Friday, November 30, 2012

TIP of the WEEK: Hoarding

We know that once our kids do something that they find rewarding it is very difficult to get them to stop. Hoarding is one of those behaviors. The best way to handle hoarding behaviors is to stop them before they happen. If you see your child starting to collect certain items try to encourage them to diversify their interests. Our kids are more likely to find ways of releasing anxiety if they have a broad array of activities and less likely to seek stress reduction in the form of hoarding. For many children, hoarding equals safety. The more they have of their desired items, the more secure they feel. You will know if this behavior has become problematic if you see your child compulsively collecting items, stealing to obtain certain items or refusing to part with them.

Like other compulsive behaviors it is often unhelpful to nag or constantly ask for the behavior to stop, but there are some things that you can do.
  • Set a standard for cleanliness. Take a picture of their room in a tolerable condition, if the collection goes beyond what you consider acceptable then items need to be discarded or donated. Doing this allow for some collecting but the expectations are clear and predictable as to what you will allow and not allow.
  • Put it to good use. I have known individuals to make jobs out of their hoarding tendency. One woman collected coupons and made a job out of clipping and sorting for her neighbors. Another woman had a small business recycling cans and bottles.
  • Appeal to their sensitive side. Children will be more willing to part with their hoard if they know that it will be put to good use by people in need. Local libraries will usually accept donations of magazines, local shelters will take clothing, recycling centers will accept newspapers. Doing a good deed for the community or environment could be just the motivation needed to clear out collected items.
Hoarding takes on many forms but is almost always connected to a lack of control over ones life and a need to feel more secure. Look at what areas of your child's life could be lacking in these areas and you will be well on your way to getting a handle on this problematic behavior.

Submitted by:
Patrice Carroll

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Latham Centers: A Healing Destination. By Mark Freado, President, Reclaiming Youth International

Latham Centers is a nonprofit organization located on Cape Cod, in Brewster, Massachusetts. Latham is a residential school that provides therapeutic services for a challenging group of students. For the past five years, Latham Centers has been involved with Reclaiming Youth International to ensure the elements identified by the Circle of Courage® are addressed in its services. Serving children and young people between the ages of 8 and 22, the organization provides a therapeutic milieu and innovative interventions for a diverse set of challenges and needs.

Half of those served are diagnosed with a disorder called Prader-Willi Syndrome (PWS). PWS is a complex genetic condition that manifests with severe, idiosyncratic symptoms, including insatiable appetite, which poses significant threat to well-being and can even result in death. The remainder of the students in the organization are those identified with cognitive delays and psychiatric problems, including bi-polar disorder, reactive attachment disorder, Asperger’s Syndrome and autism. Many of these students lives have also been complicated by abuse and neglect, resulting in severe behavioral and emotional problems. Latham Centers works with students who have not succeeded in a variety of other settings, which means that in addition to other challenges, these young people have also been displaced numerous times on the way to this program.

Tim Vaughan, residential director of Latham Centers is a certified Response Ability Pathways™ (RAP) trainer. The organization obtained a grant and over the past three years have had RYI RAP trainer team members on site to provide RAP training and support the organization’s effort to help permeate Circle of Courage® thinking throughout the programs. Lisa Shepard provided the initial work there by providing training in a cooperative effort between Latham Centers and the RFK Children’s Action Corp. I have visited Latham Centers on two occasions in the past two years to provide RAP training and consultation. Another session is scheduled for February 2013. We have worked with administrative, clinical, educational, and direct service staff members in these training experiences.

During my previous visits, I have had the opportunity to spend time in the program to talk with staff and students about the therapeutic experience that is the Latham Centers residential treatment program in Brewster, MA. Among the first impressions are the obvious commitment of the staff members I talk with, the smiles and courtesy of the students, and the abundant presence of elements of the Circle of Courage®. The organization has purchased dozens of Circle of Courage® posters from the RYI bookstore that adorn offices, hallways and residences. Bulletin boards are filled with lessons and student renditions of the meaning of belonging, mastery, independence and generosity. Elsewhere there are photographs of staff and students experiencing the joy of learning by doing activities and adventures together. Cape Cod is known throughout the world as a vacation destination on the Atlantic Ocean with sand dunes, lighthouses, and maritime history. In the middle of all of that, there is a campus where young people with significant challenges reside and are surrounded by very committed, well-trained and supported staff that makes this part of Cape Cod a healing destination.

Click HERE to be taken to the Reclaiming Youth International website

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

A Perspective on Educational Options

I spent last week in Atlanta at a very interesting conference sponsored by the IECA, the Independent Educational Consultants Association ( Ed consultants are professionals who assist families in finding the right fit for their child’s educational needs. Whether it is a short-term or long-term issue facing the family, these remarkable people scour the country looking for the best programs working with youth today.

Latham School, a member of the ISPA (, the Independent Small Program Alliance, was exhibiting there and I met many other programs who represent the therapeutic, boarding, wilderness and specialized school options around the country. I learned quite a lot about programs I was unfamiliar with. I learned that Utah has more wilderness programs than I believed existed in the entire United States.  I learned that internet addiction/gambling is a serious problem for teens and that there is a program in Seattle designed solely for the treatment of that. I learned that Atlanta has the Ron Clark Academy and that I want the opportunity to go there! I learned so much about the options available to children around the country and the role Latham plays in offering outstanding opportunities to students struggling in traditional settings. I learned that Prader Willi Syndrome is still “unknown” to many and that we need to keep educating the professionals about it.

At the end of the week, I knew something that I brought with me to Atlanta still rang true: Latham School is a program of excellence and I was proud to represent it!

Submitted by:
Chris Gallant

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Making Change and the Circle of Courage

Is it possible to blend a token economy system and the Circle of Courage?  They seem at polar opposites, and yet…consider this. In the Long Pond Classroom, as part of the school-wide token economy system, we pay coins, plastic versions of US money, for participation points as we go along. We try to pay at the end of each class, which allows for two outcomes.
  • 1. Students get immediate feedback about the quality of their participation, and 
  • 2. Students amass lots of change which then needs to be converted into look-alike dollars to spend at the school store.  
This method of payment leads students to Mastery over their behavior and being able to earn participation points, as well as Mastery in math skills, being able to identify and count coins to change into dollars.  Once the money has been paid to students, it becomes their responsibility to keep track of it.  It is their job to put their money in their money pouches inside their 3-ring binders in their desks. Staff does not repay if the money is lost. At the beginning or end of the day, during home room, students can make change for higher value coins or bills.  This encourages students to be independent and take charge of their own money.  Students are also able to save toward certain desired and more expensive items, like DVDs or MP3 players.

Generosity comes in because the students have money to give to others when they are moved to do so.  It has happened a number of times that a student is short a few dollars for something they have saved for over a period of time, and the other students in the class have all chipped in so that student has the money needed to make the purchase.  Individual students have also generously offered other students money to help them buy certain items from the school store.  Their generosity comes from a sense of belonging in the Long Pond Classroom and caring about the other students in the class.  The students’ generosity stretches beyond the money to the desire to help their classmates, especially wanting to encourage peers experiencing behavioral challenges. 

So, we find that a token economy system can be applied addressing the four growth areas in the Circle of Courage: Mastery, Independence, Generosity, and Belonging.

Submitted by:
Suzanne Requa-Trautz   

"When we give cheerfully and accept gratefully, everyone is blessed."
~Maya Angelou

Friday, November 16, 2012

TIP of the WEEK: It's Not Just About the Calories

Many of you have asked that I talk in greater detail about getting through the holidays, specifically about how to explain to family members (grandparents in particular) about their child's diet. How many of you have heard the following- "It's only one cookie",  "It's a special day", "He's thin", "You don't need to worry about his diet anymore", "You're being too strict", "Just this once."

Grandparents want to spoil their grandchildren and in many cases that includes food. Not giving their grandchild special treats goes against their nature, especially when that child is saying that they're hungry. Will one extra piece of cake ruin their diet and make them gain 5 pounds? Probably not but it's not just about the calories. We have an obligation to create an environment for our kids where they can thrive and that includes managing their expectations regarding food. When our kids know what they are going to eat, how much and when, they can relax, they can focus on the rest of their lives. When extra, unexpected food is introduced they feel anxious, stressed and out of control. Giving a child or adult with PWS more than what they were told that they would get creates anxiety and anxiety leads to unwanted behaviors. You are no longer grandma or grandpa, you are a food source because you created an expectation. You want your grandchild to want to see you for your love and comfort, not because you might slip them some treats that they shouldn't have. Spoil them every time you see them, with presents and hugs and your company, not with food. If for no other reason than the more secure their minds are about what they are going to eat, the better behaved they will be. "Just this once" hurts them. It makes them feel unsafe and anxious and that is the last thing that you want your grandchild to feel about you. And if you think that this isn't fair, you're right. It's not fair that they can't have what the other kids have and that we have to be so careful about what we give them, but it is our reality and sticking to it will make your grandchild and your whole family better for it.

Submitted by:
Patrice Carroll
Manager of PWS Services

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Health Education News

The school year is off to a great start and the students at Latham are deeply engaged in all aspects of the curriculum. In addition to the standard academic courses such as Reading, Math and Social Studies, Latham School recognizes the unique needs of our students and places importance on offering comprehensive Health Education as a part of the curriculum each year for all students. 

Our students deal with various health challenges on a daily basis, and face many potential health problems in the future. By providing an opportunity for learning on a regular basis, Latham seeks to help to build fundamental health knowledge and skills that are essential in reducing risk behavior and increasing healthy habits that promote a lifetime of overall wellness. Latham’s comprehensive and sequential health curriculum is designed specifically around the complex special needs of our students, including Prader-Willi Syndrome. By tailoring our Health Education to address both the needs of our students and the state curriculum standards, students at Latham are able to continuously build awareness of the various aspects of healthy living. As students progress through the program and transition to new classrooms, the health curriculum offers new perspectives on health related topics to ensure students have the skills they will need to make healthy choices as they enter adulthood.

The four Curriculum Framework Strands that make up the core part of the program are as follows:
  • Physical Health
  • Social & Emotional Health
  • Safety & Prevention
  • Personal & Community Health Information
During the first term thus far, each class has focused on various aspects of Human Growth & Development, building on their understanding of body systems and how both healthy and unhealthy choices may affect those systems. Some classes took an inside tour of the body, while others experienced what it would be like to have certain disabilities or medical challenges through hands-on experiments.  These activities helped students relate to others in their community and allowed them to experience first-hand how the body might feel if it was affected, which can often be hard to imagine for students that have difficulty with abstract ideas.

For the rest of this term, our students will be engaging in a unit on Nutrition, one of the most important topics for both our students and our country today.  In addition to the serious health implications that improper nutrition can have on our students with Prader-Willi Syndrome, across the country nearly one-third of children are considered obese or overweight. It is important that all students understand the health consequences of obesity, including chronic diseases, and have the information and skills they need to make healthy eating choices.

I look forward to sharing more updates with you as we progress through the year!

Mary Ware
Physical Education & Health Teacher

Monday, November 12, 2012

In Honor of Veterans

I travel a lot. Normally, I am heading to places I love to visit-- warm, sunny locales or exciting cities of historic proportions.  Sometimes it is a vacation, often it is in my role as a representative of this agency. Last month, I did something different. I had the opportunity to visit Flanders, specifically Ypres, Belgium and the Normandy Landing Beaches in France. The weather was appropriately miserable-- wet, cold and windy.  And the mud!  It struck me then that I was embarking on a journey to pay my respects to men and women who did not survive the battles of the World Wars. They did not return to their community to be welcomed home by families, hug their children, kiss their parents, joke with their siblings or grow old with their spouses. The cemeteries of stark, white stones, many marked as unknown, stretched off in precise lines in all directions. I thought to myself, each of these was someone’s child. And I wept. 

I know every day a parent in the armed forces has to leave their family for their next assignment. I know that places a huge burden on the parent, grandparent or caregiver left behind.  So thank you, all of you. You deserve so much more than one day in November in your honor.

Submitted by:
Chris Gallant

In Flanders Fields
by John McCrae, May 1915
In Flanders fields the poppies blow

Between the crosses, row on row,

That mark our place; and in the sky

The larks, still bravely singing, fly

Scarce heard amid the guns below.
We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, 
felt dawn, saw sunset glow,

Loved and were loved, and now we lie

In Flanders fields.
Take up our quarrel with the foe:

To you from failing hands we throw

The torch; be yours to hold it high.

If ye break faith with us who die

We shall not sleep, though poppies grow

In Flanders fields.

Friday, November 9, 2012

TIP of the WEEK: Surviving the Holidays

That time is upon us, the time of family gatherings, television commercials promising us that the gifts we buy will equal eternal happiness and, of course, endless amounts of food. So how do we get through the next few months and maybe even manage to enjoy yourself?

  • 1. Do your homework. If you are going to a holiday party, find out what food will be there and ask if it can all be kept in one room. If the host is not willing or able to do that, stay home. Give yourself permission to say no. If staying home will cause the family equivalent of world war 3 then arrange for your child to come for a short period and then go home with another family member or caregiver.
  • 2. Assign one person at a time to watch your child at all non-routine events. It is a well known saying that if everyone is watching then no one is watching.
  • 3. Keep routines the same as much as possible. Choose one event for the season. More is not better and everyone will have a more enjoyable holiday season if routines are kept and days are predictable.
  • 4. Take time for yourself. You set the tone and your stress level will make or break the day. As hard as it may be, ask for help from friends and family members. Even if it is simply to have someone watch your child while you take a bath or wrap presents or spend an hour doing nothing at all.

We all experience stress during the holidays and the excess amounts of food and disruption of routines make it that much more difficult for PWS families. Planning ahead and giving yourself time to relax will help you and your family have the holiday that you deserve.

Submitted by:
Patrice Carroll
Manager of PWS Services

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Social Media and the Sandy

Facebook. Twitter. Texting.  Must I know what you are doing every moment of the day? That’s been my complaint—I just don’t need to know all of this and frankly, I don’t want to. But given the storm named Sandy that just paid us a short (thankfully for us) visit, I truly am grateful to know how people are doing who had a more direct interaction with Mother Nature. 

Thank you to neighbors, friends, relatives, first responders and yes, even strangers  who took a moment to pass along information on those stranded or frightened. One only has to look at the photos of NJ or NY to know that this was a storm of historic proportions. The posts, tweets and messages are getting through in ways that phone calling or driving there can’t.  Thank you for finding a way to use social media responsibly, creatively and heroically!

~Chris Gallant

Monday, November 5, 2012

Leadership: Theme at Latham School 2012-13

In addition to the work teachers at Latham School do every day with their students in the classroom, this year teachers are being recognized for their leadership skills to help solve challenges that often go beyond their everyday lessons. This includes helping to create a culture of care built on connections, where students experience school not only as a place to learn and feel safe, but also to care about themselves and each other.  Staff and students work together as part of an exciting learning community.

Each week at the faculty meeting, staff members are recognized by the administration and their peers for demonstrating leadership skills. In the past few weeks, Suzzane Requa-Tratz , Brittni Taylor and Katie O’Hara were honored.

Suzanne Requa-Traut is our math teacher and has made an outstanding effort during the start of the school year as she helped to write and participate in a number of the quarterly and IEP meetings. She also has developed an exciting math program where students experience all the ways math is around us every day. Students now think math is cool! Suzanne is true team player and has been willing to help out in any way that allows students to achieve success! Thanks Suzanne!

Brittni Taylor is the Marconi classroom teacher. She is one of the best and always finds a way to make learning fun and exciting! Ask her students and you soon find out learning is one great adventure! In addition her role as a teacher, Brittni recently presented at a meeting regarding the progress of her students. She effectively helped to deepen the understanding of how to best meet the educational, behavioral and social needs in the classroom. She summarized complex information in front of numerous service providers who were from many different disciplines. Thanks Brittni! We are so glad you are a Latham teacher!

Katie O’Hara was also recognized by her peers and the school administration for her outstanding efforts to help students achieve success. She not only continues to develop and teach exciting lessons in the classroom each day, but is willing to find solutions regarding all the challenges we face as a school community. This has included encouraging other teachers and staff to talk together as peers and help each other find positive solutions to any challenge. After school, Katie’s positive energy goes beyond the classroom walls as she initiated and developed an exciting fall biking club with the help of Mary Ware and other staff. Thanks Katie for being a great teacher and person to all!

"Light tomorrow with today."
~Elizabeth Barrett Browning

Friday, November 2, 2012

TIP of the WEEK: Students Helping Students Understand PWS

We had our first meeting last week of a new group facilitated by myself and our assistant principal and what happened next exceeded my wildest expectations. Kids were talking to each other about their behaviors and explaining to staff that " my mind gets stuck and that's why I'm having a hard time listening to you right now". I couldn't believe the wonderful things that I was hearing! One young man, did an impromptu training of his own in front of the entire class. He explained the syndrome in the way that he understands it and even wrote notes on the board. It goes to show that when we raise our expectations, more often than not, they step up to meet them. It is an honor to be a part of "What is PWS?". Stay tuned for more updates about this amazing group.

Submitted by:
Patrice Carroll
Manager of PWS Services