you got here today, how many of you were looking forward to coming?” Most of our kids  enjoy the time they spend here and raise their hands. Then I ask  “When you think about the group and what you enjoy about it, how many of you list ‘sitting in Bruce’s green chairs’ as the most important thing? How many of you have it in your top 5? Top 10?”  Then I’ll say “If sitting in a green chair is not one of your 10 favorite things about coming here, why is it that right now it’s become the only important thing to you? Because what you’re doing is, in effect, choosing to spend the last 10 minutes of our group arguing over who gets to sit in these chairs, rather than having snack and doing something fun.” In response I’m usually met with a group of sheepish expressions, and a collective willingness to return to the group’s agenda. That’s not to say that a similar issue won’t arise during the following session but I’ve found that the more we practice working out disagreements like this, the less intense the successive arguments become.

1 Executive functions. Retrieved from

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Albus Dumbledore and Guilty Old Men

I spent a lot of time this summer listening to audio books. It was not entirely of my own volition. I brought my 9 year old daughter with me to our camp for 3 weeks. Between our commute – about 30 minutes each way – and then our family trips to upstate New York and  Downeast Maine at the end of the summer, we spent a lot of time in the car together. When I’m alone in the car, I tend to pass the time nurturing two of my nerdiest vices: NPR and music. My daughter, alas, has not really bought in to either one.  So we immersed ourselves in the world of children’s audio books.

Over the course of the summer, we went through 3 of them. The first one was called Al Capone Does My Homework by Gennifer Choldenko. It was a sweet story about a 13 year old boy named Moose whose dad was a warden at Alcatraz Penitentiary. Moose was growing up on Alcatraz Island with a few other kids and families of the prison workers. The book is part mystery and part coming of age tale. It manages to pull the listener in to a crime story at the same time the more emotional aspects of the book enable the listener to develop a connection to the narrative without being bludgeoned with sentimentality.


Our second audio book of the summer was less satisfying. Being charitable, I’ll call the plot “convoluted.” The book is called What We Found in the Sofa and How It Saved the World by Henry Clark. While I did find myself curious to see how the tale would resolve, the book attempts to put a million science fiction concepts in a literary blender to form a coherent narrative. It’s a bit of a stretch. Certainly, I’ve heard worse but while we were listening to it, I found myself pining for the sultry voice of Nina Totenberg and the other NPR superstars.


Then, on our trip up to Maine, my fortunes changed for the better. We listened to Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix by J.K. Rowling. The audio book is read brilliantly by Jim Dale and it reminded me of everything that makes the Harry Potter series so special.

I started reading the series 15 years ago. The books were really catching on and it was the end of a camp season for us. I noticed that, instead of playing on their Game Boys or running around in the gym, many of our campers were spending their free time reading Harry Potter books. I was all for anything that would pique kids’ interest in reading but I wasn’t all that interested in reading them myself. On the last day of camp, one of our C.I.T.’s thrust his copy into my hands and told me “I know you’re going on a bike trip for your vacation. Take this with you. You can either read it or not read it. But you should read it.” I thanked him and grudgingly took the book, expecting to muddle through it and return it when I got back. Of course, I found myself loving the book and plowed through the entire series as it unfolded.


It’s been great to go through the books again with my daughter. In each book, things have jumped out at me that I missed the first time through. In The Order of the Phoenix there is a passage at the end that was particularly moving. It’s an excellent observation that parents and anyone else who comes in contact with kids would do well to remember. In the scene, Harry is talking with Albus Dumbledore, the school headmaster. They’re talking about a recent tragic event in Harry’s life and looking back on a very challenging year at school. After Harry vents his anger about the year and the headmaster’s role in it, Dumbledore takes responsibility and apologizes for having lost sight of the differences in the ways kids and adults experience life:

“Youth cannot know what age thinks and feels. But old men are guilty if they forget what it was to be young.”

Youth cannot know how age thinks and feels.-2

I like to think that I’ve always made an effort to remember what it was like to be young. Maybe it’s just that I’m immature and my perceptions haven’t changed all that much anyway. But as youth drifts further and further back in my rear view mirror, sometimes my memories of childhood experiences become a little hazy. Personally, this old man is thankful for Dumbledore’s reminder of how important it is to hold that memory as close as possible.

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The Real Deal – A Tribute to a Great Staff Member

During the summer, Academy MetroWest runs a small day camp. Some weeks at camp adhere to a specific theme and this week is one of them. It’s our second annual LARP week and it’s the brainchild of a long time member of our staff, Adam Hurley.

For the uninitiated, LARP stands for Live Action Role Play. According to Wikipedia, a LARP is:

 “A form of role-playing game where the participants physically act out their characters’ actions. The players pursue goals within a fictional setting represented by the real world while interacting with each other in character. The outcome of player actions may be mediated by game rules or determined by consensus among players. Event arrangers called gamemasters decide the setting and rules to be used and facilitate play.”

Camp is quite a scene during LARP week. Kids create their own characters, design their own costumes, and play all sorts of wacky games designed to advance the overarching story of the LARP. On Monday, one of our counselors played a game while wearing a duck bill and wielding a (foam) battle axe. Today, one of our CIT’s is wearing a tux. You can’t get this kind of entertainment just anywhere!

AdamCrying Pirate

Adam channels his inner “crying pirate” during LARP week.

Adam spends a substantial number of his weekends LARPing and he’s been talking to me about it for years. At first, my reaction to his LARP enthusiasm was not charitable. My standard response was “Dude! – LARPing and fan fiction are the two activities that separate the men from the boys in the land of quirky kids! You, my friend, are upping your game!” But as time has passed, I’ve noticed how happy Adam has been as a part of this, shall we say, idiosyncratic community and I’ve tried to back off a bit. It’s really wonderful to see Adam this happy. He hasn’t always been this way.

Adam came to us in 2001 as an 11 year old prospective client. His mom brought him in for an initial interview and he clearly wanted no part of it. I did the interview and, as I usually do, I introduced myself and went over the agenda, expecting some mild anxiety and a few questions about the process. His response was to fire a barrage of sarcastic remarks and snotty comments at me.

An “appropriate” response to Adam would have been something like “Adam, it sounds like you’re not all that happy about being here. Try to bear with me for this and then if you still don’t like it, we can talk to your mom about whether or not you want to join a group.” That night, I just didn’t have it in me and my response to all his sarcasm was “Okay. Are you done now?” When the words left my mouth, I thought I had made a big mistake. But Adam responded by saying “Yeah. I guess I am.” We’ve talked about it a few times over the years and he said my response showed him that I was willing to be real with him and it made him start to think that we were going to be nicely different from other agencies. We did the rest of the interview without a hitch and Adam went on to spend 5 years or so as a member of various groups here. He also attended camp every summer. What he really did was find a home.

I like to tease Adam that, like the scrubbing bubbles from this 1978 commercial, he works hard, so I don’t have toooooooooooo…..I

Adam attended public school and it did not go well for him. He’s a very bright guy but is decidedly quirky. His diagnosis has never been firmly established but it’s safe to say that he hovers somewhere between a Non-verbal Learning Disorder and Asperger’s Disorder. Throw in some intermittent battles with depression and anxiety and you have the recipe for an extremely angst-ridden teenager. He tried a number of different school settings and no one really seemed to know what to do with him. When Adam got frustrated, he’d get stuck. Really stuck. He didn’t read social cues especially well and he tended to be overwhelmed by his emotions.

In our program, Adam started to really hit his stride around the time he turned 14. As he matured and began to feel comfortable in our setting, he started to show some leadership skills and started working at our camp as a CIT around the time he turned 16. He was a great fit for the role and he kept getting better and better and, despite not being able to finish college, he has become a fixture on our staff during camp and during the school year.

Now, I’ve been running groups centered on cooperative physical activity for 26 years. I’ve managed to help keep the doors open at a private practice for 21 years and, at the risk of sounding really full of myself, when it comes to working with kids, I’ve got some game.

“When I watch Adam interact with our kids, all I can do is watch and be in awe of a singularly talented counselor.”

But when I watch Adam interact with our kids, all I can do is watch and be in awe of a singularly talented counselor. Adam’s work with children is informed by the empathy and compassion that grew out of a desire to help them avoid the anger, frustration, and stumbles he experienced. He knows what our kids are going through because he lived it. He has a relentlessly creative imagination, takes tremendous initiative and has an supernaturally high energy level. He is adored by all kids. Adam may be a young adult now but, like most of us here, he’s an overgrown kid who’d rather be loud and silly with a bunch of middle school kids than hang out with a bunch of stuffy grown ups any day.  I’ve always had the feeling that if we told Adam he was going to have to pay us for the privilege of working here, he’d immediately reach for his checkbook.

Above all, Adam is driven. Helping kids succeed and be happy is a vital mission for him. When he sees a kid struggle, he wracks his brains to find a way to make things work better. He doesn’t rest until he is satisfied that he has done his absolute best. It sounds like hyperbole but it’s not. He’s that good and that dedicated.

Adam and I share a revulsion for wasted potential in kids. At Academy MetroWest, we see a lot of kids with the intellect to take on the world and thrive. Often, to get to those assets, we need to dig through some layers of behavior issues, social skills delays, problems with emotional regulation, among other obstacles to success. It’s tragic when kids, for reasons beyond their control, are not able to reach their potential. For awhile, I was worried that Adam was going to be one of those guys. But as I write this, Adam is gainfully employed, engaged to be married, and is considering a return to college. I’d love to have him stay on here as a co-leader/assistant forever but he has the potential to do so much more with his life. Someday he’s going to get there and it’s going to be a beautiful sight to see.

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