Letter from Dr. Gordon
Dear Parents and Friends,
With so much fear, anxiety, frustration and the challenges of accurate diagnostics with our student population, I thought it was important for me to answer some questions and explain why I created Seven Stars, for students struggling neurodevelopmental issues including autism and aspergers, executive function deficits (ADHD/ADD) and learning disorders (language-based and nonverbal).
Often, Seven Stars clients have done well in elementary school. They learned vocabulary early and show great retention, but seemed stilted in their social communication. They were often seen by their parents and teachers as the “little genius” in preschool and elementary years. However, as language demands become more complex, students struggle with more complex language and the nuances of verbal and nonverbal communication.
Then at some point in middle school, the demands of the classroom and the social environment start to exceed their abilities. Parents watch with understandable concern as their child seems stuck and might even be regressing or drawing inward. Their world seems to get smaller, at a time when it should be getting bigger.
Many of our students are beginning to fall behind in their academic studies. At Seven Stars, we provide academic assessment testing throughout Stabilization and II. We will meet your child on his or her level, and work to create an individualized academic learning plan.
Learning Disorders, Social Awareness Issues and Shades of Grey in Academics
Academic demands progress from memorization of facts and skills (something they are very good at) to more of a production demand and “shades of gray.” Students are expected to solve more complex problems, seek out answers, write reports and produce outcomes with more vague rules and structure.
As a result, these formerly successful students start falling behind. They are developing some social awareness and become aware that instead of being the smartest kid in class, they are lost socially, emotionally and academically.
Maybe their peers start avoiding or even teasing them about potential learning disorders. The child starts thinking things, such as “I’m smarter than this. Why is this so hard?” Anxiety and mood disorders start developing. They start avoiding school, schoolwork and challenging or unfamiliar situations. They lose friends as their friends move on to others. Watching this process unfold as a parent obviously terrifying.
“What is going on? Why are they struggling? What can I do to help?”
Conflicting and Confusing Diagnoses
Well-meaning professionals might try to help and offer suggestions, such as various learning disorders. Teachers might start expressing concern and make referrals for the IEP process. You start hearing statements like “she is emotionally disturbed,” “I think he is on the spectrum,” “I think she is bipolar” or “I think he has ADHD.” Sometimes when there have been traumatic events or the students have been adopted, statements like “attachment disorder” or “PTSD” are used.
The pediatrician or the psychiatrist might diagnose ADHD and prescribe stimulants; or diagnose depression or anxiety and prescribe SSRIs; or diagnose mood disorder or bipolar disorder and prescribe mood stabilizers.
If the student starts acting out in more aggressive ways, they might be labeled as oppositional defiant, intermittent explosive disorder, tic disorder or epilepsy. Mood stabilizers and other strong psychiatric medications are prescribed. At some point, medication “cocktails” might be tried. Sometimes the student feels over-medicated and seems sedated and even more disconnected.
Clearly, it is easy to see how parents and their child feel overwhelmed and discouraged.
Help for You and Your Child
Needless to say, the families who come to Seven Stars have been through a lot. They have seen many competent professionals, but the right combination of solutions has not been found. That is not a criticism of professionals, but really a reflection of how very complicated the challenges are that these families and students face.
What is needed is a more comprehensive understanding of the particular strengths and weaknesses of each child, struggling with learning disorders, executive function disorders and/or on the autism spectrum. This is often not possible through outpatient providers and disconnected professionals. Each professional sees the child through their own lens; in their office and in isolation from the rest of life.
What is needed is an intense, 24/7, multidisciplinary and united approach to understanding what is going on. Comprehensive observation and assessment within a variety of contexts and challenges is necessary. Each student is an individual with unique strengths and weaknesses. Until we understand those unique strengths and needs, the frustration and concern continues to build.
What is needed is a program like Seven Stars
By this time, the parents of Seven Stars’ students are savvy consumers of mental health and medical health care. They might be skeptical because of the disappointment and frustration they have experienced. They have heard all of the diagnoses but no one has been able to make it make sense to them yet. Our parents might be skeptical about diagnosis and it’s relative importance. They just want someone to truly take the time to get to know their child and provide them with clear recommendations and a coherent strategy for treatment.
Parents wrestle with their own fear and even denial. They might worry that their expectations for their child need to change. They are fearful for their child’s future.
Give us a call
Whether diagnosed to date with learning disorders, executive function disorders and/or on the autism spectrum, get to know Seven Stars. Ask lots of questions. Check us out. See if we might be a good option for your child.
At Seven Stars, our mission is to treat each student individually. To get to know them. To provide as much clarity and understanding as we can for each child’s difficulties and disorders – learning disorders, executive function disorders and/or on the autism spectrum. We believe our students are struggling because they are falling behind and lagging in life skills. We believe our students will benefit most from a supportive, encouraging, skill-building approach. We focus on identifying and utilizing strengths to overcome and work around weaknesses and needs.
We think you will see that we are open-minded and we are focused on understanding each child as a whole human being. So while diagnostic clarification is an important part of what we do, it is only part.
We focus on understanding the whole child, doing very sophisticated formal assessments and very dynamic “functional” assessment. This functional assessment involves observation in a variety of contexts and challenges so we can see how each student responds to academic, social, classroom, physical, emotional and behavioral challenges.
As I tell this story — a manifesto as a colleague has joked — I often find parents nodding their heads and saying “Yes, that is my child.” I understand the sense of relief parents feel which replaces their fear and frustration. You are not alone. We are here to help your child. And your family.
Thanks for your interest. I hope to hear from you soon to help your family put a plan in place.
Dr. Gordon L. Day