Scott is a 10 year old who is quite intelligent but who has had real difficulties regulating his emotions. The tiniest things can set him off, causing him to throw himself on the floor and let out piercing screams.
A fourth grader in an elementary school in Washington County, Scott has been working with Adrianne Walschinski, a child and family therapist with St. Aemilian-Lakeside’s School Based Services. The program provides therapeutic services in 40 schools in Ozaukee, Washington and Milwaukee Counties, helping kids like Scott who have emotional and behavioral difficulties. Therapists work in the schools with staff and meet with families in their homes to help children heal and to avoid more restrictive, and costly, mental health settings. Referrals come through the schools.
Although Adrianne has been working with Scott for more than a year, she recently did an assessment with what is called the neurosequential model of therapeutics, or NMT. This inventive therapeutic approach, which is based in neuroscience, assesses current functioning and produces a brain map that identifies a child’s strengths and deficiencies and recommends interventions to change behavior. Within a week everyone involved in Scott’s life saw a dramatic change.
“He is making remarkable progress, and I’m pretty excited about it; his teacher said he is doing really, really well,” Adrianne said. “His parents are also very excited and happy to see so much progress in such a short amount of a time.”
Adrianne started by doing a sensory checklist with Scott to identify activities he might like that are known to calm and soothe the lower-brain activity that spurs acting out and to regulate behavior. The rhythmic and repetitive activities included rocking in a rocker, running, going for a walk, and bouncing a ball.
Scott begins his day in a special education classroom before school starts to check in with his teacher and do a regulating activity before he goes to a regular classroom. Once there, if he feels uncomfortable or on the verge of an emotional meltdown, Scott will hold up a note card indicating he wants to return to the special ed room. That classroom has fewer children and offers a better setting for the activities he needs to calm himself.
Adrianne works with Scott’s special education teacher and school principal, teaching them about NMT and how they can help the boy promote self-regulation and strengthen the relationships that also are critical to success. Adrianne comes to the school once a week to support them in implementing successful strategies.
The goal is to have Scott engage in necessary activities multiple times a day so that he can stay regulated. The school has committed to doing a regulating activity with Scott every 30 minutes.
“Part of our role as therapists in a school setting is to create a perspective shift for the teachers, so they are not just reacting to behaviors but rather being proactive,” Adrianne said. “These kids are not being defiant, they are not choosing to misbehave; our job is to be detectives and figure out why.
“When teachers have an open mind to this new approach to therapy and are willing to work with us, we can make good progress …. Schools look to us to do the things they are not able to do, and we can be the bridge between school and home.”
Scott likes all the activities and recognizes when he is having good days. Adrianne hopes that Scott will be able to transition back to a regular class and progress through school with his peers.
“He can’t be an 18-year-old and have the meltdowns he’s been having,” Adrianne said. “He’s very sociable, he’s funny and he is very smart. He just really struggles. He’s definitely a work in progress, but it’s nice to see the great progress he is now making. Now I feel there is hope.”
To learn more about the School Based Services program, click here: http://www.st-al.org/services/school-based-services/