Elise Scribner: A Survivor’s Story

Elise Scribner wilderness therapist reflecting on her her experiences after overcoming brain cancer.
Wilderness therapist Elise Scribner shares her story.

In 2016, Elise Scribner was a vibrant woman in her mid-twenties. She worked as a field guide at Aspiro and excelled due to her innate ability to connect with the students. Her long-time co-guide put it best:

“It’s been years since I worked with Elise out in the wilds of Utah, and my memories are less about her as a guide and more about her as a friend. At the beginning of our first shift together I was intrigued by her focus and how she didn’t miss a thing. It was her humor that won me over and how she lived unapologetically as herself. That first week together, even though she was a relatively new guide and myself the more experienced one, she pushed me and challenged me to try new approaches and to connect with the boys in new ways. I can honestly say that she brought out the best in me as a guide and that I remember those weeks fondly. Elise recognized in these boys the longing for connection and the desire to be challenged in the rugged landscape. She would come to work prepared with essays and short stories she had found to give the boys some food for thought. Elise commanded respect from these boys while also being someone they could approach at any moment and feel safe to open up to. The enrichment she brought to the culture of this group of boys and her impact on them cannot be overstated."

Jon Hogan
Elise Scribner wilderness therapist prior to her experiences fighting cancer.

Elise’s future was bright and full of plans. Her next adventure was going to be attending graduate school. After that, her dream was to become a therapist at Aspiro and influence adolescent and young adult lives through wilderness therapy.

However, all this was put on hold when she experienced an unexpected grand mal seizure and found herself in a hospital bed. This was a shock; Elise was the picture of health. She was young, active, and lived a balanced lifestyle. Unfortunately, a follow-up MRI revealed that a malignant brain tumor had caused Elise’s seizure. She learned then that she had brain cancer. This diagnosis revealed just how much her life was going to change from this point forward.

As this news sunk in, Elise reflected on the idea of radical acceptance and the power of personal choice, concepts that she used to help Aspiro students. She recalled talking with a particular student during a difficult day of backpacking. He was angry about the situation that he was in and couldn’t let go of his resistance to engage in his own healing. She encouraged him to try to accept the things that he could not change and instead start looking for what he could gain from the experience. She hinted that through acceptance, he might even find some beauty or joy in his situation. Now, as Elise began to comprehend the wholeness of her new situation, she figured that she should take her own advice. She had cancer. She knew it would be a long journey to recovery. At this point, she resolved to accept her circumstances and to fight like hell to overcome them.

Elise returned to Portland, Oregon, for treatment and to be with her family. She underwent several functional MRIs to prepare her medical team for the nine-hour brain surgery to remove the tumor. On January 24th, 2017, Elise woke up in the ICU, after surgery. Her first thought was that she needed to write a haiku. Needless to say, the surgery was a success! Unfortunately, this was still not the end of her battle. The type of cancer that Elise had was fighting back. With a strong community of friends and family by her side, Elise started chemotherapy. She had to slowly mourn the loss of the healthy body she once had that allowed her to lead the strongest groups of students on the trail. The radiation process was hard on Elise. She knew she needed radiation, but she wanted to turn and run away every time she walked into the treatment room because her body knew it was toxic. Elise also experienced a great number of unexpected seizures during the three years following her surgery.

Throughout chemotherapy and radiation therapy, Elise was so grateful for her family and friends. They were an excellent support network. They developed fun routines and encouraged her to get out and still experience the world. Elise also spent a lot of time reading to pass the time. Despite her illness, Elise never lost sight of her goal of becoming a therapist. She read books on trauma and other therapeutic concepts as a way to keep moving towards her goal.

Elise now reflects on how radical acceptance helped her through all of these treatments and experiences. She saw many others like herself in treatment asking, “Why me?” She realized that focusing on this question only kept people in a suffering mindset and decided to spend her energy on moving forward instead. Elise is now a cancer survivor. She “fought like hell’ and overcame what seemed like an eternal battle. Being the tenacious person she is, Elise attended graduate school as soon as possible and graduated from Portland State University in 2020 with her Masters of Social Work. Almost exactly four years later, she fulfilled her dream of being a therapist at Aspiro.

While working as a guide, Elise had incredible insight as well as a unique ability to get clients to open up to her, and the team knew she would be a good therapist. Her experience fighting off cancer has given her further perspective and Elise believes it makes her an even better therapist, giving her a greater appreciation for life, an ability to focus on gratitude, plus a great deal of determination and grit. Her journey of personal discovery through illness has allowed her to deeply connect with students who might struggle with their own experiences of suffering.

There is no doubt that Elise will change lives throughout her career, and we are fortunate to have her here at Aspiro. To learn more about Elise click the button below.

Risky Behavior in Teens: What Parents Should Know

Risky Behavior in Teens | Aspiro Wilderness Adventure Therapy

Have you ever woken up late at night to discover your teenager missing? Have you ever found yourself digging through your teens’ web of lies? Has your teenager run away for several days at a time? You are not alone if you have experienced any of these things, or maybe just something similar. Unfortunately, risky behavior in teens is not uncommon. You might have even done something similar in your younger years. Now though, as a parent, you recognize the stress and anguish that comes with not knowing that your teenager is safe. Unfortunately, it can be hard to know what to do in these situations. This article will walk you through what to do about your teens’ risky behavior.

Table of Contents: 

Why Teens Engage in Risky Behavior

The teenage years can be challenging. They are often marked with the challenges of fitting in, making mistakes, and carving a new path for themselves. These years are all about identity development and testing one’s newfound freedoms. One of the ways that this manifests is that teens often crave new experiences and can be thrill-seekers. As a result, most teens find themselves making hard choices when it comes to risky behavior. Results of an international study of teens from 11 countries found that adolescent risk-taking increased to a peak at about age 19. After 19, risk-taking behaviors gradually decreased through people’s mid-late 20s. The good news is that risk-taking is a “phase” for most teens. Let’s explore the reasons why this is the case.

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Developmental Stage

​​Have you ever asked your teenager what you were thinking? Well, there is an explanation,at least for some of their bad decisions. Researchers found that parts of the teenage brain that drive impulse control and planning don’t fully develop until around 25.

The difference in brain development can sometimes be to blame for teens making quick decisions. Often without considering the consequences. Impulse control and planning issues can explain teens’ affinity towards risky behaviors. When talking about risky decision making and teens it is also important to bring up how peer pressure influences teens.

The Impact of Peer Pressure

If you think back to high school, what group were you in? It seems like every school (and 90s rom-com) had the classic social groups. You know, the jocks, hippies, stoners, nerds, etc. Social groups mean a lot to teens and help them figure out how they fit into the world. This is all a part of healthy development but can be problematic when peers influence risky behaviors. This can be especially true when high risk behavior is glorified on social media platforms and popular shows.

When teens engage in risky behavior, they might even get attention and positive feedback from their friends. Research has shown that the presence of peers can increase people’s willingness to engage in risky behaviors. Furthermore, it showed that this was especially true among boys, which is not too surprising. Teens desperately want to be accepted by their peers. As a result, they can feel pressure to make risky decisions based on that acceptance, even short-lived. While this seems like common sense, scientific research backs it up.

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What is the Difference Between Healthy and Unhealthy Risk-Taking?

It is normal for teens to take some risks, hence why car insurance is so expensive for a teen. They will often test any boundary that is set before them. One-time risks like skipping class to hang out with their friends. Or cheating on a test can be harmful but are not all that concerning in the grand scheme of things.

When your teen is engaging in risks that endanger themselves or others, damage relationships or threaten future opportunities, the consequences get more serious.

Dangers of Risky Behavior

Teens will often engage in risky behavior while having only a vague idea of consequences. Often, they may not understand the gravity of the situation. Like how sneaking into their parent’s liquor cabinet with their friends can lead to an emergency room visit. Teens engage in risky behaviors and often risk their physical and mental health. In addition, risky behaviors can be a slippery slope. They can snowball into other issues, like drug experimentation leading to an addiction.

Examples of Dangerous Risky Behavior in Teenagers

What are you thinking about when you tell your kids to be safe and make good decisions? Let’s get into the details about some of the risk-taking behavior that may have come to mind.

  • Impulsivity
  • Substance Abuse and Addiction
  • Alcohol and Drug
  • Experimentation
  • Reckless Driving
  • Vaping or Smoking
  • Alcohol
  • Sexting
  • Violence
  • Dating Violence
  • Self-harm
  • Social Media
  • Cyberbullying
  • Preventable Injury
  • Running Away
  • Illegal Activities
  • Risky Sexual Behaviors
  • Unhealthy Dietary Behaviors
  • Technology Addiction or Process Addiction

Teenagers can quickly get in over their heads with any of the risky behaviors above. Let’s go into more detail to learn more about each of these categories.

Impulsivity

Teens are known for their impulsive natures. The areas of the brain that control impulsivity and decision-making do not fully develop until someone is around 25. For example, teenagers who are criminals are less likely than adults to be repeat offenders. As teens age, they are able to control their impulses better. Research has also identified that teens are more likely to be influenced by their social surroundings than children or adults. Therefore they are more likely to participate in risky behavior if it helps them fit in.

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Substance Abuse and Addiction

According to The National Institute on Drug Abuse research, teenagers and people with mental health disorders are more at risk for drug use and addiction than other populations. Substance abuse and addiction are serious mental health issues. They should not be taken lightly. Teens are susceptible to developing a substance abuse disorder. They are susceptible because of peer pressure, access, and resistance to treatment. If your child is showing signs of substance abuse disorder, it is time to consider professional help.

Alcohol and Drug Experimentation

It is not surprising that drugs and alcohol use decreases the functioning of the prefrontal cortex and increases impulsivity. Teens are already immature in their development in this area of the brain. Drugs and alcohol can cause a teen to be even more susceptible to impulse control issues. Usually, this results in more poor decision-making and reckless behavior.

Reckless Driving

There is a reason why it costs more to insure teen drivers, especially teenage boys. The statistics don’t lie, and teenagers are not only new drivers but also are more likely to drive recklessly. A study found risk-taking behaviors while driving increased in the presence of peers. In contrast, the risk-taking behaviors of adults did not change. Along with the difference, while driving with peers, distracted driving has become a problem. The data shows that 41.5 % of teens text and or email while driving.

Vaping or Smoking

Smoking cigarettes have been seen as “cool” in the past. But now, we are witnessing another popular way to get a nicotine fix, vaping. It has become so popular that tobacco product use has gone up 38 percent among high school students and 29 percent among middle school students between 2017 and 2018. Research is now finding that vaping can harm the body by depositing harmful chemicals and metals in the lungs like formaldehyde, nickel, and lead. In addition, nicotine in any form is highly addictive. It is a risky behavior with long-term negative consequences for teens.

Alcohol

When at-risk youth drink alcohol, they are even more likely to engage in risky behaviors than usual. According to the CDC, there were approximately 119,000 emergency room visits by people between 12 to 21 for injuries and conditions related to alcohol consumption in 2013. When teens combine risk taking behaviors with alcohol use it puts adolescents at a higher risk for other negative health consequences related to binge drinking, such as alcohol poisoning.

Additionally, teenage alcohol consumption is one of the risk factors linked to mental illness, like depression during the teenage years and beyond. A 2016 study found that two-thirds of those who developed alcohol or substance use disorders had experienced at least one mental health disorder.

Sexting

Technology has made sending sexually explicit images easier. It is no surprise then that teens have caught on to the trend, but it might be even more common than you think.

  • 1 in 4 teens report receiving sexually explicit texts and emails
  • 1 in 7 report sending sexts
  • 1 in 10 teens report forwarding these sexts without consent
  • 1 in 12 teens report having had texts they sent shared without their permission

One study found that the average age of sexting teens was 15. Sexting is risky behavior that can lead to negative consequences for teens. Youth are being peer pressured into sexting, resulting in significant legal repercussions.

Unfortunately, teens are also getting bullied and having their bodies shamed. As a result, these teens are subjecting themselves to stressful situations that they have poor coping skills for.

Violence

Emotions run high during middle and high school. Bullying, fighting, and even gang violence are something that a young person could get involved with. Unfortunately, these behaviors are often glorified in movies, TV shows, and video games. As a result, teens can become desensitized to the severity of violence.

Dating Violence

Dating violence is not just limited to adults. A CDC study revealed that 26% of women and 15% of men were victims of sexual violence, physical violence, and/or stalking. In the study, they were victimized by an intimate partner and first experienced these or other forms of violence by that partner before age 18. Therefore, it is important to talk to your teens about dating violence so that they are aware of what is and that it is not okay.

Self-harm

Teen who self-harm are often doing so to cope with emotional pain or other strong emotions. By doing this behavior, they feel a temporary release. Afterward, they often feel shame and guilt. It is common for someone who is self-harming to try to hide their wounds. Self-harming behavior is a sign of poor coping and communication skills. It is a sign that your child is going through an internal struggle and doesn’t have the tools to cope independently. Proper therapeutic intervention can help identify underlying reasons for the behavior and help your child overcome their struggles.

Social Media

On the one hand, social media is a great tool to connect and stay connected with loved ones and friends. On the other hand, social media has become a place where teens can be exposed to online predators, explicit content, and an environment that equates self-worth with likes, views, or followers.

Facebook is no longer the leading platform for teens. Instead, around half (52%) of teens said they used Instagram. According to research by the Pew Research Center, 41% of teens ages 13 to 17 were using the Snapchat app in 2018. It is expected that the popularity has only grown since then. However, there are several concerns that parents should be aware of when it comes to Snapchat.

Sexting is one of the reasons that Snapchat gained in popularity with the feature that deletes the photo after a set amount of time. Cyberbullying and sexual harassment can be a common occurrence on Snapchat as well. A feature called SnapMap can show other users your child’s location.

Further, Snapchat is commonly used for marketing and selling drugs, particularly to the teenage demographic. The real worry with Snapchat is that a lot of the problematic content is flying under the radar. Parental controls like bark or kidlogger can help parents monitor their teen’s social media use, including Snapchat.

Cyberbullying

Bullying has a whole new stage! Can you imagine having social media, text, or other platforms when you were a teenager? There is a disconnect between the words being typed and their effects. Talk to your kids about this kind of treatment and encourage them to tell you about any instance before things escalate.

Preventable Injury

Young people can be poor at assessing risky situations. As a result, peers often influence them to take some things to the next level. For example, doing a risky skateboarding trick or not wearing a helmet because it doesn’t look cool. In fact, according to a study, most teen injuries come from a lack of preventative measures.

Running Away

When a young person runs away or is missing, it puts an enormous strain on their family. Therefore, teens that run away should always be reported to the authorities, and all efforts should be put forth to return them home or to a safe place.

Illegal Activities

Teens can get themselves in more trouble than they realize when caught doing illegal activities like trespassing, vandalism, or drug possession. Often these types of offenses are done due to peer pressure, poor education, and drug abuse. If your child is participating in these types of behaviors it could be an indication that they are having issues with their mental health.

Risky or Unsafe Sexual Behavior

Teenagers who participate in risky sexual behavior like unprotected sex or having multiple sex partners are putting themselves at risk. According to the CDC, half of all new STDs reported each year are among young people 15 to 24. Unfortunately, many teens are not getting the proper education about these topics. Don’t leave this type of education up to schools. It should be a priority for parents whose teens are in middle and high school to educate teens about the consequences they face when engaging in risky sexual behavior.

Unhealthy Dietary Behavior

In the United States, as many as 1 in 10 young women suffer from an eating disorder. And 25% of people diagnosed with an eating disorder are men. Therefore, it is crucial to look for the signs of risky dietary behaviors and disordered eating. Seek treatment for your teen if this high-risk behavior is suspected.

Technology Addiction or Process Addiction

Teens are particularly susceptible to technology addiction, also known as a process addiction. On a deeper level, smartphone and other technology overuse are tied to two serious mental health issues: anxiety and depression. Anxiety disorders affect teens even more than adults. These disorders affect 25.1% of teens between 13 and 18 while affecting 19% of adults. Therefore, it is important to set limits on technology use. Parents should also be watching for signs and symptoms of other mental health disorders so they can be addressed early.

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Long-Term Effects of Teenage Risky Behavior

“There is a fairly consistent pattern that engaging in risky behaviors as a teenager is associated with less successful adult outcomes. In most cases, the earlier one engages in the behavior, the more likely one faces a bad outcome as an adult.”

When teens make risky decisions, it not only hurts their future, it is stressful for the entire family. It is typical for families with teenagers to go through ups and downs. It is also normal for teens to be moody and to struggle with communication. Often, teenagers do not understand how their risk-taking behaviors affect others. Their behavior can result in; family conflict, strain on a marriage, compromise safety, legal and financial issues.

It is important through difficult times to remember that “family has a very significant role in protecting students against risky behaviors”. It is hard to see that when teens put their family through the stress that accompanies their risky behavior but is important during the healing process.

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What Parents Can Do

Many parents of teenagers struggle when their teen participates in risky behavior. It is hard to know what to do, and each situation is different. To keep in mind amongst all of the confusion, your teenager knows that you love and care about them. You want to give them the independence they need, but you also want them to be safe. It all starts with communicating with your child.

Keep Talking and Stay Connected

Communicating with your teen can be challenging. Teens are notorious for having difficulty expressing themselves and feeling like people (especially parents) don’t understand them. That said, it is important to make efforts to “get on their level.” Find out what they are interested in and why. Play a video game with them every once in a while, if that is their thing or hop on a skateboard.

The main thing is to be open and honest with your child so that you can build a trusting foundation and then get involved with their life.

  • Have regular, casual conversations with your child centered around them and what they are doing right.
  • Get to know their friends
  • Set aside some quality time with your teen

Once you have a solid foundation with your child, open up conversations about risky behavior. Ask them what they already know and if they have any questions. When teachable moments come up, take advantage of them. Most importantly, equip your teen with information. Make sure that your teen knows how to make healthy choices and how to rebound from bad decisions. There will be many teachable moments that can be valuable for your teenager as they forge through this challenging time in their lives.

Set Clear Rules, Boundaries, Expectations, and Consequences

We all need structure in our lives in some way or another, even beyond school or work. Having clear rules, expectations and consequences can help add structure for teenagers. Along with that note, teenagers need boundaries as well. Therefore, it is important to teach and role model appropriate boundaries for teens to understand how to respect them in future relationships.

Setting Expectations

Expectations of your teenager should be clear and known by everyone in the family. If you have a blended family, the rules should be consistent for both households. The expectations should also be attainable. Teens are under a lot of pressure today. Make sure you are setting your child up for success. They often need help budgeting their time, and having reasonable expectations can help them do that.

Don't Move The Goal Post

When parents add chores or other things to a teen’s to-do list, it can add tension in the home. Things can not be 100% predictable, but it is best to do so if there is a way to avoid it. With teens struggling to manage their time already, adding unexpected tasks to their plate can lead to more frustration.

Agree Upon Clear Boundaries and Rules

Again, teens do well when there is structure, and boundaries and rules help create that structure. But make your rules and boundaries more about the relationship and not focused on punishing your child. When your teen crosses a boundary, it can be a coaching opportunity. Just know that pushing boundaries is normal for a teen.

Rules should be clear and consistent for teens. Be proactive and in collaboration with your teen establish rules in advance.  Working together to establish the rules is helpful so they feel they have a say in them. If you can get your teen to agree to rules in advance verbally they are more likely to accept responsibility if they break them in the future.

Make sure that rules are communicated clearly and are not assumed. This will help you avoid situations where you’re making them up on the spot or changing them at the moment.  If appropriate, you can create a written “contract” with your teen so that you are both clear on what to expect from each other.

Setting healthy boundaries shouldn’t be a one-time activity. You won’t get everything right the first time, and rules should change as your teen gets older or the situation changes. Set a regular time to meet with your teen and review and update your agreed-upon rules.

1. Have Empathy for Your Teen

It is not easy being a teen these days (and not easy to be a parent). Often teens are desperate for your approval. Teens are going to push boundaries, break the rules, and be frustrating. Having empathy for them can help strengthen your relationship with them and validate their feelings.

2. Earn Respect by Showing Respect

This means keeping your word. Have the same expectations for yourself as you do for your teen. Maintain your integrity. There is no faster way to ruin your relationship with your teen than to act hypocritically.

3. Avoid Power Struggles

Certain situations are bound to end up as a “me vs. you” power struggle. These are sometimes known as ‘zero-sum’ scenarios. Of course, no one wants to get into a power struggle. A great way to avoid power struggles is to listen to your teen and make sure that they feel heard. While you might still disagree, it keeps the temperature of the disagreement in check. It also helps to stay calm and model emotional regulation. So take some deep breaths and carry on.

4. Respect Your Teen's Privacy

Certain situations are bound to end up as a “me vs. you” power struggle. These are sometimes known as ‘zero-sum’ scenarios. Of course, no one wants to get into a power struggle. A great way to avoid power struggles is to listen to your teen and make sure that they feel heard. While you might still disagree, it keeps the temperature of the disagreement in check. It also helps to stay calm and model emotional regulation. So take some deep breaths and carry on.

5. Be Firm, Fair, and Consistent

It is hard not to give in sometimes when it comes to parenting. But teens need to know what to expect from you. Teenagers often feel like things are not fair. But using your best judgment and trying to see from their perspective can help you understand what is fair. For example, it is not fair to brush off your teen sneaking out one time only to explode on them for sneaking out another time. Being predictable makes risk calculations easier for teens because they know what to expect from you.

Agree Upon Clear Consequences

It is always a good idea to define consequences in detail ahead of time so that your teen knows what to expect when rules are broken. For example, being grounded means no social events, excluding school and sports for one week. Sticking to the rules of consequences will help strengthen your relationship with your teenager and make it easier for you to use them when necessary.

Here are a few things to keep in mind when consequences are necessary.

The three rules of consequences -
  1. The consequence should be proportional and should not be excessive or stacked
  2. Consequences should be directed at the behavior and not at the person
  3. Consistency. Consequences should not be a surprise for your teen.

Be a Role Model

Taking responsibility is an essential part of growing up, and this is an excellent way to model acceptable behavior. Teens look to their parents for guidance. Role modeling the kind of behavior that you expect from your teen is essential. So do the things that you say your child should do. It is also important to communicate values or guiding principles. Teens are forming their identity, and for a parent to talk about their values, it is helpful for teens to get a sense of theirs. By watching you and the world around them, they can develop values that can lead them to make good decisions. Avoiding risky behavior is easier for your teen if they know that the behavior goes against their values.

When You Feel That You Have Tried Everything

Sometimes you try your best, and things just don’t work out. There are many things that are out of your control and your teen’s risky behavior may be an indicator of an underlying mental or emotional struggle.

If your teen is routinely risking their safety, disrupting home life, emotionally or physically hurting themselves or others, then it is time to seek professional help.

Treatment Strategies for Teens Who Engage in Risky Behavior

There are many options for treatment that can help you and your family get back on a healthy track. Many options can address the underlying issues that are influencing your child’s behavior.

Treatment Options for Struggling Teens:

  • Outpatient Therapy with a Mental Health Counselor – a licensed therapist, can provide help for your teen. They can identify any underlying issues that are maybe causing your child to gravitate towards risky behaviors.
  • Psychologist – Can provide testing to determine if your child is struggling with any underlying mental health conditions like ADHD, depression, or anxiety.
  • Psychiatrist – Can prescribe medication to treat any underlying mental health issues.
  • Intensive Outpatient Treatment (IOP) – This consists of frequent mental health appointments while living at home. The structure of outpatient therapies varies widely in terms of the number of appointments and program duration.
  • Residential treatment – mental health treatment facilities where the patients will live and engage in various therapies. Residential programs are, by definition, inpatient programs. Yet, these programs take place outside of a hospital setting in a designated facility. Therapies include traditional talk therapy, group therapy, and living in a structured environment. The combination can help limit impulsive behaviors.
  • Wilderness Therapy – Wilderness therapy is a mental health treatment strategy for adolescents and young adults with maladaptive behaviors that could include engaging in risky behaviors. Wilderness programs combine therapy with challenging experiences in an outdoor wilderness environment. This allows clients to disconnect from distractions and focus on themselves. Clients learn skills to engage in healthy behaviors while reconnecting with their families through family therapy. These programs are often individualized and provide an accurate assessment of underlying mental health concerns. You will have the peace of mind that you know exactly what is going on with your teen. This may even shine a light on problem areas that were not clear before, like anxiety or depression that can lead to better outcomes.

What Treatment Option is Best for Helping Teens With Risky Behaviors?

Choosing a treatment option for your teenager is a problem that no parent wants to face. It’s not an easy choice to make, and it is hard to predict your child’s reaction. But, here are some ways to help with this challenging decision.

Do They Use Evidence-Based Practices?

You want to make sure that your teen is going to or seeing practitioners that use evidence-based practices. You want the best and most effective treatment for your child and ensure that the methods used are tested.

Are They Licensed and Accredited?

When looking at practitioners and programs, you want to ensure that they are licensed. Mental health providers or therapists need to have a master’s degree in the field, complete a postgraduate internship, and pass a state licensure exam. Therapists can also have specialties that require more training. Licenses must be maintained by completing continuing education credits.

Additionally, some programs go through a voluntary credentialing process. For example, Aspiro Adventure Therapy is accredited by the Outdoor Behavioral Healthcare Council (OBH) and the Association of Experiential Education (AEE). They provide credentialing for outdoor behavioral healthcare providers and experiential education programs respectively. These organizations retain professionals in the field to inspect each program and certify that they are following all necessary guidelines for a safe and effective program.

Do They Include the Family & Provide Family Therapy?

Long-term results start with changing the family system. Family therapy is a key component of effective programming. Each family member learns how their behavior affects family relationships. When programs provide support for the whole family, they can learn how to best support each other.
Choosing the right path for your son or daughter is a huge responsibility. However, you will be on the right track towards a solution if you ensure that the programs are licensed, provide family therapy, and are evidence-based.

How Aspiro Can Help Your Family

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Wilderness Adventure therapy programs like Aspiro Adventure can be an effective treatment option for teens engaging in risky behaviors. For one thing, wilderness adventure therapy removes teens from their environments and allows them to focus on improving themselves. Wilderness adventure therapy also provides the space and time for teens to process their feelings in a healthy way and under mental health professionals’ supervision.

Programs like Aspiro Adventure use a dynamic approach that is evidence-based and licensed. Aspiro provides accurate mental health assessments, so you can be assured that your child gets the help they need. Wilderness adventure therapy’s unique environment provides customized treatment plans implemented by professionals. In addition, these therapeutic methods create an environment of growth and learning that will help get your teenager back on track.

Exposing teens to novel environments and adventure therapy activities is an effective way to challenge teens. In this setting, teens have the chance to learn and practice new coping strategies.

Further, overcoming seemingly impossible challenges, like summiting a large mountain, has been shown to improve resilience, grit, and self-efficacy. These are all critical elements to healthy teen development. They can help them form a healthy identity independent from negative peer influences.

Aspiro has a team devoted to strengthening your family system. They do this by providing family therapy. In addition to family therapy, the program includes a family seminar, parent coaching, and a parent support group. Long-term results are achieved by including the whole family in the process.

Wilderness adventure therapy is a smart option for a teen engaging in risky behaviors. If your family and teenager are struggling due to your teen’s risky behavior it is time to give Aspiro a call today to learn more.

Cody's Story

Cody was your typical teenager. He and his family lived in Highlands Ranch, Colorado, a lovely community south of Denver. Cody had a wonderful family, and was generally a happy kid. He played lacrosse and had tons of great friends.

During Cody’s sophomore year of high school, his parents started to notice some changes. At first, it was little things, like disrespecting a teacher. But, as time went on, Cody’s family began to worry. He became hard to be around, argumentative and was rude. He struggled with being impulsive and not thinking through situations like when he vandalized a school bathroom with one of his friends. Then things started to escalate when he was arrested for having a vape pen and marijuana. The judge went easy on him and gave him a $300 fine, and he had to complete a drug education class.

It was clear to his family that Cody was unraveling. Cody’s parents knew that they needed to do something. Their son was unhappy and now going down the wrong path. So they went to Cody’s school counselor for advice. He suggested having Cody see a therapist. Unfortunately, Cody was like many teenagers and thought that he didn’t need help. He refused to go after a few sessions.

Over time, Cody’s parents tried many different approaches, but nothing was working, and Cody kept slipping farther away from them. It was at this time that they considered Aspiro Wilderness Therapy as a treatment option for Cody. Aspiro is an outdoor mental health treatment center based on adventure therapy. The idea of sending Cody away was awful for his parents. They felt like they failed him. Finally, after thinking it over for a long time, they made the difficult decision to take another parent’s advice and send Cody to Aspiro.

At first, when Cody got to Aspiro, he tried to convince everyone that he did not belong there. During those weeks, he sent his parents letters asking for them to let him come back home. However, after a few weeks, the tone of his letters started to change.

His therapist Chris was incredible. He understood Cody and his parents. He had an even demeanor, was empathetic, and kind-hearted. This, coupled with his no-nonsense straightforward “cut to the chase” way of operating, was exactly what Cody’s family needed. His parents learned many new things about parenting in their therapy sessions with Chris and the parent webinars. They learned how they could best support Cody.

Going to Aspiro was like a “reset” for the whole family. They came out of the experience understanding more about each other.

After Aspiro, Cody’s parents feel like they have their son back. He is happier, making better decisions, and is pleasant to be around. He is now on track to go to Colorado State University, and his parents could not be more proud of him.

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About the Author

  • Shannon Weaver, LCSW
    Shannon Weaver, LCSW
    Director of Marketing and Outreach

Dyslexia in Teens: The Ultimate Guide for Parents to Set Your Kid for Success

Word Tiles that spell out Dyslexia in Teens | Aspiro Wilderness Adventure Therapy Program for Teens and Young Adults

Imagine if you were given the choice of having an intellectual superpower, but to gain this power, you would need to give up other things. For people who have dyslexia, it is not a choice but a reality. If you have a child who is dyslexic or are dyslexic yourself, you don’t need to think about it as a negative! This article will explain why that dyslexia in teens can be celebrated and provides a guide for parents to support their dyslexic child. Let me guide you in helping your child overcome challenges associated with dyslexia. More importantly, let me help you help them unlock their superpowers!

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The Dyslexic Gift

If you have a teenager with dyslexia, you know that there is much more to the diagnosis than trouble with reading or spelling. Dyslexia is a specific learning disorder or learning disability that impacts people’s understanding of language. Dyslexia is widespread, with some estimates stating that up to 15 to 20 percent of the population has the condition.

Dyslexia has nothing to do with intelligence! People who are dyslexic often have an above-average IQ. Though reading, spelling, and many other tasks are difficult for them, people who are dyslexic can still become skilled readers or writers. It just means that getting to that end requires a different path. This is true for most things when it comes to being a dyslexic person. Forging a path is the dyslexic way.

“Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.”

– Unknown, often attributed to Albert Einstein

Signs of Dyslexia: A Developmental Progression

Dyslexia signs will often become apparent in elementary school when reading, writing, and math concepts are introduced. But as a parent of a dyslexic student you may have noticed signs of dyslexia in your child earlier. Every person with dyslexia is unique and has their own ways of coping. They will never fit the mold. There are, however, some general commonalities most dyslexic kids share:

Signs of Dyslexia in Preschool

Common signs a dyslexic student shows in preschool include:

  • Learning to talk late
  • Trouble following multi-step directions
  • Mispronounce words
  • Learning difficulty with letters, colors, or days of the week
  • Difficulty rhyming
    Difficulty sequencing sentences

These students might show interest and ability in activities like drawing, puzzles, and building models.

Typical Dyslexia Signs in Elementary School

  • Poor spelling
  • Avoids reading/poor reading skills
  • Trouble hearing individual sounds in words
  • Confusing similar letters
  • Struggling to read even when words are familiar
  • Substituting words when reading aloud
Struggles may peak again during middle school and high school when language, organizational skills, and planning are stressed. However, despite these struggles, you may recognize that your dyslexic teen excels in other areas.

The Science Behind Dyslexia

Most of the scientific information that follows was summarised from the book, The Dyslexic Advantage, written by Brock Eide, MD., MA, and Fernette Eide, MD. This book is a highly recommended read for anyone struggling with dyslexia or the parents of a dyslexic child. It is available in many formats.

When it comes to the cause of dyslexia, structural differences in the brain can be to blame for the language based learning disability.

These differences are not well understood, but researchers think they stem from early development when the brain forms functional networks. Unfortunately, these networks don’t develop in a “well-integrated way,” creating processing impairments.

These impairments generally manifest in difficulties processing language, specifically phonological awareness. It is particularly prominent in reading and writing. These impairments also mean that the brain is forced to adapt, leading to some unexpected advantages!

Dyslexic brains are different. They have broader neural connections. Research by Dr. Manuel Casanova suggests that dyslexic brain connectivity may predispose people to big picture or visionary thinking. These broad neural connections are why dyslexics’ facial recognition skills are usually above average, which requires many different parts of the brain to work together. Joining distant areas of the brain is what dyslexics do best. They can draw ideas from anything and anywhere and connect different concepts together.

For this reason, while dyslexia has its downsides, it isn’t all negative. Instead, dyslexia is more of a trade-off where people can take advantage of unique processing benefits on the one hand but might struggle with reading and writing on the other. Dyslexic people are not defective, but their brains are organized to display different kinds of strengths.

Advantages vs. Disadvantages of Dyslexia

Dyslexia goes far beyond trouble with spelling or reading. It is not just a reading disability like many people think. While people generally focus on the deficits associated with dyslexia, there are also areas where dyslexic people are more capable than the average person. In this way, dyslexia isn’t a positive or negative condition; it just means that someone might have different strengths and weaknesses.

Neuropsychological testing is not only helpful in diagnosing dyslexia but can explain your child’s unique set of advantages and disadvantages. These tests are hard to read and understand for the average person but can be very valuable. This is where asking for help interpreting the testing is essential so that you can understand your child’s needs.

When explaining testing results to your child, it is vital to show them that their strengths are more important than their weaknesses. If your child has issues with low self-esteem due to being in special classes, being asked to read out loud, or mixing up word pronunciations, then explaining the why behind the struggle can help them overcome those challenges. While someone with dyslexia might struggle with these tasks, they also have a big right brain that makes connections that others don’t. They are some of the best BIG picture thinkers out there.

Common Strengths that People with Dyslexia Often Display:

  • Understand the larger context behind an idea
  • Can make new, unusual, or distant connections
  • Inferential reasoning or ambiguity detection
  • Ability to recombine things in novel ways and a general inventiveness
  • Greater mindfulness during tasks that others might take for granted
  • Problem-solving
  • Spotting interesting associations and relationships
  • Recognizing similarities

Dyslexics store information like a mural or stained glass, connecting ideas like a spider web or hyperlinks. They are also exceptional at spatial reasoning. Researchers found that this skill is not compensation but rather an innate ability.

Common Challenges that People with Dyslexia Often Encounter:

While this article discusses how dyslexia does not need to be a cloud hanging over you, it is also important to be upfront and realistic about some of the disadvantages of being dyslexic. While there are ways to mitigate many of these disadvantages, awareness is the first step in overcoming them.

Phonological Impairment

A phonological impairment is a deficit in the understanding of written language in its complete form. People with a phonological impairment struggle to break down language into smaller parts, which leads to the reading and spelling issues typical of a person who has dyslexia. Some dyslexics process in non-verbal ways and have a hard time putting things into words. As a result, there’s often a gap in understanding concepts and demonstrating that understanding in words. This is important for parents, teachers, and future employers to understand because nonverbal reasoning is valid. It can even be the key to creative insights. These individuals may struggle with tasks tied to language and phonological awareness but can often express themselves better with a drawing, diagram, or other forms of representation.

Procedural Learning and Procedural Memory

Procedural learning and memory have to do with learning how to do something through practice in a way that eventually becomes automatic. This is the “practice makes perfect” type of learning. Unfortunately, it is common for a dyslexic teenager or adult to struggle with procedural learning and memory.

Sadly, academics are often rooted in procedural learning and memory. This includes breaking down works, spelling, recognizing rhymes, sentence organization, and social pragmatics associated with words. Someone who is dyslexic does not often learn these types of things automatically with practice. Instead, they must use conscious compensation. That is a combination of focused attention and active working memory. This compensation works, but if the task is too complex, the working memory is overloaded because they have to actively think through all the tasks. Someone who is dyslexic will likely do better when rules and procedures are broken down into small steps. This makes them easier to master and demonstrate clearly.

Working Memory Overload

A key difficulty that comes with dyslexia is working memory overload. Basically, when someone is forced to actively focus on too many things, the dyslexic brain can struggle to keep up, leading to errors. Someone struggling with working memory overload often requires more repetitions than others to master a task or might take more time to reach the same level of mastery.

Also, someone who is dyslexic might forget skills that they have mastered more quickly if they do not practice them. So when a kid comes back to school after the summer, they might seem to forget more of what they learned the previous year.

Executive Functioning Struggles

Some people with dyslexia struggle with certain areas of executive functioning. This is caused by dysfunction in the cerebellum. This part of the brain plays a key role in things that become automatic with practice – like movement, speech, language, working memory/attention. This is one of the most frustrating aspects of being dyslexic! It feels like you have to work so much harder than everyone else. This can be discouraging. Another area of executive functioning that can be hard for a dyslexic teenager is transitions. They may have to develop new strategies to get around this when coursework changes… like the first semester of college. While executive functioning struggles can include a variety of different things, they can generally be mitigated through various strategies. It really just depends upon what works for each individual.

Finally, other areas that dyslexic people tend to struggle include; poor motor coordination, low muscle tone, difficulty with time awareness, timing, sequencing, and pacing.

Other Common Disadvantages Associated with Dyslexia

Teens with dyslexia often struggle with:

  • Language problems
  • Late talking
  • Mixing up words
  • Making up new words
  • Low working memory / Slow at retrieving words from memory
  • Mastering grammatical rules
  • Reading/spelling
  • Math
  • Slow processing speed
  • Mishearing words
  • Impaired motor coordination
  • Difficulty hearing with background noise
  • Following directions & procedures
  • Keeping information to themselves
  • Planning and organizing
  • Error detection
  • Time awareness
  • Spacing
  • Sequencing, focus, and attention
  • Understanding how words work together in groups.
  • Two-dimensional spatial reasoning – symbol reversal while reading, struggles with symbols in general.

Myths About Dyslexia

There are many misconceptions about dyslexia. One of the most common myths is that it means that you aren’t intelligent. In fact, most people with dyslexia have above-average intelligence. Another common myth is that every child who mixes up their letters when writing is dyslexic. Mixing up letters is actually very common in childhood and does not necessarily indicate dyslexia. A third misconception is that dyslexia means the same thing for everyone. Dyslexia is a complex condition that impacts each individual differently. No two people experience dyslexia precisely the same, but there are patterns that people tend to follow.

Subtypes of Dyslexia

There are many theories about different subtypes of dyslexia or even confusion between diagnoses with a similar name, like dyscalculia. When you break it down, it comes down to strengths and weaknesses once again. When doing neuropsychological testing on children with dyslexia, researchers see some common patterns. This also reinforces that each person with dyslexia is unique and will have unique strengths and struggles.

The most common way to categorized dyslexia is by type of deficit. The research shows that there are three clusters of deficits associated with dyslexia. These clusters can be seen as sub-types.

Phonological Processing Deficit

A phonological processing deficit is the most common type of dyslexia. Phonetic impairment is found in 80-90 % of cases. This deficit impacts decoding abilities and sounding out words. Sometimes this type of deficit is referred to as dysphonetic dyslexia or auditory dyslexia.

People with a phonological processing deficit will have difficulty

  • Analyzing and manipulating sounds
  • Understanding the rules of phonics
  • Sound segmentation
  • Sound discrimination

Rapid Naming Deficit

People with a rapid naming deficit have normal phonological processing, but they struggle to retrieve language-based information. This is most commonly associated with problems with word recall or the “on the tip of their tongue” type experience.

With this deficit, working memory is limited and can cause issues with attention. This is one reason why many dyslexic students are diagnosed with inattentive ADHD. Structural differences in the brain again can be to blame. This difference is not well understood, but researchers guess it stems from early development when the brain forms functional networks. Unfortunately, these networks don’t develop in a “well-integrated way” and create processing impairments.

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Double Deficit Dyslexia

As the name suggests, double deficit dyslexia occurs when someone has both a phonological and a rapid naming deficit. This sub-type combines the phonological and rapid naming sub-types and is the least common.

Common difficulties associated with all types of dyslexia include:

  • Problems with finger coordination for handwriting
  • Difficulties with eye movement control for reading
  • Difficulties with speech mussels control for speech articulation
  • Difficulties with language
  • Late talkers
  • Mixing up words
  • Making up new words
  • Slow at retrieving words from memory
  • Slow at mastering grammatical rules
  • Reading
  • Spelling
  • Decoding abilities

Teens with double deficit dyslexia often show problems with:

  • Handwriting
  • Written expression
  • Math
  • Processing speed
  • Mishearing words
  • Motor coordination
  • Difficulty hearing with
  • background noise
  • Following directions
  • Keeping information to themselves
  • Procedures
  • Planning and organizing
  • Error detection
  • Time awareness
  • Pacing
  • Sequencing
  • Focus and attention
  • Understanding how words work together in groups

Subtypes of Dyslexia, Organized by Strengths Instead of Deficits

While the most common way to categorize dyslexia is by deficit type, there is another, more optimistic way to do this. Rather than classifying dyslexia by deficits, it is possible to do it by strengths.

There are four types of strengths commonly associated with people who are dyslexic:

Material Reasoning

Some people with dyslexia display an increased ability to reason about the physical or material world. This includes spatial thinking, visual thinking, and navigation.

Interconnected Reasoning

Other people with dyslexia have an improved ability to spot connections between different ideas, objects, or different points of view. This can include things like pattern detection and big picture type thinking.

Narrative Reasoning

A third strength that some people with dyslexia have shown is an increased capacity for reasoning and learning with stories. People with this strength are capable storytellers, have strong personal memories, and have a talent for scene creation.

Dynamic Reasoning

Lastly, some dyslexic people have highly developed abilities to reason in complex and changing environments that include high levels of mental stimulation and the ability to predict future events with increased accuracy. People who have a dynamic reasoning strength are generally goal-directed and can understand complex systems.

Here are some other advantages (superpowers) that are associated with being dyslexic!

  • Strong mechanical and spacial abilities
  • Spotting unusual connections
  • Good visual/ spacial sense
  • Visual memory for people and past events (episodic memory)
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Social & Emotional Impact of Dyslexia

It is unfortunate that being “different” is often shamed. Especially in middle school and high school. Dyslexic teenagers are often in special education classes that take the place of “normal classes.” Teachers and other students often single dyslexic students out. This makes it hard for dyslexic people to understand what is “wrong” with them. The social implications can turn inward, and issues with anxiety, depression, and low self-esteem can arise.

Anxiety and Depression

It is common for those struggling with dyslexia to also experience mood disorders like anxiety and depression. Dyslexia can often lead people to feel different from their peers and lead to challenges in a young person’s primary social setting: school. These challenges can make children and teens feel different, increase stress, and struggle with low self esteem.

Further, these challenges can cause self-doubt, a lack of self-worth and can lead to substance abuse. Everyone wants to fit in at some level, and dyslexia can make this more difficult.

Executive Functioning

"For every minute spent in organizing, an hour is earned"

- Benjamin Franklin, activist, author, humorist, and scientist who was dyslexic.

Bouncing from class to class, learning different subjects, and being on time for everything. It is a challenge for people who are dyslexic. Not to mention turning assignments in on time and planning study time. The combination of time management and organization can be tricky. So coming up with a way for them to keep it all straight in a way that makes sense to them. Maybe it is having a binder for every class. Or writing it all down in an oversized planner. Having a system to keep track of it all can help them keep it all straight and get what they need to get done, done.

This is a struggle for people who are dyslexic who tend to struggle with executive functioning.
Executive functioning is a combination of skills that includes:

  • Proficiency in adaptable thinking
  • Planning
  • Self-monitoring
  • Self-control
  • Working memory
  • Time management
  • Organization

Executive functioning skills are expected to be mastered during the teenage years. For a dyslexic teen or others with learning differences, it can make them feel like they are falling further behind because things like organization, working memory, time management, and planning can be difficult.

Breaking the Stigma around Dyslexia in Teens

While dyslexia in teens has its challenges, it is not all negative. Dyslexia is often associated with improved social awareness. One of the ways that this manifests is excellent facial recognition. Other ways include increased creativity, and a well-developed sense of grit. Those who experience dyslexia are also known to have increased empathy and commonly show higher levels of kindness and understanding. Your child will inevitably have mixed emotions about their differences. This can be combated with pride. Remind your child to look back on the progress that they have made in carving their own path.

How Parents Can Help

Parents can make a massive difference in the lives of their children with learning challenges. Their support and understanding of their struggles can make a huge difference. Parents can be advocates for their children and work with them to solve problems. Above all, parents can provide support by not shaming their children. Dyslexic teens have enough of that from their day-to-day life.

Instead, parents can provide the kind of support that brings up their self-confidence. This puts a lot of stress and responsibility on parents but is an opportunity to brighten that relationship.

Individual Attention

The most important thing for a parent to do for a dyslexic child is to be present and involved in their life. While there has to be a balance between providing opportunities for individuality and identity development, a parent should be fully engaged in providing the best possible situation for their child’s success. This can include everything from ensuring access to proper academic resources and accommodations to providing one-on-one tutoring. Finding the right balance for this role is difficult but is critical to your child’s future.

Help Them Learn to Advocate For Themselves

Traditional learning environments can be difficult for people who are dyslexic. Some can even be a complete waste of time, but small changes can make a big difference. For example, sitting in front of a class, testing in a separate room, or having someone read test questions aloud. There are many accommodations that your teen will be entitled to, as long as they ask for them, and make sure that others follow through.

Work with your child on how to be articulate and how to communicate their needs. This can often be an intimidating or uncomfortable part of the process, but it is critical for their success. Good communication skills are also likely to carry over into other areas of their life making the time invested an even better value.

Areas of Focus to Help Your Teen

While dyslexia is categorized as a learning disorder, it can also have significant impacts on one’s emotions. The emotional side of dyslexia is important to acknowledge to promote the healthy development of coping skills in children and teens.

Self-Efficacy

One of the emotional impacts associated with dyslexia is decreased self-efficacy. Self-efficacy is the belief in one’s ability to achieve goals and succeed. For someone with dyslexia, there are going to be tasks that are always going to be challenging. Often for children and teens, these are tasks found in school, including reading and procedural learning. When faced with one of these challenging tasks, children and teens often require extra time or different kinds of support to succeed. Repeated struggles in these tasks can lead someone to doubt their abilities and decrease their overall self-efficacy.

Developing a Growth Mindset

A fixed mindset is a state of being where someone believes that their abilities are static and unchangeable. For example, when diagnosed with a learning disorder like dyslexia, people can often fall into a fixed mindset. This means that they believe that their learning disorder limits them from succeeding in certain areas. In reality, while someone with dyslexia is unlikely to win a spelling bee, they can succeed in many other areas as long as they believe that they can and develop a growth mindset.

Overcoming Failure

While there are some emotional challenges associated with dyslexia, there are also some positive emotional outcomes. Being dyslexic means getting comfortable with the idea of failure. This comes out of the learning challenges that children and teens often face in school. The positive of this is that people who are dyslexic learn to overcome the fear of failure that often paralyzes the average person. Rather than avoiding risks due to fear of failure, people who are dyslexic are generally not risk-averse. This can lead to positive outcomes, which can be seen in the fact that many successful entrepreneurs are dyslexic. While starting a business has many risks, someone who is dyslexic is more likely to take on that risk and potentially reap the benefits.

Resources to Help Your Dyslexic Teen

There are many resources that your child has at their disposal when managing their dyslexia. One of the most important but often overlooked of these resources is your state’s disability office. State disability offices can provide professional services and tools that help your child. They are experts in this area, and it is their job to advocate for people who have learning differences and physical disabilities.

Dyslexia Tools

In the past, helping someone overcome the challenges of dyslexia meant teaching them different approaches and strategies of learning. While this is still an essential part of overcoming these challenges, there are now technological tools available that help someone who is dyslexic to work around their learning disorder. These tools mean that someone who is dyslexic doesn’t have to struggle as much as they may have in the past. There are now ways to make learning easier!

Spell check was one of the most significant technological developments for those with dyslexia. Before spell check, there was no easy way for someone to tell when they mixed up letters while writing or typing. While spell check changed all of that for the better, it has not been a panacea. Spell check still has some shortcomings. Grammarly addresses a lot of these shortcomings. Grammarly is an improved spell check that catches more than just spelling mistakes. Grammarly can check for things like spelling, grammar, tense, tone, and even simplicity. It is an excellent tool for someone who is dyslexic and can help in school, work, or personal settings.

Smart Phone

Smartphones have a few useful features for someone who is dyslexic. The first of these useful features is the speech-to-text function. This function allows the user to talk into their phone, translating that speech into written text. There is no need to write anything down. This is particularly useful for writing short text messages or emails. The next useful feature is text to speech. This can be great for reading text messages or emails. One of the struggles people who are dyslexic have is misreading messages. Enabling this feature can save them from written communication issues.

Reading & Writing Programs

One of the most difficult challenges for someone with dyslexia is reading at a level and pace comparable to their peers. No matter how much time someone puts in, they will often have to put in more effort than their peers in reading. One type of tool that can help with this is a reading program. There are many different reading programs out there, but they all function in a relatively similar way. These programs take written text and translate it into audio. So, instead of struggling with the written words, the reader can listen to the text at a speed of their choice.

Kurzweil 3000 is the most highly recommended reading program for text-to-speech functionality on the market. While Kurzweil 3000 is an expensive program ($700/year is the cost of the subscription), many school resource or disability offices will fund the purchase of this program for qualifying candidates. Kurzweil 3000 is particularly useful because it has a Google Chrome plugin allowing it to be used seamlessly with web browsing.

One of the most useful writing programs for speech-to-text functionality is Dragon. Dragon is a user-friendly piece of software that can help people who struggle with writing to get their ideas down on paper with less effort. This can help people keep pace with their peers in school or work.

Smartpens

Livescribe SmartPen is a helpful tool for dyslexics because it transcribes handwritten notes in real-time, acts as an audio recorder for lectures, and syncs your written notes with the audio for your future reference. There are also other kinds of smartpens with different functionalities that may fit your needs better.

Day Planners

A planner can help with the executive functioning challenges that your teen might be facing. While a physical planner might seem old-fashioned, the process of taking physical notes can sometimes help get things in order. If a physical planner isn’t working, there are many virtual planners available on phones and computers. These can be particularly useful for someone who is dyslexic because they pair well with text-to-speech and speech-to-text functions on these devices.

Kindle

While this is a simple solution, Amazon Kindle or other E-Readers have text-to-speech functions that allow easier reading access. This can be for school, work, or pleasure and make reading less intimidating and even fun.

Accommodations for Dyslexia

There are many accommodations that dyslexic teens can take advantage of, depending on their testing and individual needs.

These accommodations include:

  • Time and a half for testing
  • Individual testing rooms
  • Audiobooks
  • Text to speech software
  • Test reader (someone who reads the test to the student)
  • Someone to help take notes
  • Calculator
  • Scantron free testing
  • Smartpen
  • Recording lectures

Accommodations are an important step for dyslexic teens to find success at school. Finding the right combination of accommodations can be the difference between success and failure for your teen. It is important to ask questions and find solutions that help your teen to reach their potential.

"Special" Education

Many parents of dyslexic children are familiar with the special education offerings of public or private education. Here is a quick refresher and also additional information to help navigate this world.

504 Plan

A 504 plan is not specifically for individuals with learning disabilities. Person’s who qualify have a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities. As dyslexic persons, a 504 plan allows for them to remain in the classroom with accommodations. Therefore, a 504 plan can be less stigmatizing.

IEP

An Independent Education Plan is a common academic intervention. Many parents may be familiar with IEPs since they require parents’ involvement. An IEP means many things for a child or teen during school hours. For example, it could qualify them for special education classes, neuropsychological testing every year, and other types of special treatment like extra time on tests or taking tests in a remote area with minimal distractions. While these can contribute to a child’s academic success, many parents are led to believe that the school and their accommodations are all that needs to be done. In reality, for many people with dyslexia, that is not the case. Many dyslexics need additional support outside of their IEP.

When learning is removed from the walls of traditional schooling, many dyslexic students excel.

Additional Support to Consider

Outside tutoring – Dyslexic people tend to do well with one-on-one individual attention. Relieving social pressure in the learning process can help kids who might be embarrassed when they need clarification. When selecting an outside tutor, it is important to hire someone patient and understanding of the child’s struggles and strengths. Someone who can help them overcome struggles and be non-judgmental about them.

Private neuropsychological testing – To clearly understand your child’s strengths and weaknesses, neuropsychological testing outside of the school environment can add a lot of clarity. This kind of testing can lead to a proper diagnosis and successful early intervention. But just getting the test done and reading the recommendations isn’t enough. It is important to have someone who understands testing sit down and explain the results. Then for you to interpret those results to your child in a developmentally appropriate way.

For example, explaining that they may have a poor score on spelling and math is not as important as their IQ being 25% above average. Dyslexic people are used to others questioning their intellect and, in turn, doubting themselves. Having a piece of paper that proves that they are not only smart is key for their self-confidence.

Having an idea of their own strengths and weaknesses can be great for their self-esteem but also can provide a direction when it comes to future planning. It can help them choose classes that they can excel in or a school they want to go to, or even a career path that suits their unique talents.

How to Advocate for Your Teen

Being an informed advocate for your child is essential for them to succeed academically. Further, it is important to teach them how to advocate for themselves. Advocating for oneself can be hard for teens because it signals themselves out and highlights their learning differences. Still, developing good communication with your child’s teachers is the best way to advocate in a school setting. This helps teachers to become more aware of their student’s learning differences and lets them prepare accommodations for students who need them.

Teaching Teens to Advocate For Themselves

Even though dyslexia is common, people often do not understand what it means to be dyslexic and how to support someone who is dyslexic. Teens need to learn to navigate these challenges in school for themselves to develop the necessary skills for when it comes up in college or a future job.

What Dyslexic Teens Need to Learn:

  • Tools they need to succeed – reading programs, text to speech
  • Funding that is available to them
  • Rights they have and how to tell employers what they need
  • Resources that they can reach out to for guidance or assistance when needed

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act 2004 (IDEA), Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) define the rights of students with dyslexia and other specific learning disabilities. These individuals are legally entitled to special services to help them overcome and accommodate their learning problems. Such services include education programs designed to meet the needs of these students. The Acts also protect people with dyslexia against unfair and illegal discrimination.

College and Career Considerations for Teens with Dyslexia

Sometimes traditional schooling doesn’t work out for a dyslexic individual. Work experience and on-the-job training become the way to meet their goals. As a result, dyslexic people’s career’s often are full of twists and turns. Sometimes it looks like their lives don’t make sense unless you really understand the connections between each point.

When looking into colleges, it is important to visit their disability center in the application process. Some are great and help guide through the college experience; others can be a hindrance to success.

Also, keep in mind colleges often give tuition assistance and tuition waivers for people who are dyslexic or have other “disabilities.” It is important to know that this process can take a while to work through. Make sure to get started as soon as possible. You will need to provide testing, IEP information, etc. It is recommended to start looking into this a couple of years before college. Early planning can ball rolling and maximize their benefits.

Treatment Options For When Teens With Dyslexia Need Extra Help

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All in all, dyslexia should not be looked at as a disorder but a different way of thinking and learning. It can be hard to look at it that way when you are young and struggling through school, among other things that go along with being a teenager. When things get too overwhelming for teens there are options that can help them become the best version of themselves.

Programs like Aspiro Adventure Therapy can provide teens and young adults with dyslexia the chance to step outside the classroom and learn life skills that go far beyond it.

One of the greatest benefits of the Aspiro program is the increase in self-efficacy that student’s experience. This can especially benefit teengers who are dyslexic. Wilderness adventure therapy has consistently shown to improve self-efficacy through a process by which youth are exposed to seemingly impossible challenges, in novel environments, and through guidance, hard work, and grit, they can find success. Studies on self-efficacy indicate that efficacy beliefs are the best predictor of future performance; therefore, by addressing these issues through wilderness adventure therapy, one can effectively improve the chances of future success.

Another thing that Aspiro helps students with is building grit and resilience. Grit is about perseverance, passion, and determination when things get hard. Resilience is about having the skills and experience to bounce back from setbacks and struggles. Together, Aspiro’s reliance on clinically advanced methodologies and the opportunities for growth provided by adventure and nature are a powerful combination.

Aspiro Adventure uses a dynamic approach that is evidence-based. Aspiro provides accurate mental health assessments, so you can be assured that your teen is getting the help that they need. Neurological testing can be done on-site and interpreted so that their unique set of strengths and weaknesses can be outlined. With this awareness they can have a deeper understanding of themselves. Aspiro provides direction, space and time that is unplugged from the normal everyday distractions.

At Aspiro parents get the coaching they need to support their child best emotionally, and academically.

If you are considering professional counseling and think that wilderness adventure therapy might be a good fit for your teen, reach out to the Aspiro Adventure admissions team. They are available any time to answer all of your questions. Give them a call today at (801) 349-2740.

Additional Resources

About the Author

  • Shannon Weaver, LCSW
    Shannon Weaver, LCSW
    Director of Marketing and Outreach

39 Signs of Depression in Teens

Signs of Depression in Teens | Aspiro Wilderness Adventure Therapy Program

Anyone who has experienced depression knows that it can affect your everyday life, and can have serious consequences. This is especially true for teens. Teens are considered to be highly susceptible to depression. Depression can lead to prolonged suffering that can impact them well into adulthood. The distressing thing is that teen depression is incredibly common.

In fact, “The total number of teenagers who recently experienced depression increased 59% between 2007 and 2017.” When you add up all the data, 1 in 5 adolescents from all walks of life will suffer from depression at some point during their teen years.”

Unfortunately, when left untreated depression can worsen. It can even turn into a persistent depressive disorder. It impacts everything from relationships to school to work. It can even change how you feel, how much you sleep, and whether you can get out of bed in the morning. Tragically depression all too often ends in suicidal ideation, suicide attempts, or suicide. Increasing rates of teen depression are one of the main reasons that suicide is the second leading cause of death among 15-29-year-olds. What a scary statistic. Just more proof that depression in teens is a real issue and that you should take your child seriously when they say things like “I want to end it all” or “I can’t take this life anymore.”

24/7 Support for Suicidal Teens

If you suspect that a teenager is suicidal, take immediate action! For 24-hour suicide prevention and support in the U.S., call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.

The teenage years are full of uncertainty and stress. This is because teenagers are just working out who they are and what their place is in the world. When things don’t go as planned, it can be tough for teens to cope. This has been especially true this past year with the Covid-19 pandemic. In fact, “throughout the Covid-19 pandemic youth ages, 11-17 have been more likely than any other age group to report moderate to severe symptoms of anxiety and depression.

It is normal for teens to struggle with the ups and downs of teenage life. When those downs don’t bounce back, teens can sink into issues like depression. If you are reading this article you already have a hunch. It is important to trust your gut when it comes to your child, after all, you know them best. With that said, take a look at these signs of teenage depression and see if you recognize any of your child’s struggles.

Signs of Depression in Teens

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The risk factors of adolescent depression can be grouped into the following symptoms (click on each symptom to learn more):

Changes in Mood

Nearly one-half of those diagnosed with depression are also diagnosed with an anxiety disorder. Teens have a lot to worry about today, and when that worry becomes excessive or circular it can contribute to depression symptoms.

Let’s face it, it’s normal for teens to be moody. This can be a sign of depression when the moodiness goes beyond what is expected. When someone is depressed, going through daily life obstacles can be frustrating. This symptom can be more prominent for teenagers who are struggling with depression.

Teenagers who are depressed can struggle with anger outbursts. It is hard for them to feel supported and they often report feeling isolated. They often don’t know how to express their feelings of hopelessness, and instead, lash out at the people who are closest to them.

Depression can cause a teenager to get uncomfortable in a variety of situations. This can present as them being fidgety, bouncing their knee, or tapping their foot in situations that require them to pay attention.

If your teen could snap out of their depression, they would have done so already. Mood swings can be drastic for teens. Chances are they are trying to feel better but don’t have the tools to do so on their own.

Thinking Errors

Those struggling with depression often blame themselves for their struggles. This can deepen the depressive cycle and make people feel like they will never get better.

One of the classic symptoms of depression is low self-esteem. With depression, teens often see themselves as failures and worthless. This deepens the depressive cycle and can lead to worrying outcomes if not addressed.

Those struggling with depression are often unable to see that they can still have a happy and healthy future. Depression is often all-consuming and leads people to feel like their future is doomed to failure. Fortunately, treatment can drastically increase their chances of overcoming depression.

Excessive worrying and circular thought processes are common for people who are depressed. Excessively thinking through these often negative thoughts can be harmful.

There is evidence that people who are depressed struggle with memory and concentration. This can impact everything from work, to school, to simple everyday tasks.

Feelings worthless, inferior, or guilty are common for someone who is experiencing depression. These feelings are often overwhelming and can prevent people from having a normal quality of life.

Physical Symptoms

Have you ever heard that depression hurts? Studies show that our bodies manifest emotional pain into physical pain. Your son or daughter could be depressed if they are complaining about frequent headaches, stomach aches, or chronic pain. They could be going to the nurse and/or doctor’s office more often. Don’t miss this common symptom that accompanies the emotional pain of depression.

Depression can impact physical activity and diet. It is not surprising then that depression can impact weight.

Someone who is depressed often reports feeling too tired to do things. This fatigue is actually a symptom of depression and a good indicator of a deeper issue.

People’s sleep cycles can also be impacted by depression. Whether this means that someone is struggling to sleep, or sleeping too much, abnormal sleep patterns are a good indicator of depression.

For someone struggling with depression, personal hygiene or appearance is often not at the top of their list of concerns. This can lead to slipping standards of self-care.

Impulse Control Issues

It is normal for teenagers to push boundaries, and be a bit reckless at times. When this behavior becomes frequent and severe then that is a time to be concerned. For example, risky sexual escapades, sneaking out at night, legal trouble, etc. So if your teen has become less concerned for personal safety and the safety of others, that is a big concern.

Alcohol and drug experimentation is normal during the teenage years. Many people turn to drugs and alcohol to self-medicate for depression. Teens who are depressed are at a high risk of becoming addicted, especially if they are not getting treatment for substance abuse.

Is your teen on their phone constantly? If this frustrates you, you are not alone. Many depressed teens will use technology to escape or distract themselves from their feelings. This can even evolve into an addiction as they become more dependent on the situation technology provides.

Self-harm is a worrying symptom of a deeper mental health issue. Teens struggling with self-harm are usually struggling with deep depression and/or anxiety. They need immediate treatment.

Changes From the Norm or Routine

One common sign of depression is a loss of interest in living life. Depression can overwhelm other emotions. It can also lead to a deep melancholy or apathy towards activities that would normally be fun to them.

Depression can make school much more difficult. It can overwhelm one’s will to complete schoolwork and can lead to school failure.

When struggling with depression, getting out of bed in the morning can seem like climbing Mt. Everest. Going to school can seem impossible. This often leads teens suffering from depression to miss school.

Disruption in one’s daily routine caused by depression can also impact eating habits. Also, food can be used as a maladaptive coping skill to help fill the void left by depression.

Again, depression can make getting up and facing the day seem like an insurmountable challenge. For this reason, depression can often lead to a decrease in overall physical movement and exercise.

Relationship Struggles

Depression can impact almost every part of daily life. One area that often suffers is relationships with family or friends.

Depression is hard to deal with on its own. Even dealing with other people on top of depression can feel like too much. People who are experiencing depression often withdraw from relationships and self-isolate.

When struggling with depression, people’s moods can change dramatically. This can often lead to changes in friend groups for teens.

Suicide

These thoughts can be recurrent and do not always include a specific plan for committing suicide.

Suicidal threats should never be taken lightly. If your child is expressing suicidal thoughts and especially if they have a plan, get them the help they need right away. There are many resources out there.

Suicide is the last outcome that any parent wants for their child. A suicide attempt is an immediate and clear signal that someone needs professional mental healthcare treatment.

For immediate help call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255). They also have a webchat available on https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/chat/.

Atypical Depression Symptoms

Someone already struggling with depression and self-image issues is less likely to put themselves in a position where they could face rejection or failure. Additionally, if someone is depressed, then rejected or experiences failure might worsen their depressive cycle.

People experiencing depression often blame themselves for the negative things or feelings in their life. This can lead people with depression to be overly apologetic which isn’t healthy.

People respond to depression in different ways. Some people try to control different parts of their lives to compensate for the lack of control of their emotions. Counterintuitively, this means that someone struggling with depression might present as a perfectionist.

Depression often leads to shifts in mood, but can also lead to shifts in personality. Depression is a complex chemical and emotional process and can have a variety of outcomes that are often difficult to predict or explain.

Sometimes people will overcompensate for their depression by outwardly showing a happy facade. This is sometimes known as hidden depression. As the name implies, this type of depression can be hard to spot.

Research studies have shown that there is a link between depression and short-term memory loss. Depression can cause what is known as a brain fog where people with depression may seem “out of it” or seem disconnected.

People who are depressed tend to have poor coping skills. People who are depressed can respond negatively to loud noises, boredom, or other stressors.

Have you ever heard of the brain-gut connection? Researchers have found that people who are experiencing mental health issues like depression, and anxiety can also experience intestinal distress. This distress is usually caused by increased inflammation in that area of the body.

Differences Between Depression In Teens and Adults

Teens often fail to get help with their depressive disorder on their own. They may not even know what kinds of help are out there. They rely on the adults in their life to advise them on what to do when depression knocks them off their feet. Adults often have access to resources that teens do not.

Teens may also present with different symptoms than adults.

Symptoms and Behaviors More Common in Depressed Teens

  • Anger
  • Irritability
  • Unexplained aches and pains
  • Headaches or stomach aches
  • Emotionally sensitive
  • Some social withdrawal but not completely isolating
  • Tech addiction / phone addiction

Depression can cause your son or daughter to feel hopeless, and angry. Often teenagers don’t know how to cope with being overcome by this kind of sadness and can start to “act out” in the following ways:

Is It Depression or Normal Teenage Behavior?

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Teens go through many ups and downs. They act out and can be moody at times. This is normal for teenagers, but major depression is not. Teens’ emotions can seem to fluctuate a lot as they go through the ups and downs of teenage life. Oftentimes, it may seem like a depressed teen has every reason to be happy and is still plagued with overwhelming sadness or numbness.

How Do You Know When it is a Problem?

Depression is a problem when depressive symptoms affect your child’s everyday life. Depression goes beyond normal teenage moodiness. Depression is a destructive force that can tear apart your teen’s personality. You may feel like you have lost them in a way. If this goes on for more than two weeks then your child might be struggling with depression. So if your child is not going to school, is struggling with relationships, is unable to cope with the basic stressors in life, and/or is unable to find joy in activities they once enjoyed, it is time to start looking for resources that fit your child’s needs. If you are not sure if your son or daughter is truly depressed or just being a teenager ask yourself the following three questions.

  1. How long have the depressive symptoms been going on?
  2. How bad are the depressive symptoms?
  3. How are they acting differently from their normal self?

Is This Just a Phase?

How do you know that it isn’t just a phase with your teenager? Teens go through so many phases. It can seem like one minute they want to be a lacrosse superstar and the next they want to play in a band. These types of phases are normal development. They are just part of how teens try new things and figure out who they are.

As a parent, there are a couple of key indicators that can help you know when your teen is struggling with depression, rather than just going through a phase. One of the key indicators is that your teen is no longer taking joy in activities they once liked. Another indicator is that your teen is withdrawing socially. They could be spending more time by themselves. Many do so by looking at their phones or playing video games. A third indicator is that your teen is showing significant changes in their day-to-day life. Indicators that parents often see include sleeping more, missing school, failing classes, or quitting sports. These are all signs that your teen might be going through more than a phase and could be struggling with depression.

Teenagers who have a mental illness like depression need help! More than just being prescribed antidepressants for their depressed mood. Being depressed is not a fun experience, and if they could change it on their own they would. It is much more than a phase.

In fact, “Most adults with depressive illness recall their first episode as occurring in the teenage years, and prospective studies of youth suggest that first onset may be typical in early adolescence.” For adults who develop severe depression, it started in their teen years. So if your son or daughter is showing signs of depression it is important to get them the help that they need.

Treatment for Teen Depression

Treatment for teens struggling with depression can come in a variety of forms. One of the first, and least disruptive treatment options is talk therapy, usually cognitive behavioral therapy. A mental health professional will discuss experiences, struggles, successes, strategies, and coping skills with your depressed teenager. It can really help teens work through their depression.

If the clinical depression persists or worsens, parents can consider intensive outpatient (IOP) therapy. IOP therapy means seeing a therapist more regularly, most likely multiple times per week.

Unfortunately, traditional talk therapy and IOP are often not enough to help some teens overcome their depression. If these methods aren’t working, it might be time to consider alternative treatment options.

Why Wilderness Therapy?

Wilderness therapy is a treatment option that is particularly well-tailored for teens struggling with depression. Wilderness therapy programs combine professional mental health counseling with natural challenges, novel experiences, and powerful adventures to fast-track the healing process. Additionally, wilderness therapy programs are specifically designed for teens and young adults. They allow teens to connect with and learn from other teens struggling with similar challenges. Overall, wilderness therapy has shown strong positive outcomes for teens including improved self-efficacy, increased resilience, and a more positive outlook on life.

How Aspiro Can Help

Wilderness Adventure therapy programs like Aspiro Adventure can be an effective treatment option for teens who are depressed. For one thing, wilderness adventure therapy removes teens from their environments and allows them to focus on improving themselves. Wilderness adventure therapy also provides the space and time for teens to process through their feelings in a healthy way and under mental health professionals’ supervision.

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Programs like Aspiro Adventure use a dynamic approach that is research-based. Aspiro provides accurate mental health assessments, so you can be assured that your teen is getting the help that they need. These therapeutic methods create an environment of growth and learning that will help get your teenager back on track and overcome their mental health issue.

Exposure to novel environments and activities at wilderness adventure therapy programs has also been shown to be an effective way to challenge teens. In this setting, teens have the chance to practice new coping strategies.

Further, overcoming seemingly impossible challenges, like summiting a large mountain, has been shown to improve resilience, grit, and self-efficacy. These are all critical elements to healthy teen development and are vital for overcoming feelings of hopelessness that accompany depression.

In all, wilderness adventure therapy is a smart option for a teen who is showing signs of depression. Wilderness adventure therapy’s unique environment provides customized treatment plans implemented by mental health professionals. If your teen struggles with depression, you might want to consider Aspiro Adventure as a treatment option.

Help for Depressed Teens

If your child is struggling with depression, it might be time to seek outside help. Depression is a serious condition and it is better to get on top of it early and help get your child back to living the kind of life that they’ve dreamed of. With the right support and counseling, your child and your family can overcome depression and look forward to a brighter future.

If you are considering professional counseling and think that wilderness adventure therapy might be a good fit for your teen, reach out to the Aspiro Adventure admissions team. They are available any time to answer all of your questions. Give them a call today at (801) 349-2740

Additional Resources:

About the Author

  • Shannon Weaver, LCSW
    Shannon Weaver, LCSW
    Director of Marketing and Outreach

Boot Camp for Kids: There is a Better Way

Boot Camp for Kids | Aspiro Wilderness Adventure Therapy Program for troubled teens and young adults

Every parent wants to see their child succeed. They want their child to be happy, healthy, and to become a thriving adult. When your child struggles to meet expectations or lacks the motivation to succeed, it can be heartbreaking. You believe in them and wish that they could see themselves the way that you do. In this article, we will discuss several options to help your child get back on track. We will inform you of the risks of boot camps, and highlight more effective treatment options that have been proven to help teens and their families.

What is a Boot Camp Program For Kids?

Classic boot camps are often depicted as having strict rules, drill instructors, and extreme physical challenges. Often someone’s image of a juvenile boot camp is that of Marine’s Corps basic training. One thing that is very clear in this depiction is that it doesn’t look like a summer camp. The idea for private boot camps originated from military boot camps that were designed to prepare soldiers for war. A military boot camp’s intent is to harden civilians into soldiers to engage in combat. Military-style boot camps push recruits to fall in line, take orders, and train them to endure the trauma that accompanies war.

Boot camps for kids share some of these components. They are designed to “toughen up” their residents. They do this through a strict set of rules and punishments. These can include rising before dawn, extreme physical activity, and mental manipulation. People who work at these camps take no excuses and attempt to push kids to their limits to “break” their habits.

Why Do Parents Send Their Kid To Boot Camp?

Teenagers today face an enormous amount of pressure in today’s society and sometimes struggle to handle it. It often seems like they live in a different world and have to face different challenges than generations before them. They have no memory of what the world was like without smartphones. Social media dominates social interactions. The pressure to succeed and to fit in has never been higher.

Some kids might succumb to social pressures and try to cope by drinking alcohol or falling into substance abuse. They may display oppositional behaviors like pushing back against authority figures or may struggle with academic underachievement.

Teenagers also have a hard time expressing their feelings to their parents or other adults in their life. Instead of communicating, they often display a secondary emotion – anger. This leaves parents believing that they need harsh rules and structure like a boot camp experience to correct these behaviors.

Unfortunately, strict discipline isn’t always a good thing for kids who are struggling. There may be underlying mental health issues like anxiety and depression. According to the CDC, for children aged 3-17 years with behavior problems, more than 1 in 3 also have anxiety and about 1 in 5 also have depression.  Helping your kid with underlying mental health conditions may require mental health treatment to help correct their behavior.

Who Goes To A Kids Boot Camp?

You might be wondering if your child would qualify for an intervention like teen boot camp, military school, or other similar programs. Maybe you are seeing some behaviors and are on the fence about if things have gotten “bad enough.” Typically boot camps have low selection criteria and are parent-driven. This means that most participants are there against their will.

Issues That Teens Struggle With:

  • Behavioral Problems
  • Substance abuse
  • Trouble with the law
  • Defiance
  • Issues at school
  • Anger outbursts
  • Disrespecting authority
  • Dangerous or bad behavior

It is not an easy choice to “send your child away.” Many parents do so because they feel that they are unable to keep their child safe and that extreme measures must be taken. Your child’s actions and behaviors may have you feeling that you have to do something about them before they spiral more out of control. You may be asking yourself how I can help my struggling teen? While signing your child up for a boot camp experience is one option to address behavioral issues, other options have been proven to be more effective.

Adventure therapy is an alternative to boot camp for kids that is researched backed | Aspiro Adventure Therapy

How Can I Help My Troubled Teen?

When parents start to feel that extreme measures need to be taken to keep their child safe, they often think a boot camp setting would be right for them. They may believe that their child needs “tough love.” Sometimes that is the case, where a teen can benefit from having more structure and accountability, but there also might be something else going on that is resulting in their behaviors. There could be an underlying mental illness that increased structure and discipline would not address. It could even make things worse.

If your teenager shows signs of any of the issues, it is important to consider the root cause of the problem before taking the next step. The best thing for your teen may not be a boot camp setting. There are other options like wilderness adventure therapy that could be more effective.

Issues That Your Kid Might Be Struggling With:

  • Poor Self-Esteem
  • Mental Health Concerns
  • Bullying
  • Overwhelming Pressure to Succeed
  • Learning Challenges
  • Self-Harm
  • Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD)
  • Drug Abuse

What Are Boot Camps Designed To Do?

Boot camps are designed to instill discipline through structure. Many parents believe that their kid will improve with a firmer hand. They think that they have been “too soft” as a disciplinarian and that this has led to problem behaviors.

Benefits You Might Be Looking For:

  • A Strong Work Ethic
  • Purpose
  • Sense of Belonging
  • Structure
  • Discipline
  • Respect 
Adventure therapy is an alternative to boot camp for kids that is researched backed | Aspiro Adventure Therapy

While parents have the right intentions, sending a troubled teenager to a boot camp can cause more harm than good. Instead, an alternative treatment that addresses the causes of behavior can often be more appropriate.

Boot camps are often a poor choice for addressing behavioral issues because they can create trauma rather than treating the root cause. Generally, behavioral problems are rooted in a struggle with mental illness. Sending your child away to a boot camp program where they are subjected to strict discipline does not address them. Instead, the act of sending your child away is likely to cause mental and emotional trauma. The whole process seems like a punishment when they are already struggling. Alternatively, a non-punitive program is likely to be a better option for your child.

The Problems Associated With Boot Camps For Troubled Teens

Boot camps for teens are known for creating extreme environments for their participants. Although these types of programs have been around since the 1880s, they have not proven to be effective for helping teenagers. Boot camps do not address the underlying issues that lead to problem behaviors. To address these issues, advanced clinical assessments and interventions are necessary. These types of interventions are generally not available in boot camps. Instead, they are available in a wilderness therapy program or adventure therapy program.

Ultimately parents want what is best for their child. Boot camps are designed to “toughen them up” or scare them straight. This can sound appealing, but many parents of boot camp teens find themselves facing the same and often worse issues when their child returns home from a boot camp setting. Toughening someone up isn’t effective at addressing clinically complex mental health issues.

Philosophy Behind Boot Camps

To encourage long term lasting change for struggling kids, a program needs to address intrinsic motivation. One of the main issues with boot camps for kids is that they motivate change by external means. Instead of teaching your child to want to change their behavior for themself, boot camps encourage kids to change to avoid consequences. Your child might find success within the program, but studies have shown that after the intensive structure is taken away, many teens go back to their old behaviors.

Further, boot camps do not address the family system. Many problem behaviors come from issues in the family system that include elements outside your child’s control. While boot camps motivate teens through means of behavioral modification and for eliminating their locus of control, they fail to address the deeper causes of their problem behaviors and fail to give them and their families the coping skills they need.

There is an alternative for boot camp for kids, adventure therapy | Aspiro Adventure Therapy

Locus of Control & How it Relates To Teen Development

How people interpret success vs. failure has a lot to do with an individual’s belief system. Centrally, this focuses on the factors to which that person attributes to success or failure, also known as Locus of Control. This is important to understand when considering treatment options that lead to lasting change for your child.

The Locus of Control concept is divided into internal and external categories. When a person has an internal locus of control, they attribute their success to their abilities, which means that they believe in overcoming challenges and are open to the learning process. On the other hand, external locus of control attributes success to factors outside of the individual’s control. This can lead to anxiety because of the feeling that they lack power over their lives. People with an external locus of control often feel that they are not at fault and point their fingers at others to blame.

Boot camps promote an external Locus of Control. Participants are expected to “follow orders” and discouraged from making independent decisions. Without choices, teens won’t learn to take responsibility for their actions. Instead, building up self-efficacy, where your child believes that they can overcome obstacles and succeed in challenging circumstances, is critical for lasting change.

Boot Camps Use of Behavior Modification Techniques

Behavioral modification uses positive and negative reinforcement in a variety of ways to encourage a person to change their mindset on their behaviors. Boot camps use behavior modification as a catalyst for change; however, experts are now finding that these programs do not work for four reasons.

  1. The main reason is that they often do not provide a therapeutic component to their programs, and teens struggling with underlying mental health issues are left untreated.
  2. Bootcamps also lack robust pre-admission screening. Some programs are going to work better for different people. Without robust screening procedures, participants will likely end up in programs that don’t meet their needs.
  3. Boot camps are often not long enough to lead to lasting change. Habits take time to form, and these short boot camps are not allowing time for this to happen. A shorter program can be an excellent tool for assessment, but expecting a several week program to “fix” your child is unrealistic. Instead, looking into programs that specialize in intervention, evaluation, and treatment is a better approach.
  4. Boot camps use aggressive tactics that are meant to break a person down. This may help train people to go into the military but is not effective for a teen who was forced to be in a situation that often creates trauma. Breaking the will of your child is not healthy. Instead, it would be best if you worked with your child and mental health professionals towards a positive outcome. Treatment does not need to be a power struggle; it can be a positive and healing experience for your family.

Why Are Boot Camps Ineffective?

Military-style boot camps claim to offer a transformational experience for your child in just a few short weeks or months. One reason this is ineffective is that boot camps are “one size fits all” types of programs. Regardless of what your child is struggling with, a bootcamp will generally approach them the same way as participants from all sorts of backgrounds and issues. A more effective approach is individualized treatment plans tailored to your child’s and your family’s needs.

Studies have shown that treatments that provide therapy for the family unit are more effective and have better outcomes for everyone involved. When families start to work together, they can begin to form a stronger bond and learn how to best support each other.

Is Aspiro Right for Your Family?

Answer the following questions to see if Aspiro is a good fit for your struggling teen?

Is Aspiro Right For Your Family?

Is your child between the ages of 13 and 26?(Required)
Is your child between the ages of 13 and 26?
Is Aspiro Right For Your Family
Is your child between the ages of 13 and 26?(Required)
Is your child between the ages of 13 and 26?

Meeting The Unique Needs of Teenagers

Teenagers have unique needs, especially when it comes to their mental health and wellbeing. Kids today are faced with many unique challenges and often have different struggles than adults.

Currently, 1 in 5 young people suffer from a mental illness. Additionally, half of all mental health conditions start by 14 years of age, but most cases are undetected and untreated. This is why early intervention and screening is important for teens. Teens also face a higher stress and more competitive environment than ever before. It is therefore not surprising that high school students today have more anxiety symptoms and are twice as likely to see a mental health professional as teens in the 1980s. When adolescent mental health conditions like these are not addressed, they can extend into adulthood and limit a child’s ability to lead a successful life. This further reinforces the importance of mental health treatment for struggling kids.

Mental health treatment for teens needs to be designed to meet the unique needs of this population. Whether it is academic considerations or a mental health professional that is experienced working with youth, teens will get the most benefit out of treatment if that treatment is tailored to their age group.

"Aspiro was life-changing for our son. While he was in the wilderness therapy program, his self-esteem and confidence increased significantly, he developed more perseverance and "grit", all while doing very intense therapeutic work with the staff..."
Aspiro Alumni Parent

How Can I Best Support My Teen?

Your teen could be struggling with a variety of issues. One of the most important steps is to get an accurate assessment from a mental health professional to help understand what those struggles are precisely.

Overall, kids should develop 5 core competencies that can lead them down a healthy path.


Identity Development

Teenagers strive to find a clear concept of who they are, their values, and where they fit into the social world. Many young people find that they struggle to define these areas and may fall behind in terms of identity development. Formulating these aspects of their identity has been shown to lead to greater success and happiness for teens.

Self Efficacy

Self- Efficacy is the belief that someone has about their abilities. Foundational research on self-efficacy indicates that efficacy beliefs are one of the best predictors of future performance. By choosing a program that aids in the development of self-efficacy like a wilderness program, you can improve your child’s chances of success.

Life Skills

One of the main goals of many boot camp alternatives is developing healthy coping strategies and social skill-building. When teens are given a chance to learn and practice these strategies and skills, it can help them make changes in attitude and behavior and develop strong social skills.

Growth Mindset

Growth Mindset is a belief that one’s talents and abilities can improve. People with a growth mindset believe that with effort and hard work, they can succeed.

Grit

Grit is defined as the “combination of perseverance and passion toward long-term goals.” In short, grit is: finishing what you start, being consistent, and putting in the hard work to succeed. Teens who have grit are more likely to find success. Check out the video below to learn more about grit. 

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Alternatives to Boot Camp For Kids

It is a difficult decision when to have to send your kid somewhere to get help. When you are facing this difficult decision, it is essential to consider all the options. Other types of therapeutic programs include:

Residential Treatment Center

These are mental health treatment facilities where patients live while engaging in various therapies. Residential programs are, by definition, inpatient programs. Critically, these programs take place outside of a hospital setting in a designated facility. Treatments include traditional talk therapy, group therapy, and living in a structured and often highly supervised environment.

Boarding School

This option removes your child from their environment and introduces them to a new one with a new social network and structure. While a new environment can be beneficial, a boarding school will not address underlying issues and can lead to behavior relapses, especially on home visits.

Therapeutic Boarding School

These are live-in facilities that offer education and mental health treatment for residents. Therapeutic boarding schools are for teens that struggle with behavioral problems and emotional challenges. They can also address cognitive learning challenges and have a more holistic approach than the traditional school environment. Often, therapeutic boarding schools require prospective students to have completed an assessment program like wilderness therapy to determine whether they are a good fit for the school.

Wilderness Therapy

A Wilderness therapy program is a mental health treatment strategy that combines therapy with challenging experiences in an outdoor wilderness environment. Many programs like Aspiro Adventure are research-backed and accredited. These programs go beyond talk therapy and have individualized treatment plans for adolescents with maladaptive behaviors like substance abuse, anxiety, depression, and other mental health disorders. A wilderness therapy program like Aspiro Adventure can include an adventure therapy model. These programs leverage high adventure activities like mountain biking, rock climbing, skiing, and canyoneering to assess and treat various mental and behavioral health conditions.

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What to Look For in Programs For Troubled Youth

There are several boxes that you should look to check when considering an at-risk youth program. Programs that are the most effective use what is known as a relational approach. They do not use punitive measures to motivate teens but instead guide them in finding the internal motivation to change behaviors. It would be best if you also looked for programs that offer individualized treatment plans that can be tailored to your child’s unique needs. These will be more effective at helping your child get back on track.

Another essential question to ask is if the program is accredited? Several organizations, like The National Association of Therapeutic Schools and Programs and The Association of Experiential Education, provide comprehensive standards for common practices in the industry. Programs that meet these standards are known for following safe and ethical practices so that you can be confident in making a safe choice for your child. Lastly, programs that incorporate adventure into their programming, like Aspiro Adventure Therapy, have proven to be effective in helping teenagers overcome many challenges they face.

Benefits of Adventure Therapy:

  • A decrease in symptoms of anxiety and depression
  • Increased self-efficacy
  • Improved executive functioning
  • Improved interpersonal skills
  • Identity development
  • Improved grit
  • Trauma resilience
  • Learning to self-advocate
  • Accurate clinical assessments

What is the Youngest Age For a Kids Boot Camp?

Bootcamps are a variety of costs depending on the length of the program. Boot Camps typically cost between $5,000 and $10,000 for the 30-day stay. However, as mentioned throughout this article, boot camps do not create lasting change and are not necessarily a sound investment in your child’s future. It is worth investing in a high-value program like wilderness adventure therapy that is researched, backed, and accredited.

While costs associated with wilderness adventure therapy are likely higher than those of a bootcamp, these programs provide a greater value because they create lasting change by addressing the root causes of problem behaviors rather than coercing change through punitive measures.

Boot Camp for Kids | Aspiro Adventure Therapy

Why Choose Wilderness Adventure Therapy?

Wilderness Adventure Therapy is a unique and dynamic way to break through boundaries and create lasting change. Programs that implement a wilderness adventure therapy model like Aspiro Adventure Therapy can create challenges for students so they can start to forge an identity, build resiliency, and improve self-efficacy. When this is combined with traditional therapeutic methods like individual and group therapy, it is a powerful combination.

Wilderness adventure therapy programs like Aspiro Adventure Therapy provide comprehensive, clinically sophisticated treatment in concert with adventure activities. This allows clinicians to get past symptoms and address the root causes of problem behaviors for adolescents and young adults. Wilderness adventure therapy has been shown to improve self-efficacy through a process by which youth are exposed to seemingly impossible challenges in novel environments. Through guidance, hard work, and grit, they can find success. This approach is more effective than boot camps, which use behavioral modification models that only address behaviors and do not have a holistic approach.

Further, adventure programs can address the issues in an individualized way. They are not one size fits all approach and include the whole family in the process.

Finally, with the combination of services provided at programs like Aspiro Adventure Therapy, teenagers experience lasting change.

About the Author

  • Shannon Weaver, LCSW
    Shannon Weaver, LCSW
    Director of Marketing and Outreach

Wilderness Treatment Center: Is it Right for My Family

Wilderness Treatment Center for Teenagers and Young Adults | Aspiro Adventure Therapy

What is a Wilderness Treatment Center?

Wilderness treatment centers provide a unique approach to treatment for teens and young adults who are struggling with their mental, emotional, or behavioral health.

Each wilderness treatment program is different in its approach, but typically combine an immersive nature experience with:

    • Individual Therapy
    • Intensive Clinical
    • Assessment
    • Family Therapy
    • Group Therapy
    • Adventure Therapy
    • Psychological Testing
  • Therapeutic Journaling
  • Medication Management
  • Healthy Diet
  • Regular Sleep Patterns
  • Regular Physical Activity
  • Treatment Plans
  • Positive Coping Strategies

A wilderness treatment center can serve as a therapeutic intervention to remove teenagers and young adults from unhealthy environments. Often known as wilderness therapy programs, wilderness treatment centers are designed to assess mental and behavioral health issues and provide robust treatments. Further, wilderness treatment programs are effective at bringing students’ attention to problem behaviors. They do this by highlighting how their actions are impacting those around them. They are often compared to therapeutic boarding schools or a residential treatment program. These programs are similar because they serve as a treatment facility that offers solutions for troubled teens and young adults. It is common for young adults and teens to first complete a wilderness therapy program prior to residential treatment or a therapeutic boarding school due to a wilderness program’s ability to provide an accurate clinical assessment and determine what program will best suit the needs of the patient.

What Makes a Wilderness Treatment Center Unique?

A unique characteristic of most wilderness treatment centers is that they provide a fully immersive and intensive version of therapy. Programs tend to last 2-3 months. They offer long term assessments with 24/7 observation by highly trained staff members. Staff are overseen by clinicians or are clinicians themselves.

Attending a wilderness treatment center generally involves living outside and being a part of a group. This is a profound experience for young people who are forging their identity. In this setting, they can take a step back from their troubled lives and soak up the world around them. Some programs integrate high adventure activities into their programming. For example, Aspiro Adventure incorporates skiing, rock climbing, backpacking, canyoneering, and mountain biking. Research shows that incorporating activities that are challenging, yet achievable can produce long term positive results for young adults and adolescents.

What Are The Different Types of Therapy?

Individual Therapy – This is your typical talk therapy with a masters-level clinician. The therapy type can vary depending on the therapist’s training and the modalities that they choose to use. Some typical therapeutic techniques that wilderness therapists use include: 

  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
  • Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT)
  • Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT) 
  • Positive Psychology 
  • Motivational Interviewing 

Family Therapy – Wilderness treatment centers offer a unique type of family therapy. Communication is mainly done through letter writing while your child is at the center. By communicating this way, families can be intentional with their words. Each party can process their emotions before expressing them in a return letter. Many programs also offer a parent seminar. Parents are invited to spend time with their son or daughter and go through in-person family therapy. Further, many programs are integrating online elements into their family therapy, like webinars.

Group Therapy – Group therapy in the wilderness setting is a great way to break through boundaries. Teens and young adults often feel alone in their struggles with mental health. By providing group therapy, often multiple times in a week, students in wilderness treatment centers can relate to others struggles and overcome what has been holding them back.

What Treatment Approach Does Wilderness Therapy Use?

Wilderness therapists use many approaches that are as varied and unique as their clients. They commonly go beyond traditional talk therapy and add a “hands-on component.” This hands-on component emphasizes an experiential approach. Research shows that experiential therapy is an effective way to break through barriers with young clients and promote lasting change.

Wilderness therapists specialize in working with teens and young adults and can adapt to each client’s needs. High adventure activities are used to not only break through barriers but also as an assessment tool. By observing clients participating in high adventure activities, wilderness therapists can get a better feel for what they are struggling with and how they cope with challenging situations.

What is Life Like in a Therapeutic Wilderness Camp?

At a wilderness treatment center, students will generally experience the benefits of a regular routine. They will eat healthy food, get plenty of sleep, and experience outdoor living, all within a group of students who they relate to in age and struggles. Each morning involves waking up to the sunrise, packing up camping equipment, and eating a healthy breakfast. Breakfast is often oats or granola with fresh fruits. 

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Depending upon the treatment program, students cook their own meals on individual camp stoves. Some programs might utilize the opportunity to cook group meals. What students do during the day varies between programs. Usually, the day consists of individual or group therapy, therapeutic assignments, academic work, and outdoor living activities.

Some programs, like Aspiro, focus on a variety of high adventure activities. These activities are a dynamic way to introduce novel environments and new challenges. Research shows that this process produces positive outcomes. Other programs often focus on primitive/survival skills, and/or backpacking as the primary activity. 

The groups of students will break for lunch before or during activities. Once activities are finished for the day, groups will eat dinner. To wind down, students do journaling, academic, and/or therapeutic group work. Wilderness programs generally require students to move as a group. This dynamic offers ample opportunity to work on interpersonal challenges that come up.

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Additionally, this daily routine is in line with most people’s natural circadian rhythm. Students wake up with the sunrise and go to sleep shortly after the sunset. Having this schedule promotes healthy sleep patterns, which go a long way towards better mental health.

How Do Outdoor Therapy Programs Work?

Outdoor therapy programs are a unique and dynamic way to help young adults and adolescents overcome mental health challenges.

6 ways wilderness programs affect change:

  1. Removing young adults and teens from an environment that is not working for them and replacing it with a healthy, safe environment where they can thrive
  2. Providing a holistic therapeutic approach with individual, group, and family therapy
  3. Accurate assessment of therapeutic needs
  4. Development of a thorough treatment plan
  5. Creating situations where students can overcome challenges to promote lasting change
  6. Referrals to further treatment facilities

These factors, combined with the unique pieces of each wilderness program, help create a foundational experience for young people struggling with mental and behavioral health issues.

What Is The Difference Between Wilderness Therapy and Adventure Therapy?

Wilderness therapy consists of traditional therapeutic modalities implemented in a wilderness environment. These programs draw on nature’s ability to provide perspective, natural consequences, and transcendence.

Adventure therapy is a subcategory of wilderness therapy. It draws on the benefits of participation in high adventure activities in addition to traditional wilderness therapy modalities.

Types of Therapeutic Wilderness Programs

When focusing on therapeutic wilderness programs, there are three main models to choose from: 

Nomatic Model – This model involves backpacking or hiking between several campsites. This model is set in the belief that treatment centers can separate teens and young adults from negative environments where they are not thriving. This model is designed to give students time to work through their thoughts and emotions. Physical challenge through backpacking, mixed with programmatic structure, and reliance on natural consequences form the backbone of the nomadic program treatment model.

Basecamp Model – This model is designed for students to stay or return regularly to one area. These programs often have different phases or parts of the program. The base camp model offers a home away from home to students and creates both consistency and variety for students. The variety is created by participating in different activities or traveling to different locations, and the consistency is maintained by returning to a predictable basecamp environment.

Adventure Model – While including aspects of the nomadic and basecamp models, the adventure model uses high adventure activities as the main “agent of change.” Students get the opportunity to participate in high adventure activities like rock climbing, mountain biking, canyoneering, and skiing. These types of programs combine adventure with aspects from the traditional nomadic model like backpacking and hiking. This combination is an effective way to introduce novel environments and activities. Further, it creates new and challenging opportunities for students to practice coping skills and overcome obstacles. This has been shown to have many positive effects, including improved self-efficacy and lasting change.

Who Should Receive Wilderness Therapy?

Who is a Good Fit For Wilderness Therapy?

Teens and young adults who have been diagnosed or who are suspected of having a mental or behavioral health disorder would be a good fit for a wilderness therapy. Teens and young adults who are acting out, struggling socially or academically, failing to meet developmental landmarks, or falling behind their peers are also a good fit for outdoor therapy. Wilderness therapy is an especially good choice if teens or young adults are resistant to mental health treatment. Wilderness therapy generally has positive outcomes for those who were originally treatment-resistant.

Should Your Teen Be Sent To a Wilderness Camp?

If your teen or young adult is struggling, a wilderness camp could be a great option for your child and your family. It is an especially good option for those who have tried other treatments prior and have not found success. A wilderness camp can help the most by providing an accurate assessment of what is going on. It can be powerful to combine actuate assessment, with expert recommendations for continued treatment. Also if your child is currently behind, wilderness camps are an intensive therapeutic intervention that can help them catch up.

Should You Pull Your Child Out of School For Wilderness Therapy?

Many wilderness therapy programs offer some high school credit to students while they attend the program. These credits can often be transferred to any accredited school. For example, Aspiro Adventure offers high school credit. Therapists also observe how a student learns and processes information. This information is included in their overall clinical assessment. The majority of wilderness therapy students are struggling academically. Programs can give recommendations to lead them to an educational environment where they can succeed.

Challenges That Wilderness Therapy is Successful in Treating

Wilderness therapy is successful in treating many different mental and behavioral health disorders that affect teens and young adults. Wilderness programs are designed to provide individualized care tailored to each person’s unique situation and needs. Often, programs can place students in groups with peers who are struggling with similar issues. The feeling that your child is not alone in their struggles is healing in and of itself.

Below are some common diagnoses of people who seek wilderness treatment:

Benefits of Wilderness Treatment

How Can An Outdoor Wilderness Program Help Your Troubled Teen Or Young Adult?

Teens and young adults are in a critical stage of their development. They are putting together the pieces of who they are and who they want to become. Developing a strong identity at this age is critical to future success. Research has shown that wilderness programs aid in the development of self-identity in six steps. These include:

  • new experiences
  • mental/physical challenges
  • supportive relationships
  • increased self-confidence
  • new self-perception

When wilderness therapy students begin to experience these things, they start to forge a positive self-identity. 

Students start to replace negative coping strategies with positive ones. They learn how their negative coping skills are affecting them and those that are around them. Finally, they learn how positive coping skills can change their lives for the better.

With this comes an improvement in social and emotional learning. When students can “hit the pause button” on life, they can listen to honest feedback about their behaviors. They can put together how they affect people they love and learn what has been holding them back from fostering positive relationships.

Many wilderness programs include a family therapy component. Families start to learn their role in negative communication cycles. They can start to learn and practice improved communication. This leads to improved family cohesiveness and better outcomes for your child.

Many studies have shown that wilderness camps increase in self-esteem and self-efficacy in participants. Many young adults and troubled teens struggle with finding confidence in themselves, leading some to spiral academically and socially. In wilderness programs, participants achieve goals they never thought to be possible, like getting to the top of a rock wall or summiting a mountain. Whatever it is, they learn that they are capable and worthy of success.

Why Choose Wilderness Treatment Over Other Programs?

Wilderness treatment centers specialize in working with teens and young adults. They are experts in the area of mental and behavioral health. They often have clients who have tried many different types of treatment before without success. This can be because many treatment programs are not designed for this age group. Further, many programs are ill-equipped to handle treatment-resistant students. Wilderness treatment centers specialize in this area, as well.

How Effective is Wilderness Treatment?

Do Wilderness Programs For Teens Really Work?

Wilderness programs provide a transformative experience for young adults and teens. They offer a unique holistic approach to mental health care. This approach is thinking outside the box when it comes to reaching this population. For most teens, it is exactly what they need. Wilderness treatment is flexible and dynamic enough to address their unique struggles. Wilderness programs also address teen’s and young adults’ need to feel comradery with like-minded people. For teens struggling beyond the usual bumps in the road, wilderness therapy is likely just the thing that they need to turn things around.

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Does Science Support The 'Wilderness' in Wilderness Therapy?

The science does support that wilderness therapy is an effective treatment for most people who complete a program. A large study was done by The Outdoor Behavioral Health Council that followed participants who had completed wilderness programs 2-3 years prior.

Here are some of their results:

  • 83% were doing better, and 58% were doing well or very well. 17% were still “struggling.”
  • 81% rated outdoor behavioral healthcare treatment as effective.

More research is ongoing as more people strive to quantify the positive results that others are experiencing from wilderness programs. In recent years there has also been an interest in studying the effectiveness of wilderness adventure therapy. This form of treatment was pioneered by Aspiro and has been transformative in the field of mental health.

Aspiro Wilderness Adventure Therapy

Aspiro Wilderness Therapy is a company that stands out among wilderness programs. They pioneered and perfected the Wilderness Adventure Therapy model. At Aspiro, teens and young adults participate in a variety of high adventure activities. These include mountain biking, skiing, canyoneering, backpacking, and rock climbing. All of these activities are done in novel environments. As novel environments and activities are introduced, students have the opportunity to overcome challenges.

Aspiro’s Wilderness Adventure Therapy program was uniquely crafted to assist students and their families in creating lasting, life-long emotional changes through compassionate, intentional, research-backed, and safe outdoor adventure therapy programs. The professionals at Aspiro Adventure understand individuals don’t come with instructions, and every student is unique, capable, and amazing in their own right.

Aspiro Adventure focuses on helping adolescents, young adults, and their families through difficulties that occur when various emotional, behavioral, cognitive, or developmental issues are present. Research shows that engaging individuals on a personal level with strategic and intentional activities will help develop the tools and skills necessary to engage life in a healthy and positive way.

About the Author

  • Shannon Weaver, LCSW
    Shannon Weaver, LCSW
    Director of Marketing and Outreach

Navigating a 5150 Hold for Minors: A Guide for Parents

Navigating a 5150 Hold For Minors: A Guide for Parents

When your child is struggling, your whole world can get turned upside down in an instant. This is especially true when your child is struggling with their mental health or has a mental illness. If your child’s needs become critical, the situation can seem out of control, and as parents, it can feel as though you are helpless. You can find yourself in a situation where you fear for your child’s safety and know that you need some kind of crisis intervention.

Seeking help can come in many forms but sometimes includes a hospital visit, contact with a mental health professional, or law enforcement. Depending upon how these interactions go, your child may be deemed a threat to themselves or others. They could be placed on a 72-hour hold, commonly referred to as a 5150 or 5585 hold, for their safety. The need for an involuntary commitment can be terrifying for any parent and child. It is important for you to recognize that this involuntary hold is intended to ensure the safety of your child and to give professionals time to assess your child’s needs during this psychiatric emergency.

Generally, a 5150 or a similar involuntary mental health hold is just one step in a longer process. It is often after a 5150 hold that parents consider more intensive treatment options, including wilderness adventure therapy. Here is a guide for parents if you find yourself in this situation.

What is a 5150 Hold?

A 5150 hold is a common term used to describe a 72 hour hold or involuntary commitment. This type of involuntary hold is implemented by a professional concerned that your child may be a threat to themselves or others. While the names of this type of involuntary hold may vary, the intent is to provide crisis intervention to ensure your child’s safety. An additional benefit of the involuntary commitment is that it gives time for mental health professionals to assess your child’s needs so that you know what to do next.

Having your child placed on a psychiatric hold is difficult for any parent. That said, involuntary treatment is an opportunity to get professional insight into how to best help your child. Listening to mental health professionals now could be the thing that saves your child’s life.

Every state has their version of a 5150 hold. Most are 72 hours long, though this can vary. The time that your teen or young adult is being held depends on the state you live in, your health insurance plan, or your child’s symptoms. During this time, it is essential to reflect on the fact that your child is safe. Also, it is time to pay close attention to your child’s needs.

A 5150 hold is an indication that your child needs professional care. Know that you are not alone. While grounds for a 5150 hold vary case to case, some of the most common reasons for teenagers include suicidal ideation or a suicide attempt. In fact, “suicide rates almost doubled in youth aged 17 years and younger during the past 10 years and… more than tripled in girls aged 10 to 14.”

While a 5150 hold is a serious situation for your family, it can be an opportunity for positive change. While the professionals do their work to assess your child, there are some steps that you can take to support your family unit during this difficult time.

What Your Child is Experiencing and How They Might Be Feeling

Know that your child is safe. This is the most important thing right now. Also, it is important to recognize that your child is likely not thinking clearly. They are probably having a hard time seeing the big picture and often don’t understand how to help themselves.

Your child is most likely feeling isolated and may not see how others could help them through their struggles. They may take their emotions out on you or other loved ones. This is normal and not something to be alarmed by. Your child may not understand why they are being forced into involuntary hospitalization. Chances are they are not being completely rational and could be hyper-focused on getting out of their current situation.

Unfortunately, this means that your child may not be comfortable fully disclosing details of their emotional state. They may instead try and “say the right thing,” to get themselves out of the hospital. It is still important to acknowledge what your child is feeling and support them as best you can.

3 Ways to Support Your Child While They are in the Hospital

Here are some strategies on how to best support your child during a 5150 hold:

1. Actively listen to your child.  Active listening is a technique where you acknowledge what your child is saying to ensure mutual understanding before including your opinions. For example:

Child: I hate it here and just want to go home.

Parent: I am hearing that you are not liking the situation that you are in and that you want me to sign you out. Let me check in with your therapist, I want to see what they think is in your best interest before making any decisions.

2. Validate their feelings. Let your child know that it is okay to feel sad or embarrassed about what happened. Maintain a hopeful and forward-looking tone. This does not mean you need to counteract negativity with positives. That might frustrate your child. Instead, try and keep the tone of the conversations hopeful and oriented towards a better future. Advocate for your child’s needs during this time. If you feel that they are at risk for another psychiatric emergency, and it is not safe for them to come home, consider other treatment options available.

3. Practice Self-care. It is essential during this turbulent time that you take care of yourself. You can not burn the candle at both ends and be able to give your full self to your family. It is essential to do whatever it is that you need to recharge. Whether it is taking walks around the neighborhood or going to a weekly yoga class. Give yourself permission to take care of your own needs, in addition to your child’s.

Actions to Take While Your Child is on a 5150 Hold

Ask for documentation regarding changes in your child’s medication. While your child is on the 72-hour hold, a psychiatrist will call you to prescribe a new medication or to request the discontinuation of a medication.

While this seems like common sense, it is not as widely known that psychiatrists may increase or decrease the dose of already prescribed medications without notifying you. As such, it is important to ask for documentation of all changes to your child’s medications so that your child can get the best psychiatric care.

Additional Documents to Ask for Regarding Medical Care Include:

  • Lists of any known side effects of new medications.
  • Copies of any psychiatric evaluation that may have been done while they were in the hospital. This evaluation is conducted by a mental health professional. It can inform you if your child is suffering from a mental disorder. It can be useful when trying to plan for what happens after your child is discharged.
  • A discharge summary which includes essential information from the assessment conducted while your child was on the involuntary psychiatric hold.

Post Discharge Planning and Preparing for Next Steps

As your child’s discharge approaches, it is essential to start considering further treatment options to begin planning the next steps for their care. The 5150 or other holds are intended to be temporary to stabilize and assess your child. It is necessary to continue treatment beyond the 5150 hold to ensure lasting change.

This is a critical time in your child’s life, and the decisions that you make now can have an immense impact on their future. Your child might not be in favor of getting further treatment. They might not understand the benefits and instead focus on the restrictions on their daily life. That said, resolving mental health issues while your child is still young, and while you have parental control, often shows positive long-term results. As a parent, you also have a variety of treatment options.

Main Types of Treatment:

  • Outpatient
  • Hospital Inpatient
  • Wilderness Therapy
  • Residential

Outpatient: This consists of regular mental health appointments while living at home. The structure of outpatient therapies varies widely in terms of the number of appointments and duration of the program.

Hospital Inpatient: Inpatient treatment at a psychiatric hospital usually lasts less than 30 days. Care occurs in a mental health facility that is a part of a hospital. This is considered the highest level of care and is generally reserved for the most acute cases where patients are experiencing a crisis and are a threat to themselves or others. Inpatient hospital programs can help a patient who is experiencing a psychiatric crisis and needs psychiatric evaluation and stabilization.

Residential Treatment: This is a mental health treatment facility where the patient will live and engage in various treatments. Residential programs are, by definition inpatient programs, but take place outside of a hospital setting in a designated facility.

Wilderness Therapy: Wilderness therapy is a mental health treatment strategy for adolescents and young adults with maladaptive behaviors. Wilderness programs combine therapy with challenging experiences in an outdoor wilderness environment to “kinetically engage clients on cognitive, affective, and behavioral levels.” Many programs are designed for crisis intervention.

The Goal of Wilderness Therapy is to Provide:

  1. Therapeutic assessment
  2. Intervention and treatment of problem behaviors
  3. Safety & stabilization
  4. Lasting change

Some wilderness therapy programs incorporate adventure therapy into their model. For example, Aspiro, the pioneer of this strategy, uses adventure therapy to offer more opportunities for assessment, skill-building, and knowledge acquisition than traditional therapy programs. Additionally, these are opportunities to learn transferable skills that are necessary steps for healthy identity development. Finally, adventure therapy provides opportunities to experience success, leading to improved mental health, increased self-efficacy, and lasting change.

In conclusion, this is the time for you to advocate for your child’s mental health care needs. It is essential to follow your intuition after your child has been in an involuntary hold and do what you feel is best for your family and your child.

About Aspiro Adventure Therapy Program

Aspiro’s Wilderness Adventure Therapy program was uniquely crafted to assist students and their families in creating lasting, life-long emotional changes through compassionate, intentional, research backed, and safe outdoor adventure therapy programs. The professionals at Aspiro Adventure understand individuals don’t come with instructions, and every student is unique, capable, and amazing in their own right.

At Aspiro Adventure, we focus on helping adolescents, young adults, and their families through difficulties that occur when various emotional, behavioral, cognitive, or developmental issues are present. Research shows that engaging individuals on a personal level with strategic and intentional activities will aid in developing the tools and skills necessary to engage life in a healthy and positive way.

About the Author

  • Shannon Weaver, LCSW
    Shannon Weaver, LCSW
    Director of Marketing and Outreach
Shannon Weaver, LCSW
Director of Marketing and Outreach

Shannon is both an LCSW and a certified teacher who brings over 20 years of experience to Aspiro through her work with families and students as a Primary Therapist, Clinical Director, and Admissions/Marketing Director at highly regarded residential and therapeutic programs. Her clinical experience includes county mental health, hospital crisis work, residential treatment, therapeutic boarding, and private practice. Shannon has traveled the world and lived overseas in Israel, Russia, and China while teaching and providing mental health counseling. Her diverse experience gives her great compassion and understanding as well as an ability to relate to and understand others. Shannon is passionate about helping students and families heal, discover their strengths, build positive relationships, and create meaningful change. She has a very caring approach that is informed by her years as a clinician and she has enjoyed moving from a clinical role to working in marketing and outreach. Her infectious positive energy, genuine enthusiasm, and commitment to helping people has made her a wonderful fit for this role. In her spare time you will find Shannon traveling, reading, or enjoying Utah’s beautiful landscapes with her husband and children.

Shannon Weaver, LCSW
Director of Marketing and Outreach

Shannon is both an LCSW and a certified teacher who brings over 20 years of experience to Aspiro through her work with families and students as a Primary Therapist, Clinical Director, and Admissions/Marketing Director at highly regarded residential and therapeutic programs. Her clinical experience includes county mental health, hospital crisis work, residential treatment, therapeutic boarding, and private practice. Shannon has traveled the world and lived overseas in Israel, Russia, and China while teaching and providing mental health counseling. Her diverse experience gives her great compassion and understanding as well as an ability to relate to and understand others. Shannon is passionate about helping students and families heal, discover their strengths, build positive relationships, and create meaningful change. She has a very caring approach that is informed by her years as a clinician and she has enjoyed moving from a clinical role to working in marketing and outreach. Her infectious positive energy, genuine enthusiasm, and commitment to helping people has made her a wonderful fit for this role. In her spare time you will find Shannon traveling, reading, or enjoying Utah’s beautiful landscapes with her husband and children.

Shannon Weaver, LCSW
Director of Marketing and Outreach

Shannon is both an LCSW and a certified teacher who brings over 20 years of experience to Aspiro through her work with families and students as a Primary Therapist, Clinical Director, and Admissions/Marketing Director at highly regarded residential and therapeutic programs. Her clinical experience includes county mental health, hospital crisis work, residential treatment, therapeutic boarding, and private practice. Shannon has traveled the world and lived overseas in Israel, Russia, and China while teaching and providing mental health counseling. Her diverse experience gives her great compassion and understanding as well as an ability to relate to and understand others. Shannon is passionate about helping students and families heal, discover their strengths, build positive relationships, and create meaningful change. She has a very caring approach that is informed by her years as a clinician and she has enjoyed moving from a clinical role to working in marketing and outreach. Her infectious positive energy, genuine enthusiasm, and commitment to helping people has made her a wonderful fit for this role. In her spare time you will find Shannon traveling, reading, or enjoying Utah’s beautiful landscapes with her husband and children.

Shannon Weaver, LCSW
Director of Marketing and Outreach

Shannon is both an LCSW and a certified teacher who brings over 20 years of experience to Aspiro through her work with families and students as a Primary Therapist, Clinical Director, and Admissions/Marketing Director at highly regarded residential and therapeutic programs. Her clinical experience includes county mental health, hospital crisis work, residential treatment, therapeutic boarding, and private practice. Shannon has traveled the world and lived overseas in Israel, Russia, and China while teaching and providing mental health counseling. Her diverse experience gives her great compassion and understanding as well as an ability to relate to and understand others. Shannon is passionate about helping students and families heal, discover their strengths, build positive relationships, and create meaningful change. She has a very caring approach that is informed by her years as a clinician and she has enjoyed moving from a clinical role to working in marketing and outreach. Her infectious positive energy, genuine enthusiasm, and commitment to helping people has made her a wonderful fit for this role. In her spare time you will find Shannon traveling, reading, or enjoying Utah’s beautiful landscapes with her husband and children.

Shannon Weaver, LCSW
Director of Marketing and Outreach

Shannon is both an LCSW and a certified teacher who brings over 20 years of experience to Aspiro through her work with families and students as a Primary Therapist, Clinical Director, and Admissions/Marketing Director at highly regarded residential and therapeutic programs. Her clinical experience includes county mental health, hospital crisis work, residential treatment, therapeutic boarding, and private practice. Shannon has traveled the world and lived overseas in Israel, Russia, and China while teaching and providing mental health counseling. Her diverse experience gives her great compassion and understanding as well as an ability to relate to and understand others. Shannon is passionate about helping students and families heal, discover their strengths, build positive relationships, and create meaningful change. She has a very caring approach that is informed by her years as a clinician and she has enjoyed moving from a clinical role to working in marketing and outreach. Her infectious positive energy, genuine enthusiasm, and commitment to helping people has made her a wonderful fit for this role. In her spare time you will find Shannon traveling, reading, or enjoying Utah’s beautiful landscapes with her husband and children.

Shannon Weaver, LCSW
Director of Marketing and Outreach

Shannon is both an LCSW and a certified teacher who brings over 20 years of experience to Aspiro through her work with families and students as a Primary Therapist, Clinical Director, and Admissions/Marketing Director at highly regarded residential and therapeutic programs. Her clinical experience includes county mental health, hospital crisis work, residential treatment, therapeutic boarding, and private practice. Shannon has traveled the world and lived overseas in Israel, Russia, and China while teaching and providing mental health counseling. Her diverse experience gives her great compassion and understanding as well as an ability to relate to and understand others. Shannon is passionate about helping students and families heal, discover their strengths, build positive relationships, and create meaningful change. She has a very caring approach that is informed by her years as a clinician and she has enjoyed moving from a clinical role to working in marketing and outreach. Her infectious positive energy, genuine enthusiasm, and commitment to helping people has made her a wonderful fit for this role. In her spare time you will find Shannon traveling, reading, or enjoying Utah’s beautiful landscapes with her husband and children.