Pat and Jerry have been seeking outside support for their son, Peter, since he began the educational system. With a diagnosis of ADHD and learning challenges in 2nd grade and oppositional defiance by 7th grade, school became a perfect place for Peter to use his bully protection to avoid the pain of academic failure. In other words, if he got into trouble with his behavior, others might not notice that he had no idea what was being asked of him academically or socially. Peter bullied others to avoid feeling discarded. “I like my anger, because others won’t mess with me.”
Peter’s parents were strongly committed to doing whatever they could to help Peter feel better about himself. Education was easy for them and their older daughter, so they did what they knew best, work hard to increase his academic skills and he will feel better about himself. The harder the work the more his behavior spiraled down. So Peter and his parent’s began seeking outside support at an early age; outside testing, reading programs, tutoring programs, swimming and karate programs…yet the further along he progressed in the school system the less he believed in his ability to succeed. A high spirited student prefers to act out in school than to have his academic challenges be discovered, especially by peers.
Peter tried to bully his parents so “they would not send me away”.
When Peter and his parents came to Feeling Whole Counseling Services at age 13, (grade 7) his reading skills ranged from 2nd to 4th grade level. He was personally escorted to and from class to avoid problems in the unstructured time. At home Peter lost more privileges than his parents could keep track of, and our receptionist was assigned the job of keeping Peter from invading other’s personal space in the waiting room. Peter tried to bully his parents so “they would not send me away”. He seemed a perfect fit for Play Attention’s key elements: attention stamina, cognitive skill building, and especially behavioral shaping.
Peter’s parents were once again willing to try another program. We began the Play Attention program in the spring before high school, one day a week. Peter was assigned placement in the self contained behavior classroom in high school after more bullying behavior in summer school.
“Don’t try to believe in me, it won’t work!”
High school was a big adjustment for a “tough guy” who did not get along with others. Despite his challenging attitude both of Peter’s parents always came to the office for his sessions, which in therapy is unique. This gave us the opportunity to have Peter share his progress with them after each session. This was very hard for Peter to do; he was used to negative not positive attention. Beginner “on task” percentages ranged in the low 40%’s. Even minor noise distracted him and he would lose focus; the pencil sound of my writing notes, the air conditioner clicking on, the calming water fountain. It was becoming clearer why focus was so impossible for him in the classroom. No one was aware of how disruptive noise was to Peter’s concentration until the Play Attention program. The program is designed to encourage while building on successes and limiting frustrations. Peter was often prompted by me to believe in himself, to which he would respond empathetically, “Don’t try to believe in me, it won’t work!”
After his summer school experience, we shifted the Play Attention program to 2 times a week as recommended. This is where the growth began. Peter was experiencing some of his first successful scores in all of his school years. He was excited to do well and would even request to redo games to get an even higher attention score or to just experience that good feeling again.
During freshman year, notes were sent to his teachers about his progress and the valuable self awareness questions that came from the “Log Out”; “what did you learn and what are you proud of.” At school meetings, we would print the graphs of progress in all five focus areas. It was often the only area that was showing progress in that first year. Until we began to hear at meeting s that Peter’s attention was improving. Peter’s high school Behavior Classroom teacher, Mr. Joe C., was supportive of acknowledging Peter’s growth in Play Attention. The greatest success involves support from multiple areas; parents, school, outside support and Play attention allowed Peter to see a direct correlation between his efforts and his progress for the first time in his life. By the middle of his second year in high school Peter was completing Play Attention and was being graduated out of the self contained behavior classroom.
“I am ready to work a job this summer!”
Successful completion of the program, found Peter getting 80-100% on task scores on all games. Recent MAP scores (Measures of Academic Progress) showed increase in reading comprehension by 10 points, essay composition by 18 points, math reasoning by 14 points and math operations by 17 points. Comments from recent school review (IEP) Peter is less impulsive, has had no discipline referrals for 3 semesters (1 ½ school years), fits in with peers, has developed friendships, is respectful in group interactions and with staff, “everything has been on an upturn!” His case manager, Mr C. said, “Peter has shown great improvement in his ability and willingness to appropriately interact with others. Over time, he has allowed others the privilege to get to know the real Peter rather than the lesser person he portrayed himself to be. He has grown to appreciate and have faith in himself, which has allowed others to do so as well. You have made a great impact on Peter and he is better for it.”
And the best comments were what Peter had to say about himself; “I am controlling myself better, talking and interacting in class more and getting along with peers better too, I am ready to work a job this summer!”
Peter now uses Play Attention on rare occasions to remind him of his success. The program states that the results are permanent if you complete the whole program, well that is for real. For the past year and a half, whenever Peter used the program for reassurance, he excelled! His time on task remains in the 80-100% range. He has maintained the brain muscles (expanded neural networks) that he worked hard to build up. Peter is reminded by me that he was worth believing in! He no longer disagrees with me, but just smiles with pride.
Gay Russell, LCSW