Taking the mystery out of treatment for those who don't fit the mold

By Betsy Grigoriu, PhD

My passion is helping children, adolescents and young adults who do not fit the mold. They are the ones who are often misunderstood and, as a result, do not receive the kind of support they need. They may be noticeably different from other family members, in the classroom or in social situations. Frequently, parents of these children do not know what to do to help them get along better in everyday living and to be happy in life. Teachers are at a loss to know how to instruct and interact with these students who require a lot of attention and time.

My specialty is working with parents who have children with one or more of the following characteristics:

In a broad sense, these children, adolescents and young adults are described as having developmental challenges. That is, there are significant challenges socially, behaviorally and communicatively that impact the way they perceive and interact with the world around them; the way they manage feelings and emotions; and the way they can interact within and among various contexts.

Cognitively, they can be rigid, have black or white thinking and difficulty seeing the bigger picture. Emotionally, they can be depressed, anxious and/or have meltdowns when they are overwhelmed. Socially, they can be on the outer ring of social circles. They want to be part of the inner ring but do not know how to join in. They haven’t been successful in the past and can’t figure out how to be successful on their own.

Due to these significant limitations, they can be exasperating to take care of and exhausting to work with. Thankfully, they can also have a unique humor or way of interpreting the world around them. A big part of what I provide is to figure out what they are good at and have a knack for, so that parents and teachers can leverage or capitalize on those strengths and help these children get more recognition for what they do well.

My clients come to me with or without a diagnosis or may have been misdiagnosed. Whatever the reason, it is clear that they are in my office because things are not working at home, at school, on teams, after school activities or on a job.

In our firm, I am the consultant referred to as “the one who gets these clients.” I have a sixth sense or intuitiveness in recognizing and interpreting what behaviors, appearances and presentation mean along with using my formal education and practical training as a psychologist and educator.

My work is gathering all the pieces of a unique and special puzzle in order to figure out how they fit together. I do this through a deliberate process of data gathering and analysis to determine the kind of environment in which a client is most likely to thrive given his/her special needs.

Many times living at home, going to a local school, attending therapeutic sessions with a professional, participating in group trainings or activities are not enough, because it is difficult, if not impossible, to provide the structure and consistency across venues that these children require to learn adaptive real-life skills. Because of this a residential setting may be necessary to provide all services under one roof with a team and integrated services.

There are viable options where these individuals can learn, grow, feel good about themselves and establish healthier, meaningful relationships. There is no one-size-fits-all school or program. Recommending a boiler-plate of options or a single modality of treatment is not possible and is actually professionally irresponsible. Most of the clients with whom I work finally have successful experiences and go on to live independently. But, of course, success is not a given or a guarantee. Success depends on the goodness of fit, the child’s capabilities and abilities to take advantage of the learning opportunities afforded him/her in a private program and a family’s willingness and expectation for changing patterns of interaction that keep everyone stuck.

The private schools/programs that I refer to are usually small (15-100 students); they target a specific constellation of developmental traits and characteristics; and they have well-credentialed staff and savvy clinicians who work with this population. Facilities are located throughout the United States.

I have tremendous respect for parents, educators and mental health professionals who are parenting, instructing and treating these children. Their jobs are not easy and they deserve the recognition and support they need to do a tough job. That’s what I do because I have a passion for these special clients. The most rewarding part of my job is hearing from parents that their child is thriving, perhaps for the first time in his/her life.

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