Posts

LD Adolescent Independence

Julia Murphy, LMFT

Parents often come to me confused about whether or not assisting their LD child is in fact “enabling” him.  A further complication is that each parent may have a different opinion about this issue. Many 18-year-olds may be driving, holding down jobs or making appointments on their own, while these typical rites of passage may not apply to an LD teen, whose development is following a slower course.  These teens may have the emotional maturity of someone much younger.  Parents sometimes feel a renewed sense of fear and grief during this period that may trigger earlier feelings they had when their son or daughter’s learning difference was first detected. 

This was the case with one of my clients, the mother of a son who was diagnosed with Non Verbal Learning Disability and ADHD at age 5. She felt that over the years of his childhood, she had adjusted to her son’s strengths and limitations after the initial shock of his diagnosis when he was age 5, followed by what felt to her like stages of grief: denial and isolation, anger, bargaining, depression and finally acceptance. She had expended a lot of energy and effort along the way to support her son, having him evaluated periodically, finding educational therapists, occupational therapists and mentors. She also learned how to navigate the IEP process with an advocate who helped her get funding for a non-public school that could support his academic, social and emotional needs.  By the time he reached high school it seemed like life was fairly stable for her son and the family. He was on an effective medication regimen, was able to work more independently, and had finally found a small, steady group of friends.  She could finally relax a little. Although those high school years weren’t without their turbulence, it felt like nothing to her compared to the early years of acting out and hyperactivity both he and his family endured.

Then, as he began his senior year and friends were applying to college, taking the SATs and even finding part time work, a renewed sense of his being set apart and left behind entered her consciousness, especially when his friends came over to the house and she could sense the disparity between her son’s maturity level, accomplishments and abilities compared to his friends. As much as she resisted the comparison, so many early feelings came rushing back – fear, bitterness, grief, heart ache.  As painful as these feelings are, they are also natural. As parents, we want so much for our children to be happy, successful and fulfilled. On a deeper biological/primal level, we hope to ready them for survival after we are gone.

With therapy, this mother was able to recalibrate her emotions surrounding her son and his well-being and to remind herself to resist comparing him to others. She focused on what she could control – support, love and guidance – and managed, at least most of the time, to let go of expectations connected to comparing her son to other teens his age. Admittedly, this is not an easy task for a parent, but it is an important one to work toward. After all, launching a child is a major transition in the life of an entire family.  It may be a very emotional time even without the added worries that come with parenting an LD child.   

My word of advice is, to the best of your ability, honor your feelings but also resist comparing your teen to the “neurotypical” neighbor.  Talk your feelings out with a sympathetic therapist if need be.  In the end, your peace of mind and your child’s self esteem stands a better chance of remaining intact if you consider where your child’s independence and maturity level actually are, rather than where they “should” be. Also, bear in mind that brain and frontal cortex keep developing into the 20s and even 30s.  Many of these skills will develop over time, and learning disabled teens will reach independence with the right support and training.  In fact my mantra to sooth worried parents is the phrase “time is your ally.”  Remember it if you can.

The Promise of Nutritional Psychiatry

Julia Murphy, LMFT

Nutritional Psychiatry is an emerging field exploring the link between diet, brain function, and mental health. In simpler terms, it looks at how the food we eat impacts our emotional state. Current research data point to a healthy diet (ie: lean protein, fish, vegetables, fruit, nuts and whole grains) as prevention and treatment for depression, as well as adjunctive treatment for ADHD. Conversely, unhealthy diets (processed, fatty and sugary foods) are associated with mental health problems in children and adults across nations and cultures.

By now you’ve probably heard of the term “gut-brain” connection. Our bodies house a miraculous, intricate community of different, beneficial bacteria called the human biome. Healthy gut bacteria are responsible for nutritional absorption, as well as immune system support and modulation of the nervous system. What we eat impacts the health of the human biome, and, therefore, the health of our bodies and minds.

Dietary interventions at this early state of nutritional psychiatry research are recommended as complementary treatments that may alleviate mild depression and anxiety or help with ADHD. At this point, diet is not recommended as the anecdote to suicidal ideation or extreme mood issues, but the field holds a lot of promise for breakthroughs to come.

Parenting – React or Reflect?

A “reactive” parenting style focuses on a child’s observable behavior with a tendency to incorrectly assume negative motives for academic problems, behavior issues or social challenges. This is a mindset that is easy to fall into but it reduces your child’s challenges to intentional choices he or she is making, a perspective that will leave you feeling frustrated, angry and confused. In this state, you are more likely to react intensely and/or punitively. When talking with parents and teachers, I frequently hear them use terms like “lazy,” “defiant,” “attention seeking” and “bossy.” By using these terms, they are labeling a child’s observable behavior and making negative assumptions about his motives. Instead, what a child’s problematic behavior usually indicates is an issue with environmental demands (ie: home and school) exceeding their capacity to succeed. So, how do you make a shift in parenting style to help your child? The first step is trusting that children will do well if they can. Remember, children with learning differences, in particular, lack the skills to consistently meet environmental demands. Ask yourself why your child would choose to do poorly if they possessed the skills to do well. The human brain is not hard wired to work that way. Develop some curiosity about why your child is struggling. Is too much being asked of him? As a “reflective” parent, you can help your child feel that their thoughts, emotions and experiences are understood, considered and accepted. You might not agree with a child’s perception of an experience; however, you can still take the time to listen and try to understand. Assisting your child with describing his experience and learning how to name emotions helps him to tolerate and effectively manage challenging feelings. Listening to your child’s feelings without judgement allows him to experience you as a resource for coping with any challenge that arises.

Summer Support

Summer’s a good time to get a little extra support for your learning disabled high schooler. In addition to therapy services, we can pair your teen with a college grad/ mentor who will steer your child toward college readiness. We’ll tailor our program to fit your child’s needs. Some services we offer include:

  • Academic tutoring
  • Help with organization and planning
  • Shoring up life skills and independence
  • Nutrition and exercise regimes

Call or email for more information: Julia@MilestoneMentoring.com  *  Julia Murphy (818) 388-1526

How Genes Unfold

“Genes are rarely about inevitability, especially when it comes to humans, the brain, or behavior. They’re about vulnerability, propensities, tendencies.”

-Robert M. Sapolsky, Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers

 

The ABCs of Learning Challenges (Part 1)

  • Most children with learning differences are affected by multiple challenges.
  • Learning challenges often surface when there is a mismatch between the child’s abilities and the demands of the environment. For example, an academic curriculum may be accelerated beyond the developmental level of the child (or many of the children) in a particular classroom.
  • People with verbal learning disabilities have difficulty with words, both spoken and written
  • People with non-verbal learning disabilities may have difficulty processing abstract concepts, abstract reasoning and conceptualizing concepts.
  • visual processing or perceptual disorder refers to a hindered ability to make sense of information taken in through the eyes.
  • An auditory processing disorder interferes with a person’s ability to make sense of information taken in through the ears.

(To be continued)

Poets Who Inspire: Mary Oliver

 

What follows is a moving poem by Mary Oliver called The Journey, which may be an inspiration to those of you facing a period of great change or difficult decision making.

The Journey

One day you finally knew

what you had to do, and began,

though the voices around you

kept shouting

their bad advice —

though the whole house

began to tremble

and you felt the old tug

at your ankles.

“Mend my life!”

each voice cried.

But you didn’t stop.

You knew what you had to do,

though the wind pried

with its stiff fingers

at the very foundations,

though their melancholy

was terrible.

It was already late

enough, and a wild night,

and the road full of fallen

branches and stones.

But little by little,

as you left their voices behind,

the stars began to burn

through the sheets of clouds,

and there was a new voice

which you slowly

recognized as your own,

that kept you company

as you strode deeper and deeper

into the world,

determined to do

the only thing you could do–

determined to save

the only life you could save.

(Mary Oliver)

Divorce Support Groups

We’ve added Divorce Support Groups to our menu of services. Led by Tara Boerner, LMFT and Julia Murphy, LMFT.

1. Begin Again: A Healing Group for Women

This group will meet Wednesdays 1-2:30 pm in our Tarzana offices. An initial assessment is required for admission.

2. Helping Teens Cope with Divorce

These groups will meet 1x/week for 1 1/2 hours in the afternoon or early evening. Members will be grouped separately according to age: 13-14, 15-17, 18+.

Contact: Julia Murphy, LMFT 818-388-1526 or Email: Info@MurphyPsychologyGroup.com

tara_058           Julia

Tara Boerner, LMFT             Julia Murphy, LMFT

 

Healthy Dependence vs. Enabling

“When am I helping my child too much and when should I step back?
“Am I enabling my  child by providing help with homework or other responsibilities?”

Parents, as well as teachers, often struggle with this conflict.  Understanding that children will do well if they can and that all children possess the natural human drive for mastery will help to resolve this conflict.  My advice to parents?  If your child is struggling, chances are demands are exceeding the capacities he possesses right now.  Work with him to complete certain tasks, rather than doing the work for him.  We all learn new tasks by watching others or by collaborating with someone who has more skill.  Why should this process be any different for learning new academic concepts or completing tough assignments?

The truth is, when you don’t provide support for tasks that are over your child’s head, you run the risk of disabling him.  If you insist your child complete his work independently when he is not ready developmentally, how is he going to make sense of this struggle? Most children will assume that if they are experiencing difficulty, something must be wrong with them.  This is not the belief parents want their children to internalize about themselves.  This belief not only undermines a child’s confidence in his ability to learn, but it also contributes to feelings of frustration, anxiety and discouragement, which further interfere with learning.

Healthy dependence promotes independence in children.  If we teach our children how to approach difficult tasks and guide them through the learning process, ultimately they will acquire the necessary skills and be able to do their work on their own.

Have you found ways to decide when to let your child learn on  their own and when to help them?

 

Managing Homework Challenges Workshop

November 6, 2013    Campbell Hall

Homework is an important topic on the minds of most parents today.  On November 6th,  I am looking forward to speaking to the parents of Campbell Hall, one of Los Angeles’ premier private, college preparatory schools for students K-12, located at 4533 Laurel Canyon Blvd., North Hollywood, CA 91607. I plan to share my insight and experience on the subject with more area schools.

Schools place a heavy emphasis on children completing homework independently.  While most of us would agree that this is a worthy objective, we might not all agree on just how to move children toward this goal.  Children have a natural drive for mastery over appropriate developmental tasks.  With mastery comes confidence that allows them to take on the next challenge.  However, when challenges confronting children exceed their developmental capacities, they become vulnerable to frustration, discouragement and potential failure, unless they receive some assistance to develop the skills they need to succeed.  Many kids experience these homework difficulties, especially when you consider the volume and complexity of the work they are expected to complete.

In this workshop, I will help parents:

  • understand the various reasons students struggle with homework
  • learn when and how to assist with homework
  • understand the difference between collaborating with a child and enabling him to be overly reliant on you
  • discuss strategies for setting up an effective homework structure
  • identify when tutoring support is needed