A Simple Guide to Understanding Anxiety in Teens

A girl meditates in front of the grand canyon as a way of illustrating how to combat Anxiety in Teens | Aspiro Wilderness Therapy Program for Teens

Is your teenager always worried? Are they struggling to do “the basics” despite everything you do or say to help? Do you feel like your anxious child is slipping away and becoming someone you don’t recognize? In this article we’ll discuss anxiety in teens and what parents can do to help.

Parenting an anxious teenager has many challenges that can overwhelm any parent or guardian. You are not alone in this struggle. Many parents are finding themselves in this stressful situation. In fact, according to the National Institutes of Health, nearly 1 in 3 of all adolescents ages 13 to 18 will experience an anxiety disorder. The number of anxious teenagers is also on the rise. It is a sad fact, but you should know that you are not alone. Many others are parenting anxious teens. They, too, are struggling to help their child overcome a disorder that is taking over their lives. 

First, let’s learn about what you and your family are up against. We will then go over the symptoms of an anxiety disorder (some may surprise you) and learn about co-occurring conditions like depression. Most importantly, we will go over ways to help your child, so they can start living their best life.

Parents often struggle understanding anxious teens' struggles in social situations.

How Does Anxiety Affect Teens?

  • Recurring intrusive thoughts or concerns
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Worries about everyday life events
  • Fear of dying
  • Fear of going crazy
  • Excessive concern about being harmed
  • Worrying about loved ones
  • Avoidance of independent activities
  • Fear of unfamiliar people
  • Low Self-Esteem
  • Experiencing excessive fears and worries

An anxiety disorder can affect every aspect of a teen’s life, including:

  • School Attendance
  • Grades
  • Sleep
  • Hobbies
  • Commitments to sports or clubs
  • Friendships
  • Dating
  • Relationships with family
  • Self-worth
  • Physical health
  • Co-occurring conditions

Anxiety presents in many different ways and can affect each person differently. Because anxiety can cause gradual changes in your teen’s life it can be difficult for parents to understand exactly what is going on. For instance, it is hard for parents to know whether their anxious teen is not hanging out with their friends because of social anxiety or just because some friends can drift apart. Similarly, parents can struggle to understand the reasons why they can’t sleep. Are they drinking too much caffeine, or are they up all night rehearsing conversations in their head because they are scared to say the wrong thing.

It can also be challenging for a young person to understand how anyone can help them with their anxiety. Teens might not understand how to communicate their feelings. They might not even think that they are normal. After all, many teens are struggling with anxiety.

anxiety in teens | Aspiro Wilderness Adventure Therapy

How Common is Anxiety in Teens?

Many parents wonder, “Is it normal for my teenager to have anxiety?”

Anxiety disorders are the most common mental health disorder for teens and children. Many different studies have taken a closer look at anxiety in teens. Depending on which study you read, they estimate 15-30 percent of young people will be diagnosed with an anxiety disorder before 18. Unfortunately, many more go undiagnosed but experience the adverse effects nonetheless.

As parents, one of the best ways to help your child is to bring awareness to the issue of anxiety in young people. In addition, the earlier your child is diagnosed, the sooner they will benefit from the many available treatments. But how do you know if your child has an anxiety disorder? First, let’s look at the many different symptoms from the many various anxiety disorders.

Feeling anxious sometimes is normal, like when you are nervous about passing a test. That nervousness or stress can even help people stay motivated when studying. It is built into our biology and allows us to react to threats or danger (think the fight, flight, or freeze response). Good anxiety is proportional, though. It does not last long and is an appropriate response for the situation.

When someone develops an anxiety disorder, the anxious feeling is no longer acting as a tool to help get through stressful situations. Instead, the anxiety leads to excessive worry or fear. This can negatively impact everyday activities and even how someone interacts with the world for an extended time.

Teenage Anxiety Statistics

  • Anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in the U.S.
  • Anxiety is more common among women and caregivers.
  • 80% of kids with a diagnosable anxiety disorder are not getting treatment, and anxiety disorders are highly treatable!
  • Studies have found a combination of cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) and medication for 12 weeks yields a positive response in 80% of children with anxiety disorders.
  • About 50 percent of adults and up to 30 percent of children with ADHD also have an anxiety disorder.

What Causes Anxiety in Teens?

Teenagers are under much pressure today. They are trying to balance more than previous generations. Excess amounts of screen time have been normalized. Depending on what research study you read, screens are now occupying 4-6 hours each day of a teen’s life. Social media use alone has been linked to increased anxiety and depression in teens.

Additionally, environmental factors can be responsible for increased anxiety in teens. Unfortunately, many teenagers have not developed sound coping skills for the stressors that can greatly impact their mental health.

Many of these factors can cascade onto each other. One can lead to another, and before your teenager knows it, they are stuck in their anxiety. The cycle can continue as teens try to escape the anxious feelings, and co-occurring conditions can arise. Feeling anxiety about being anxious is a typical feedback loop.

  • Death of a loved one
  • Trauma
  • Bullying
  • Divorce

Other Factors

  • Family history of anxiety
  • Social isolation
  • Conflict
  • Health issues
  • Financial hardship
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Increased caffeine intake

Symptoms of Anxiety in Teens

  • Fast heartbeat
  • Rapid breathing or difficulty breathing
  • Sweating
  • Restlessness
  • Frequent headaches and migraines
  • Upset stomach & Indigestion 
  • Unexplained aches and pains
  • Chest pain
  • Muscle tension
  • Trembling
  • Dry mouth
  • Not feeling well with no apparent medical cause
  • Changes in social behavior
  • Withdrawal from social activity
  • Avoiding social interactions
  • Avoiding extracurricular activities
  • Spending increased time alone
  • Avoidance of new situations
  • Unstable social relations
  • Mood swings
  • Irritability
  • Unexplained outbursts
  • Changes in eating habits
  • Repeated reassurance-seeking
  • Substance use
  • Extreme self-consciousness
  • Difficulty falling asleep
  • Difficulty staying asleep
  • Frequent nightmares
  • Not feeling rested after sleeping
  • Poor school performance
  • Overwhelmed by the workload
  • Frequently missed assignments
  • Missing school
  • Drop in grades or school refusal
  • Avoidance and fear of school-related events
  • Difficulties with family functioning
  • Avoidance and distress of a feared object
  • Tachycardia (fast heartbeat)
  • Syncope
  • Throat tightness
  • Accelerated heart rate
  • Issues with breathing
  • Feeling like they’re dying
  • Feeling like they’re “going crazy.”
  • Numbness or tingling in arms and legs
  • Difficulties breathing
  • Intense fears
  • Lightheaded
  • Shortness of breath
  • Shaking
  • Sense of unreality
  • Fear of dying, or losing their mind
  • Tinnitus
  • Excessive yawning 
  • Tremors 
  • Tics 
  • Derealization
  • Cold Extremities
  • Globus Hystericus -(lump in the throat feeling)

The Different Types of Anxiety Disorders in Teens and How to Recognize Them

It is easy to think of teenagers as “immature adults,” but the truth is that they are not. Your teenager will most likely not show the same symptoms as an adult who has severe anxiety. Symptoms also depend on the type of anxiety disorder a teen has. There isn’t just one kind. To further understand the different types of anxiety disorders, let’s examine each one.

Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD)

Characterized by people suffering from excessive worry about everyday events. Their fears are often exaggerated or for no apparent reason. They often can’t stop worrying about relationships, school, work, money, future events, or health. Their worry is out of proportion to the situation. Symptoms of generalized anxiety disorders can show up as early as six years old.

  • Anticipating the worst
  • Irritability
  • Restlessness
  • Recurring fears and worries about parts of everyday life
  • Trouble concentrating
  • Extreme self-consciousness or sensitivity to criticism
  • Withdrawal from social activity
  • Avoidance of complicated or new situations
  • Chronic complaints about stomach aches or headaches
  • Drop-in grades or school refusal
  • Repeated reassurance-seeking
  • Sleep problems
  • Substance use

Panic Disorder

 A panic disorder is a mental health problem that causes a sudden spike in anxiety or extreme fear when there isn’t an imminent danger. Those of you who have experienced a panic attack knows that it is a terrifying experience, especially for a teenager. They might not understand what is going on. They could think they are dying or having a heart attack.

  • Rapid heartbeat.
  • Chest or stomach pain
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Weakness or dizziness
  • Sweating
  • Feeling hot or a cold chill
  • Numbness
  • Excessive sweating
  • Trembling or shaking


Phobias are commonly understood. They are irrational or extreme fear of something or a particular situation. Why people develop phobias can vary. They can sometimes be a result of a trauma, or other times even genetic factors. One of the most common phobias is a fear of public speaking. The most common phobias affecting teens involve public humiliation, snakes, needles, flying, and failing grades.

  • Palpitations
  • Sweating
  • Trembling and shaking
  • Nausea
  • Diarrhea
  • Flushed face
  • Disturbing thoughts

How can you Recognize Social Anxiety in Teenagers?

Social Anxiety Disorder is a mental health condition where irrational anxiety is caused by social interactions or events. Adverse experiences like bullying can cause teen anxiety. Teenagers who have social anxiety disorder can excessively worry or have a social phobia. They worry about things like being embarrassed or judged. This often leads people with social anxiety to try to avoid many social situations. They may show physical signs like excessive sweating, fast heart rate, and nausea when experiencing anxious feelings.

Other Forms of Anxiety Disorders That Can Be Affecting Your Child’s Mental Health

This is where a person fears leaving home or separating from a caregiver. Separation anxiety is more common in children than adults. Not surprisingly, there is a correlation between young children with severe separation anxiety and those who develop agoraphobia during adolescence. Agoraphobia is an overwhelming fear when they feel like they can not get out of a situation.

People With Agoraphobia can be Fearful of:

  • Leaving their home
  • Open or enclosed spaces
  • Crowds of people
  • Public transportation

OCD is an anxiety disorder characterized by recurrent, unwanted thoughts (known as obsessions) and paired with repetitive behaviors (compulsions). When people who have OCD perform these rituals lead to a temporary feeling of relief. If they are not able to complete the ritual, it leads to increased anxiety. Although OCD was thought of as rare, after further study, it was found to affect 1-3% of people, making it the fourth most common mental illness. While 1-3% might seem like a small number, it means that somewhere between 3 and 10 million people in the United States alone suffer from OCD.

The first signs of OCD often start during childhood or adolescence. Issues at school involving academic performance can be one of the first signs of OCD for teenagers. It can sometimes present as an obsession with getting the correct answers on a test or assignment. They might reread or rewrite things several times. Additionally, someone struggling with OCD might barrage other students and teachers with questions about assignments or tests. Finally, they may create rituals attempting to control the outcome of their grades. At first, it may have seemed like a good thing that they are trying so hard at school. They might even get positive feedback until the behavior starts to move into other areas of their life.

PTSD is a severe anxiety disorder triggered by a traumatic event. A traumatic event is any event that causes physical, emotional, spiritual, or psychological harm to an individual, resulting in the individual feeling threatened or frightened. When it comes to trauma, it is essential to keep in mind that it is dependent on that person’s perception. Trauma is unique for everyone. Your teenager might not even understand that what they experienced was traumatic. That is until PTSD symptoms arise. They may not know that there is help out there for what they are feeling. Also, keep in mind that teens might not know how to communicate about trauma. They also might be embarrassed to talk about the event because of the shame that so often accompanies trauma.

Sometimes it is hard for parents to imagine that their child could have been in a traumatic event that would trigger PTSD. The unpleasant truth is that it is more common than one might think. It is estimated that 5% of adolescents aged 13-18 experience PTSD. Additionally, The National Survey of Children’s Exposure reported that 18.7% of teenage girls had experienced a completed or attempted sexual assault in their lifetime.

anxiety in teens | Aspiro Wilderness Adventure Therapy
20 Common Signs of PTSD in Teens
  1. Feeling tense or jumpy
  2. Hyper-vigilance
  3. Bad dreams or trouble sleeping
  4. Socially withdrawn from friends and family
  5. Overreacts about small things
  6. Depression
  7. Emotional numbness or feeling detached
  8. Poor academic performance
  9. Sudden change in behavior
  10. Loss of interest in hobbies
  11. Detached from daily routines and activities
  12. Difficulties with concentration and focusing
  13. Becomes rebellious
  14. Substance abuse
  15. Changes in eating habits
  16. Isolates him or herself
  17. Overly anxious
  18. Panic attacks
  19. Constant fear or worrying
  20. Nausea or frequent headache
anxiety in teens | Aspiro Wilderness Adventure Therapy

Common Co-Occurring Conditions

Being anxious is an uncomfortable feeling. In response, co-occurring conditions are often present. Let’s take a look at the most common co-occurring conditions for teens who have anxiety.

What is the Relationship Between Anxiety and Depression in Teens?

Why are anxiety and depression so often linked? Well, simply they have a lot in common, and one can lead to the other. The link is so strong that nearly one-half of those diagnosed with depression also have an anxiety disorder. Anxiety and depression are both categorized as mood disorders. They are also both known as internalizing disorders. These two disorders have common signs and symptoms.

Teens can get stuck in an anxiety/depression cycle. When teens are depressed, they worry, and that worry leads to anxiety. For example, anxiety can prevent them from going to a movie with friends. Then they can feel depressed because they are lonely.

Like anxiety, depression is a normal emotion. Depression becomes an illness when it affects daily living activities like school, relationships, health, etc. Teens who are depressed often have a lack of energy. Their eating patterns can change, and they can experience frequent aches and pains without an identifiable cause.

The good news is that teen depression and anxiety have similar treatments, including medications that help with both simultaneously, like selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs).

How Can Anxiety in Teens Lead to Drug Use?

It is common knowledge that many teens experiment with drugs and alcohol. There are many reasons why teens are likely to experiment. Teenagers might try to fit in or could be bored. However, there is a big difference between experimentation and substance abuse disorder. Teenagers who have an anxiety disorder are more likely to seek drugs and alcohol to self-medicate. Drugs and alcohol can relieve the discomfort.

About 20% of Americans with an anxiety disorder also have an alcohol or other substance use disorder. Many teens turn to cope with substances because they don’t know what else to do. Anxiety can be a powerful force that comes with complex feelings and emotions. It is difficult for anyone to express these feelings to friends, family, or even a therapist.

Are Teens Who Have Anxiety More Likely to Have ADHD?

Anxiety during the teenage year has also been linked to problems with focusing and learning that can cause problems with school. About 50 percent of adults and up to 30 percent of children with ADHD also have an anxiety disorder. It can be challenging to treat both because ADHD medication (normally stimulants) can cause increased anxiety. The good news is that some treatments can positively affect both anxiety and ADHD, like cognitive behavioral therapy, mindfulness, relaxation techniques, and medications.

As a parent, it is hard to know how to help your teenager. You can take many directions, but how do you know what the right one is, or if your child would be willing to give it a try. So, in the next section, let’s review some ways to help teens who have anxiety.

anxiety in teens | Aspiro Wilderness Adventure Therapy

How do You Help a Teenager With Anxiety?

As a parent, you want the very best for your child. However, it can be hard to help a teenager through struggles with anxiety. Teens might not understand how their anxiety is affecting themselves or others. Anxiety is known as one of many internalizing disorders and is fundamentally an internal battle. Your teenager might not remember what it is like to not live with anxiety, as symptoms can often appear at a young age. The first step in the right direction is identifying the problem or awareness that there is an issue.

Once identified, teens can start working on lifestyle changes to begin calming some of their anxious feelings. There are many treatment options available for teens. There are also many medication options. Overall, anxiety is treatable with individualized plans that fit your child’s needs.

What Lifestyle Changes Help Alleviate Anxiety in Teens?

Some of the best medicine is right in front of us! Overall, balance and wellness can help teens get back on track. Remember that lifestyle changes can make a big difference. On the other hand, they are not a replacement for treatment. The lifestyle changes below are great things to try alongside professional recommendations. Take a look at all the things you can encourage or role model your teen to help with their anxiety.


It is no big surprise that what people eat affects their mood. Quick carbs like doughnuts and chips are delicious and convenient. Unfortunately, they spike blood sugar and then crash. Eating a healthy diet can help regulate and increase overall mood.


Exercise releases endorphins and helps to reduce stress.

Reduce Caffeine Intake

Not many people can go without a warm cup of coffee in the morning, and there are some great health benefits linked to drinking it! However, when people do not drink caffeinated beverages in moderation, it can make anxiety worse. Caffeine disrupts sleep patterns and increases the consumption of empty calories. Teens or anyone who drinks caffeine in moderation will feel less anxious and more rested.


Mindfulness is a great way to combat anxiety. Many studies have been conducted and confirmed that mindfulness exercises like yoga, meditation, or breathing exercises reduce anxiety and stress.

Sleep Habits

People need sleep, and we need a lot of it. If your teenager is struggling to sleep, they can do several behavioral things to help them fall asleep and stay asleep.

  • Stick to a routine
  • Limit caffeine and only drink caffeine in the morning.
  • Stop using electronics at least 30 mins before going to bed.
  • Get enough exercise
  • Try deep breathing or relaxation exercises.
  • Stop eating 1-3 hours before going to bed

How is Drug Therapy Used to Treat Anxiety in Teens?

There is no such thing as a happy pill, but medications for teens can help them with their anxiety. For best results, anxiety medication is used in conjunction with other therapeutic modalities.

Antidepressant medications are most commonly used in treating anxiety in teens. Before your child takes an antidepressant or any psychiatric medication, it is essential to have an in-depth discussion with your child’s doctor to fully understand what to expect.

Questions to Ask Your Child's Healthcare Provider

There are many reasons why a doctor would prescribe a particular medication. They factor in the child’s age, symptoms, and potential side effects.

Antidepressants often have side effects, especially at first. Ask your doctor about them and if there are any that you will need to be particularly aware of.

Everyone’s treatment goals are unique to each individual, and it is essential to have realistic expectations for treatment. Getting the proper medication can take time with some trial and error. It can be a frustrating process, but it is well worth the effort when your child can get the help they need to overcome anxiety and start living the life they deserve.

anxiety in teens | Aspiro Wilderness Adventure Therapy

Treatment Options For Teens With Anxiety

There are many treatment options available for teens who are struggling with anxiety. Best results for teenagers usually involve a combination of treatments. Most effective treatment plans are individualized. Anxiety might be common in teens but how teens overcome anxiety is an individual matter.

Three Main Focuses of Anxiety Treatment

  1. Managing crises that can accompany anxiety
  2. Managing symptoms
  3. Minimizing the effects on daily living

CBT is carried out by a licensed therapist and is designed to challenge negative thought patterns. In addition, a therapist using CBT can identify co-occurring conditions that may be exacerbating their anxiety symptoms.

A psychological treatment known as exposure therapy helps people face their fears. People often avoid things that frighten them in the short term, but avoidance can make fear worse in the long term. In situations such as these, a psychologist might recommend exposure therapy, which means creating a safe environment in which the person being treated can be exposed to the thing they fear and try to escape from. Gradual exposure to what you fear, in a safe environment, can decrease fear and avoidance.

Mental health care that is usually administered at a hospital or health care facility. Patients are typically admitted by a doctor. Programs of this kind usually last for a short period of time.

Outpatient therapy generally consists of visiting a therapist periodically while living at home. However, the structure of outpatient therapy varies widely, depending on the number of visits and the length of the program. Outpatient therapy usually lasts one to two hours a week (longer if needed), depending on the severity of symptoms.

Mental health facilities where patients will live and undergo treatment of different kinds. These residential programs are, by definition, inpatient programs. However, these programs are not confined to a hospital setting; rather, they are conducted in designated facilities and entail traditional talk therapy, group therapy, and living in a structured environment.

Prolonged progress can be seen with involvement from the whole family. This happens during family therapy, where each family member learns how their behavior impacts others. Out of this closeness, family members grow understanding and acceptance for one another.

Wilderness therapy is a type of mental health treatment that employs therapy as well as challenging situations to help teenagers with various mental health issues, such as anxiety and other issues that go hand in hand with it. This means clients can put aside distractions and focus on themselves. They are also granted skills in family therapy, which will make it easier for them to communicate. These programs are tailored to provide accurate assessments of a person’s mental state. In general, a more accurate assessment is carried out, which leads to more personalized treatment.

Choosing the right care for your child is a big decision. Combining treatments like those above may help your child and your family. Even so, one program in particular comes to mind when it comes to anxiety treatment for teenagers. Let’s talk about the advantages of Aspiro Adventure, the family program of services offered.


anxiety in teens | Aspiro Wilderness Adventure Therapy

How Wilderness Adventure Therapy Can Help

Kyra’s Story

Kyra was not your average 16-year-old girl; she had been struggling through life for the past couple of years. Her family had been as supportive as they could be. Kyra had a wonderful family, including her mom, dad, and little sister Addison, who is 14. They lived in Palo Alto, CA, which is a cute little suburb of San Jose. However, the past two years have been difficult for Kyra. Her mom described her anxiety symptoms as more severe, not the normal teenage anxiety. It had gotten to the point that Kyra often laid awake worrying about intruders or a school shooting at her middle school. When she did finally go to sleep, Kyra had nightmares. Her intense fear even extended to dwelling on tragic world events.

Kyra didn’t have many friends. She appeared to lack maturity and often looked anxious in social settings. While she had made a few friends, and they seemed to enjoy one another, but they did not stick around long term. Kyra often said that she felt like she had to “wear a mask” for people to like her. She began to assume that her friends would leave when the mask came off. Kyra had so many letdowns that she became depressed. Kyra had even been struggling to get out of bed some days and did not believe she had joy in her life. When she started to get ready for school, her heart would pound against her chest, like she was sprinting, her stomach would ache, and sometimes she even had panic attacks. This past school year, it has gotten so bad that she could not go to school most days.

At this point, Kyra’s parents knew they needed to get her help and ended up hiring a psychotherapist named Dr. Kelly. Dr. Kelly worked with Kyra for a few months, and they went to multiple sessions every week. Unfortunately, this was until Dr. Kelly recommended that Kyra needed a higher level of care. Her sessions with Kyra were not going to be enough.

Kyra’s mom agreed, and she knew deep down that Kyra needed more help than she was getting. She loved her little girl more than anything in the world and knew it was time to look into better options. Her mom felt that Kyra was an incredible young woman with so much potential. She just needed help to set her on the right path.

After searching the internet for options and calling many programs, Kyra’s parents thought it would be best to send her to Aspiro. Aspiro is a wilderness adventure therapy company specializing in helping teenagers who are struggling in the ways Kyra was.
At Aspiro, Kyra was going to be able to get the help that she needed. While there, she got the opportunity to experience challenging yet fun adventure activities like rock climbing and mountain biking.

From day one, their therapist Danielle Gagnon seemed to understand Kyra. Danielle worked directly with Kyra while in the program and spoke with her parents over the phone. Kyra’s parents learned how to best support her while Kyra was learning ways to calm her anxiety. Kyra was so successful that she made friends with some of the other girls in her group. She was able to work through her catastrophizing thoughts and became more rational. Aspiro’s adventure activities helped with this process by challenging Kyra’s “worst-case scenario thoughts.” After a few months of this extensive, full-immersion treatment, Kyra is feeling better. She doesn’t feel like she has to put on a mask for others. Instead, she feels like she can be herself.

Her anxiety has not gone away entirely, but she has been able to cope with those feelings when they come up and not let them drag her down. Krya’s family learned how they could best support their daughter. Krya is now home and still going to therapy twice a week. Her journey in overcoming anxiety is not over yet, but she is on the right track.

Where To Go For Support

Aspiro takes wilderness therapy a step further and adds adventure therapy. Students at Aspiro get the opportunity to fight off anxious feelings while rock climbing, mountain biking, skiing, canyoneering, and backpacking. This treatment option is particularly well-tailored for teens struggling with anxiety. Adventure activities help them learn the difference between healthy and unhealthy anxiety. Asprio combines professional mental health counseling with natural challenges, novel experiences, and powerful adventures to fast-track the healing process.

Additionally, Aspiro is designed specifically for teens. They are around other teens allowing them to connect with, and learn from, other teens struggling with similar challenges.
Exposing teens to novel environments through adventure therapy activities is an effective way to challenge teens. In this setting, teens can 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.

Overall, Aspiro has a long track record of positive outcomes for teens. Outcomes you can expect; stronger family relationships, improved self-efficacy, increased resilience, and a more positive outlook on life. 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 atmosphere of growth and learning that will help get your teenager back on track.

Aspiro is a licensed program that has also gone through voluntary credentialing processes through the Outdoor Behavioral Healthcare Council (OBH) and the Association of Experiential Education (AEE). These organizations provide credentialing for outdoor behavioral healthcare providers and experiential education programs, respectively. Aspiro is committed to providing safe and effective treatment to teenagers. Aspiro Adventure uses evidence-based practices that are proven to be effective treatments for teens with anxiety.

In all, Aspiro Adventure is an effective treatment option for teenagers who are struggling due to anxiety. So if you are worried about your teen’s anxiety, give Aspiro Adventures a call today to learn more about how Aspiro can help you and your family.

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.

Play Video about Teens' brains prone to risky behavior study shows as reported by CBS News | Aspiro Wilderness Adventure Therapy

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.

Play Video about Adolescent Risk-taking: The Power of Peer Pressure | Aspiro Wilderness Adventure Therapy Program for Teens

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.


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.

Play Video about Dr. Dan Siegel Explains how both Hyper-rational and impulsive behaviors can be risky behaviors | Aspiro Wilderness Adventure Therapy Program for Teens

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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.

Play Video about Is Technology Addiction As Dangerous As Drug & Alcohol Addiction For Teens? A Youtube video about risky behaviors in teens by SheKnows | Aspiro Wilderness Adventure Therapy for Teens

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.

Play Video about How risk-taking changes a teenager's brain a TED talk by Kashfia Rahman | Aspiro Wilderness Therapy for Teens

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

Play Video about An Aspiro Student Talks about how Aspiro Wilderness Adventure Therapy helped him overcome his risky behaviors

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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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!

Play Video about What is Dyslexia a youtube video by Made by Dyslexia | Aspiro Wilderness Therapy for Teens and Young Adults

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.

Play Video about Why ADHD & Dyslexia sometimes go hand-in-hand | Aspiro Wilderness Therapy Program for Teens

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)
Play Video about The True Gift of Dyslexia, a TED Talk | Aspiro Wilderness Adventure Therapy Program for Teens

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.


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.


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.


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.


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.

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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.


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.

Play Video

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

Anger Management For Teens

anxiety in teens | Aspiro Wilderness Adventure Therapy

Does your teen blow up every time you mention rules? Do they threaten themselves or others? Do you feel like you are walking on eggshells in your own home?

The teenage years can be a turbulent time. Teens are trying to find how they will fit into the world. It is usual for teens to desire more freedom. They will push boundaries, and can sometimes get out of control. Anger is a normal emotion. How people react to anger can say a lot about their emotional wellbeing. Anger can build over time if someone is passive or has not established solid boundaries with those around them. In other cases, teens can seem to go from 0-60 and lash out impulsively.

Like everyone else, teens experience complex emotions but often don’t have the coping skills to deal with those emotions. This article examines anger management for teens,  some of the common problems associated with anger, and anger management treatment options. This article is meant to serve as a guide for families and help them address anger management issues.


Table of Contents:

What do Anger Management Problems Look Like in Teens?

The first step in addressing anger management issues is identifying what an anger management problem looks like. Some teens have a more challenging time coping than others. When your teen’s anger becomes a problem, it can be expressed in many ways.

Internal Anger Expression

Poor self-esteem, negative self-talk, fixed mindset, and depression.

This is especially common when teens avoid confrontations and let the anger build up over time. This can look like sarcastic or backhanded comments but can also present indirectly with things like “forgetting” to do chores. This type of aggression can be toxic in a home.

Adventure therapy helps teens experience success and develop coping skills to help them control their anger | Aspiro Adventure Therapy
Adventure Therapy success story anger management for teens | Aspiro Adventure Therapy

External Anger Expression

Yelling, screaming, blaming others, and throwing things. Teens struggling with an anger problem can also become passive-aggressive.

How an anger management problem presents can vary widely depending upon the individual. It is also essential to understand that anger is generally a product of more profound emotional distress. This is critical because addressing the deeper emotion is often key to treatment.

Reasons Behind Teen Anger

Anger is often a sign that someone is struggling to process or cope with a more profound emotion. Anger is a common reaction for teens when they don’t know what to do or how to solve a problem. Teens can struggle with this more than others because they often lack experience or coping skills to cope with complex emotions. They also often lack the awareness of how to identify when something is a problem.

As teens develop, they gain more self-awareness. Learning to be self-aware can help teens cultivate self-control when they are angry. A recent study found that anger was especially common among men and younger adults and was associated with decreased psychosocial functioning. This can have serious consequences. Teens need to learn how to control their anger instead of letting their anger control them.

Almost 15% of children and teens suffer from depressive symptoms, and depression sometimes takes on the form of anger or irritability. Further, teenagers who have experienced trauma of some kind are more likely to react to situations with anger. Several psychiatric disorders can lead to increased anger outbursts for teenagers too.

These Disorders Include:

  • Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)
  • Bipolar Disorder
  • Personality Disorders
  • Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD)
  • Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD)
  • Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
  • Anxiety and Depression
  • Intermittent Explosive Disorder (IED)
  • Substance Abuse
  • Learning Challenges like Dyslexia or ADHD
Choose adventure therapy for teens who struggle with anger management | Aspiro Adventure Therapy

A recent study found strong associations between anger and bipolar disorder, drug dependence, psychotic disorder, borderline, and schizotypal personality disorders. Researchers also found that 1 in 12 adolescents met the criteria for Intermittent Explosive Disorder (IED). This disorder is diagnosed when a person repeats sudden episodes of impulsive, aggressive, violent behavior, or angry verbal outbursts out of proportion to the situation. Other triggers can be grief and loss of a loved one or family issues like divorce or financial struggles.

While the reasons behind anger management issues can vary, one common theme is that they negatively impact a teen’s chances of success.

Wilderness Adventure Therapy Anger Management For Teens | Aspiro Adventure Therapy

What Anger Management Issues Can Lead to For Teens?

Anger management issues can often disrupt teens’ lives and knock them off track. Teens who struggle with anger management even face an increased risk of several mental health concerns.

Increased Risk of Mental Health Concerns That Include:

  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Substance Abuse
  • Eating Problems
  • Problems With Relationships
Adventure therapy can help teens manage their anger and in turn, help them develop close relationships with their peers | Aspiro Adventure Therapy

Teenagers who have trouble managing their anger tend to have fewer friends, more behavioral problems, and lower school grades. Studies suggest that excessive anger suppression or expression may be associated with unhealthy lifestyle choices early in life. As you can see, teenage anger management can become a problem as their anger issues cause them to feel more isolated.

In this section, you’ve learned about anger management problems in teens. This is a common issue that can knock teens off track. You’ve learned what anger management problems can look like, some of the reasons behind these problems, and some of the consequences that anger management issues can lead to for teens. While this is all great information to know, the next step is identifying whether your teenager has an anger management problem.

How do you Know if Your Teen Has an Anger Management Problem?

Anger management is a serious issue for many teens. The first step in addressing an anger management issue is recognizing that it is a problem.

There are several signs and symptoms to be aware of when trying to spot anger management problems in teens. These can vary depending upon the individual teen. It is crucial to be able to identify the signs of a potential anger management problem so that you can address it early on and effectively. 

The list above is not meant to be a comprehensive list of signs and symptoms of an anger management problem, but it is a start. Each teen is unique, and their anger management problems may present differently. It is important to be aware of these signs before the issue escalates from what might seem like a phase into a serious problem. Take the quiz below to help you identify if your teen has anger management issues.

Signs The Your Teen May Have Anger Management Issues:

  • Dysregulated Mood
  • Irritability
  • Explosive or Self-Destructive Tendencies
  • Pacing
  • Aggressive Posturing
  • Explosive or Self-Destructive Actions
  • Verbal Outbursts
  • Physical Acts of Aggression
  • Disciplinary Issues at School
  • School Suspension
  • School Underachievement
  • Isolation
  • Poor Self-Esteem
  • Loss in Friendships
  • Passive Aggressive Behaviors

Quiz -Does Your Teen Have an Anger Management Problem?

Is your teen quick to lash out when asked to do simple chores?
Does your teen punch walls, throw things, or hurt themselves when they are angry?
Does your teen seem to lose control during arguments?
Does your child get into physical fights with siblings?
Are you worried about your getting violent outside the home?
Do you feel scared or threatened by your teenager?
Have you thought about calling the police when your teen has gotten angry?

If you answered yes to three or more of the questions above, take the online assessment below to see if wilderness therapy is right for you!

Parenting Do's and Don'ts for Angry Teens

Parenting is a hard job these days. It is even more challenging if your teen is showing signs of having an anger management issue. Learning about common mistakes parents make can help avoid some heated arguments. It can also open up more communication for your child to express the root cause of their anger.

5 Common Mistakes Parents Make With Angry Teens

When you come home after a long day of work and find yourself in another heated argument with your teen, it can be hard to keep your cool. In these times, it is important to remember that parents can make a few common mistakes when communicating with angry teens.

Getting angry at your teenager will only escalate the situation. The interaction’s goal should be to connect with your child and help them process their emotions, not to win an argument.

Doing this during an argument will only make things worse. When consequences are given, this should be in a calm environment where the parent can clearly explain the consequence and the events leading to that decision. Consequences given in anger are likely to cause your child’s anger to increase.

There’s no need to get into a power struggle with your son or daughter in the heat of the moment. Taking a cell phone out of their hand or blocking them from leaving a room may escalate the situation.

When arguments arise, everyone wants to come out on top and for others to see their point of view. It is natural to want the last word, but this does not often lead to a mutual understanding. Instead, this can further perpetuate a conflict.

When an argument arises, make sure to stick with the facts and the problem at hand. It is easy for parents to get caught up in the moment and bring up past issues. Especially when it comes to your teen doing something that has broken your trust, the goal should be to de-escalate your teen so that a productive conversation can occur.

Avoiding these mistakes is easier said than done. Parenting teens is hard work, and no parent is perfect. Having a few go-to strategies is a great way to help your teen control their anger.

Tips And Tricks To Help Your Teen Control Their Anger

Coming up with strategies to help your teen control their anger on the fly can be challenging. Planning out an overall parenting strategy is key. Here are some tips to help you along the way.

  • Be a role model for your teen. Managing your anger teaches your child how to do the same.
  • Give your teen time and space to calm down. Anger is a powerful emotion that can prevent someone from acting rationally. Anger is also generally a short-lived emotion. Just giving your teen time and space can let the intense emotions and angry behavior burn out.
  • Avoid power struggles. Power struggles between you and your teen are a recipe for disaster. Setting clear expectations can help mitigate power struggles.
  • Encourage your teen to communicate about their emotions. Emotional literacy is often an area where teens struggle. Being able to express one’s feelings appropriately keeps them from building up. Some easy ways to express emotions include journaling or statements starting with “I feel…”
  • Set up rules and consequences in advance. Rather than coming up with a consequence on the fly during a heated exchange with your teen, lay out the ground rules and the consequences for breaking them clearly and in advance. This way, your teen has a better understanding of how their actions will impact them.

If your teen is still struggling with anger management and you can’t seem to help them through it, it might be time to consider getting some professional help.

Parents choose Wilderness Adventure Therapy to help their children learn to manage their anger | Aspiro Adventure Therapy

Knowing When to Get Help

If issues with anger management for your teen progress to the point where they are disruptive to their lives, it may be time to seek outside help. Types of professional help can vary from anger counseling to anger management programs.

Knowing when it is time for an intervention to treat teen anger management issues is not a science. Parents are usually in the best position to know when to make this decision.

10 Anger Management Warning Signs That Your Teen May Need Professional Help

There are several additional warning signs that your teen might have an anger management problem. It is hard to know as a parent when something has gone from a “phase” to an anger problem. Here are some warning signs that could indicate that this issue with anger management is more than a phase.

Adventure therapy helps teens develop anger management skills | Aspiro Adventure Therapy
  1. Difficulty learning new tasks
  2. Friend loss
  3. Throwing or breaking things
  4. Lacks accountability
  5. Are overly critical of others
  6. Threatening to harm themselves or others
  7. Harming themselves or others
  8. Irrational thinking or behaviors
  9. Criminal activity
  10. Substance Abuse

This section has provided a guide for recognizing if your teen has an anger management issue. If these warning signs are ringing a bell, then your child might be struggling with their anger. Parenting a teen with an anger management issue is difficult, but there are things that you can do to help your child. Next up are some helpful parenting strategies.

Anger Management Treatment For Teens

If your teen is struggling to manage their anger, despite all of your best efforts, it could be time to seek out professional help. If you have decided to seek outside help for your teen, there are a couple of important concepts to understand.

First, anger is often a sign that more is going on. Since anger is often more of a symptom than a cause, there isn’t a one size fits all kind of treatment for teens struggling to manage their anger. 

Teens and young adults can learn to manage anger through Wilderness Adventure Therapy and become happier in their daily lives | Aspiro Adventure Therapy

One consistent element of most treatment addresses how to express anger appropriately. Since teens are inexperienced in expressing complex emotions, they have to be shown how to do so. This coaching is best done in an environment that allows them to try out new coping skills and then evaluate how well they worked.

Second, coping skills vary from person to person. One common coping skill is taking some time and space to cool down. The goal of any anger management treatment is to help your son or daughter learn how to process their emotions. When they learn to process emotions they then can start gaining control of their actions. While eliminating anger altogether is often unrealistic, anger can be managed.

A therapist or other mental health professional will often integrate a variety of modalities into a teen’s anger management treatment plans. These can include cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), mindfulness therapy, experiential therapy, and expression therapy. Treatment plans are most effective when tailored to the individual.

Types of Treatment for Anger Management

If you are considering getting outside help for your teen, here are a few common treatment types for a teenager with anger issues.

Teens and young adults can learn to manage anger through Wilderness Adventure Therapy and become happier in their daily lives | Aspiro Adventure Therapy


Meeting with a professional trained in anger management counseling is a common treatment for teen anger management issues. Anger management counseling can take place in an outpatient or inpatient setting. They can also address any underlying mental health issues that your teen may be struggling with.

Stress Management Therapy

 Teen’s lives are increasingly stressful. With an ever-increasing number of social, academic, and professional inputs, teens are getting overwhelmed. This stress can often lead teens to struggle with anger management. So therapy aimed at reducing stress through relaxation techniques can be effective. This type of treatment can increase a teen’s ability to cope with new stress. Stress management therapy can give your child essential tools to address underlying issues that lead to anger management problems.

Experiential Therapies

A new and challenging environment can often be an anger trigger for teens. The stress can be frustrating and lead to angry outburst. Experiential therapies expose teens to novel environments and activities in a controlled way. They go through this while they are under mental health professionals’ supervision. With coaching, teens can learn to overcome their emotions. This can be an essential part of an anger management treatment plan.

Expressive Therapies

Expressive Therapies can help teens cope with anger productively. Channeling feelings of extreme anger into more creative activities can be effective. These can include things like dance, storytelling, art, or music. This type of therapy can often be an effective coping mechanism and help teens find a way to express their individuality.

Families are getting the help they need for teens with anger management issues | wilderness adventure therapy | Aspiro Adventure Therapy

All of these types of therapy can take place in a variety of settings. These include anger management counseling, outpatient therapy sessions, or more intensive inpatient programs. One of the most effective options for treating anger management in teens is Wilderness Adventure Therapy.

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Wilderness Adventure Therapy For Angry Teens

Wilderness Adventure therapy programs like Aspiro Adventure can be an effective teen anger management program. 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 angry feelings in a healthy way and under mental health professionals’ supervision.

Programs like Aspiro Adventure use a dynamic approach that is research-based. Their comprehensive approach includes cognitive behavioral therapy, stress management therapy, experiential and expressive therapies. 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 get back on track.

Exposure to novel environments and activities at wilderness adventure therapy programs has also been shown to be an effective way to challenge teens. Exposing a teen to a difficult or new task can provoke some of the challenging anger management behaviors. In the right setting, this can give teens 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 an anger issue.

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

“My son went from angry, depressed, and unaccepting of his challenges to happy, and motivated to continue working on his social skills.”
Parents learn the best ways to support their teens who are struggling with anger management | Aspiro Adventure Therapy
Aspiro Parent

Helping Teens Overcome Anger Issue

Many teens struggle with anger management. Anger problems may look different depending upon the teen. It’s important to realize that anger is usually a sign that someone struggles to process and cope with a more complex emotion. Early recognition of anger issues in teens is key to avoiding further mental health issues.

The first step in helping at-risk youth with their anger issues is identifying that there is a problem. Knowing that there is a problem means being able to spot common signs and symptoms. These include dysregulated mood, irritability, and explosive or self-destructive tendencies. It’s also critical to keep an eye out for warning signs like irrational behavior, criminal activity, and substance abuse. Once you know that your teen has an anger management problem, you can try to manage it at home. This means avoiding common mistakes. These include escalating the situation and implementing strategies like avoiding power struggles. If you are struggling to manage your teen’s anger at home, it may be time to consider professional help.

There are many treatment options available, from counseling to wilderness adventure therapy. This article provides a basic guide to understanding teen anger management problems. It emphasizes what you can do as a parent to help your child overcome them. 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. 

About the Author

How to Navigate Learning Disabilities in Teenagers & Young Adults

Learning Disability in Teenager and Young Adults | Aspiro Wilderness Therapy Program

This article is written for parents, teachers, school counselors, or anyone needing advice or help navigating learning disabilities in teenagers and young adults. At Aspiro, We focus on helping adolescents and young adults through a variety of struggles, including, but not limited to learning disorders and any mental health or low self-esteem issues that may arise from them.

Helping You Help Your Child

​When children are having difficulties in school, parents are often the first to notice; however, knowing what to do, where to start, and where to find help can be confusing and overwhelming for many parents. If you suspect that your son or daughter has a learning disorder, early recognition and diagnosis is key to getting your kid the help they need.

Learning disabilities are more prevalent than many think. According to the U.S. Survey of Income and Program Participation, an estimated 4.67 million Americans ages six and older have a learning disability. However, only 2.4 million students are diagnosed with specific learning disabilities, and receive services, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. This means there are millions of students with undiagnosed learning disabilities.

As your child’s advocate, it is vital that your son or daughter receives early intervention to develop the skills needed to learn based on their strengths and way of learning. Recognizing, accepting, and understanding your son or daughter’s learning disability are the first steps to ensuring your child’s success.

Learning Disabilities in Teenagers and Young Adults Infographic | Aspiro Wilderness Therapy Program

What Is a Learning Disability?

A learning disability is a neurologically-based processing problem that may impair an individual’s ability to listen, think, speak, write, read, spell, and do math. In addition to interfering with basic learning skills, a learning difference may also interfere with higher level learning skills, including organization, long or short-term memory, attention, impulsivity and time management.

A learning disability is not a learning problem stemming from visual, hearing, or motor deficits. Learning disabilities however often coincide with other neurological disorders, such as Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).

Learning disabilities often run in families, as they can have a genetic component. A learning disability is a lifelong obstacle; while children don’t “grow out of it,” they can learn skills to compensate for their learning disorder. Early recognition, diagnosis, and getting proper help early on is key to your son or daughter’s academic success.

Types of Learning Disabilities:

Dyslexia – dyslexia is a learning disability that impacts a person’s ability to learn to read and interpret words, letters and other symbols. Because dyslexia affects reading comprehension, it is colloquially called a reading disability or reading disorder. Dyslexia is by far the most common type of learning disability affecting between 5% – 17% of students in the United States.

Dyscalculia – dyscalculia is a learning disability that affects a person’s ability to learn math facts, understand numbers, make calculations, and solve math problems. It is estimated that dyscalculia affects between 5% – 7% of students in the U.S.

Dysgraphia – dysgraphia is a learning disability that impacts a person’s fine motor skills and affects writing skills like handwriting, typing, and spelling. It is estimated that dysgraphia affects between 7% – 15% of students.

Processing Disorder – a processing disorder occurs when a person isn’t able to use all of the data collected by the senses.

Auditory Processing Disorder (APD) – students with auditory processing struggles can’t process what they hear the same way other people do. This can affect how they recognize and interpret sounds.

Language Processing Disorder (LPD) – Language Processing Disorder is a specific type of Auditory Processing Disorder. Students with a language disorder have extreme difficulty understanding and processing the speech and language they hear and have trouble expressing what they want to say.

Visual Processing Disorder – someone with a visual processing disorder struggles to interpret the visual information coming through their eyes. It is different from needing glasses since the eyes can work perfectly. The difficulty is how the brain processes the information coming through the eye.

Non-Verbal Learning Disabilities (NLD or NVLD) – Students with NVLD have trouble interpreting nonverbal cues like facial expressions or body language and may have poor coordination. This can happen when a person has strong verbal/language process abilities paired with visual-spatial processing abilities.

Other Struggles Related to Learning Difficulties

Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) & Executive Functioning – while there is a lot of debate as to whether or not ADHD is a learning disability in the technical sense, there is no doubt that attention disorders impede learning. Between 5% – 11% of students have been diagnosed with ADHD.

Developmental Coordination Disorder (also known as Dyspraxia) – students with DCD are often called “clumsy” or “awkward” due to their poor general coordination and hand-eye coordination needed for everyday tasks. “By definition, children with DCD do not have an identifiable medical or neurological condition that explains their coordination problems.” Developmental Coordination Disorder occurs in 5% – 6% of children when there is a delay in motor skills development.

Memory Deficits – working memory, short-term memory and long-term memory are all crucial tools the brain utilizes in the learning process. If the brain encounters any problems when trying to store or retrieve information, it may be unable to process both verbal and non-verbal information.

It is important to recognize that learning disorders are not an intellectual disability. People with learning disabilities are not dumb, in fact, they are often extremely intelligent. Students with learning disabilities simply have brains that work differently than someone who doesn’t have the same learning problems.

Does My Child Have a Learning Disability? Know the Signs

The National Center for Learning Disabilities estimates that 1 in 5 children in the US have a learning disability. The first step in getting help for your child is recognizing the signs of a learning disability. The following are some signs to look for in your child’s behavior and cognitive performance:

Cognitive Signs of a Learning Disability:

  • Often spelling the same word differently in a single assignment
  • Trouble with open-ended questions on tests
  • Poor reading and language comprehension
  • Weak memory skills
  • Difficulty in adapting skills from one setting to another
  • Slow work pace
  • Difficulty grasping abstract concepts
  • Inattention to details
  • Excessive focus on details
  • Frequent misreading/misinterpretation of information
  • Trouble filling out applications or forms
  • Easily confused by instructions
  • Poor organizational skills
  • Mental health problems like depression or anxiety

Behavioral Signs of a Learning Disability:

  • Not wanting to go to school
  • Complaining about the teacher
  • Reluctance to engage in reading/writing activities
  • Saying the work is too hard
  • Not wanting to show you schoolwork
  • Avoiding assignments/homework
  • Saying negative things about his or her academic performance, such as: “I’m dumb”
  • Disobeying teacher’s directions
  • Frequent misreading/misinterpretation of information
  • Cutting class and skipping school (in adolescents and teens)
  • Bullying

If your son or daughter is displaying some of these cognitive or behavioral symptoms, it is time to take the next steps.

I Think My Child Has a Learning Disability. What Do I Do?

Once you suspect that your son or daughter has a disability and have recognized some signs of a specific learning disorder in their behavior, it is time to take action:

1. Talk to Your Child’s Teacher About Your Concerns

Share your concerns with your child’s teacher; chances are, he or she may have noticed some of the same things you did. Use this opportunity to collect information about your child’s academic performance and communicate openly about your son or daughter’s performance.

2. Find Out about Pre-referral Services

Before you have your son or daughter formally evaluated by a psychologist, his or her school may have an established process for providing you and your son or daughter with support. Find out what your child’s school can do or is doing for your child.

3. Keep Diligent Records of Your Child’s Education

Keep your own notes on your child’s academic development and meetings with their school’s personnel. Additionally, be sure to add all communication about your child’s academic performance from the school: test scores, report cards, and written comments from teachers. Keeping your son or daughter’s academic records organized will help you and their educators monitor his or her progress and will be crucial for their evaluation.

4. Know Your Rights

Under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), you, as a parent, have a right to request a free, formal evaluation for your child. Once you make a formal request for evaluation, IDEA puts a set of legal requirements and procedures into motion for his or her school district.

5. Request for Formal Evaluation under IDEA

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) gives parents the right to request a free, formal evaluation of their child. If you decide to make a formal request for evaluation, ensure that you put your request in writing.

Your local school district is responsible for the IDEA-mandated formal evaluation, even if your son or daughter is home-schooled or enrolled in private school. If your child is referred for evaluation by their school, you will receive written notice of the referral and will need to give your consent in order to proceed with the evaluation.

Under IDEA, schools have several requirements once it has been established that your son or daughter will be evaluated by the school district. The law requires:

  • You will be given a copy of the “Procedural Safeguards Notice,” which outlines your legal rights to ensure that your child receives the services he or she needs. This document is extremely important; be sure to read it carefully and know your rights as a parent.
  • The school district is required to complete the evaluation within an established period of time; IDEA requires that the evaluation is conducted within 60 calendar days of receiving parental consent; however, timing guidelines may vary by states.
  • The law sets certain requirements for evaluations. The evaluation must use a variety of scientifically proven procedures, strategies, and tools to examine each area in which a disability is suspected.
  • The school must present you with the plan for your son or daughter’s evaluation before the evaluation begins.
  • As a parent, you have the right to object to certain assessments or tests. In addition, you have the right to request that additional assessments or tests are added to the plan.

You also have the option to have your child privately evaluated, as opposed to having an evaluation facilitated by the school; however, if you choose to go with a private evaluation, the school is not responsible for the cost. As the parent, you have the right to choose whether or not to share the results of a private evaluation with your child’s school.

After your son or daughter’s evaluation, the school is required to provide you with a copy of the evaluation report. It is very important to request a copy of the evaluation report in writing.

My Child Has a Learning Disability. Now What?

Some parents get discouraged upon finding out about their son or daughter’s diagnosis; however, many individuals who have a learning disability can succeed scholastically and professionally. The key to success is individualized instruction that is carefully targeted, well-delivered, and research-based.

In addition to individualized instruction, a strong support system and high expectation (of themselves and from others) are two key aspects to success. It is vital that, as a parent, you are an advocate for your son or daughter. In order to become an effective advocate for your son or daughter, you should become informed about their learning disability, their rights under the law, and ways to help him or her succeed.

What Laws Give My Child Educational Rights?

There are three federal statutes that you should familiarize yourself with. These laws guarantee your son or daughter’s access to a Free and Appropriate Public Education (FAPE). The three federal laws include:

  • The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) provides special education services for public school students ages 3 to 21 who have disabilities; however, having a learning difficulty doesn’t automatically make a student eligible for special education. He or she must first go through an eligibility evaluation.
  • Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 is a civil rights law prohibiting discrimination against people with disabilities in programs and activities which receive federal funding.
  • The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is a civil rights law that protects individuals with learning disabilities from discrimination in schools, the workplace, and other settings.

Once your child is formally diagnosed, he or she may receive an IEP or a 504 Plan; however, not all students who have disabilities require specialized instruction. Depending on your child’s diagnosis, he or she may receive a specialized plan.

What Is an IEP?

IEP stands for an Individualized Education Program. An IEP is required under IDEA for every student who receives special education services to make sure that each student receives individualized instruction and services. The IEP is written for each student by a team, which includes his or her parents, classroom teacher, special education teacher, school psychologist, and a school district representative who has authority over special education programs.

What Is a 504 Plan?

A 504 Plan is designed for students who have been diagnosed with a learning disability or an attention deficit who do not meet the eligibility requirements under IDEA. Since Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 has a more expansive definition of a learning disability than IDEA does, students who do not meet the criteria to qualify for an IEP may be eligible to receive accommodations under a 504 plan. Like an IEP, a 504 plan is also a plan written specifically for each student to ensure his or her success in the classroom.

What Is the Difference Between 504 and IEP?

For students who do require specialized instruction, IDEA controls the requirements, and an IEP is developed for that student. The program document is in-depth and outlines the child’s present academic performance, annual academic goals, special services the child will receive, how the institution will track the goals, standardized testing protocol, accommodations, and modifications. The IDEA process requires documentation of measurable growth and specialized instruction.

504 plans are less involved and are designed for students who do not require specialized instruction. While a team of at least five or six people are required to develop an IEP, a 504 plan can be developed among the child’s parent(s) and teachers. They are designed to ensure the student receives equal access to public education and services. ​A document is usually created to outline their specific accessibility requirements and names of who will provide each requirement or accommodation.

Accommodations vs Modifications

Some parents get discouraged upon finding out that their child has been diagnosed with a learning disability; however, many individuals who have a learning disability can succeed scholastically and professionally. When children are diagnosed with a learning disability, parents can sometimes be overwhelmed by the educational options; depending on their diagnosis, a child could receive an IEP or a 504 plan. In addition, a child’s curriculum could have accommodations or modifications to meet his or her specific learning needs; but, what’s the difference? Here is an overview of accommodations vs modifications, and examples of how each could be applied to your son or daughter’s academic curriculum.

What Is an “Accommodation”?

Accommodations are instructional or test adaptations that allow the student to demonstrate what he or she knows without fundamentally changing the targeted skill being taught in the classroom or measured during testing sessions. Accommodations do not reduce performance expectations; they simply change the manner or setting in which the information is presented, or how the student will respond.

Generally, many accommodations can be grouped into five categories:

  • Timing: ex. giving extended time to complete a test item or task
  • Flexible scheduling: ex. giving two weeks, rather than one to complete a project
  • Accommodated presentation of material: material is presented for the student in a different manner than traditionally presented
  • Setting: ex. completing a task or test in a quiet room
  • Response accommodation: ex. allowing the student to respond orally to a written test

What Is a “Modification”?

Modifications are instructional or test adaptations that change the targeted skill and often reduce learning expectations. They may affect the content in such a way that what is being taught or assessed is fundamentally changed.

Modification may lower performance expectations by:

  • Reducing the number of items required
  • Reducing the complexity of the items or task required
  • Simplifying the material, including vocabulary, principles, and concepts
  • Changing the scoring rubric or grading scale

While parents can get wrapped up in the details of their child’s educational plan, it is important to remember that the key to your son or daughter’s success is individualized instruction that is carefully targeted, well-delivered, and research-based. Aside from individualized instruction, a strong support system and high expectations (of themselves and from others) are vital to ensuring that children with learning disabilities succeed academically.

How Can I Help My Child Succeed at Home?

There are many ways you can help your son or daughter succeed– aside from being involved with their education plan and progress. Here are some ways to help your child reach their full potential:

1. Educate Yourself about Your Child’s Learning Disability

Find out as much as you can about teen learning disabilities. Learn about what kinds of tasks will be difficult for your son or daughter, what resources are available to aid him or her in overcoming those obstacles, and what you can do to make learning easier for your child.

2. Use Your Child’s Strengths to His or Her Advantage

Search for indications of how your son or daughter learns best, paying special attention to his or her interests, talents, and skills. Use these strengths to help them learn in a way that is most enjoyable for them. For example, if your son or daughter has a hard time reading information, but can easily comprehend things when listening, take advantage of this. Allow your son or daughter to listen to a book on tape or watch a video to take in new information.

3. Use Media Constructively and Creatively

Television, videos, podcasts, and other forms of media can actually be learning tools. If you can help your son or daughter select valuable programming to watch or listen to, this can be a great use of time. By watching a video or listening to a podcast, your son or daughter can learn to carefully listen, focus, sustain attention, and increase their vocabulary.

4. Increase Your Child’s Self Confidence

It is important to foster and grow your son or daughter’s self-confidence and maintain high expectations for him or her. While it is vital not to underestimate him or her, it is also important not to set unrealistic expectations. Rather than focusing on his or her shortcomings, focus on his or her strengths. In addition, make sure books are on your son or daughter’s reading level. Many children with a learning disability are reading below grade level. Foster your child’s love of reading, while making sure they do not become frustrated by ensuring that he or she is reading books on an appropriate level.


If you suspect your son or daughter has a learning disability, the best thing you can do is to get them the help necessary to be successful. Recognizing, accepting, and understanding your son or daughter’s learning disability are the first steps to ensuring your son or daughter’s success.

Being an advocate for your son or daughter involves being involved in the testing process, knowing which laws your child is protected under, and helping your teenager succeed in and outside of the school environment.


Additional Resources

For additional resources on helping your child, please visit our website’s resource section: https://aspiroadventure.com/family-resources/suggested-reading/

This article is sponsored by Aspiro Adventure, the pioneer of Wilderness Adventure Therapy. Aspiro Adventure offers safe, effective, and clinically-sophisticated treatment options for adolescents and young adults with learning differences.

About Aspiro Adventure Therapy Program

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Aspiro Adventure’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 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.

By Josh Watson, LCSW, CMO at Aspiro Adventure Therapy Program

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

Defining Level 1 Autism: Distinguishing Why Different Levels of Care are Needed for Different Traits

Understanding the levels of autism, especially Level 1 Autism by Defining the Traits and Behaviors of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) | Aspiro Adventure Therapy

By: Carl Smoot, PhD, Shane A. Whiting, Ph.D., LMFT, Brandon Moffitt, LPC

Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is defined as having persistent deficits in social communication and social interaction across multiple contexts.

Levels of Autism

The current DSM-5 diagnostic manual has separated the disorder into three varying degrees:

  • Level 1: Requiring Support
  • Level 2: Requiring Substantial Support
  • Level 3: Requiring Very Substantial Support

In this article, we will focus specifically on level 1 autism, distinguishing traits of level 1 autism, and how specialized treatment such as a wilderness adventure therapy or a residential program can help.

Defining the Traits and Behaviors of Level 1 Autism

Individuals with level 1 autism, without proper support, will display noticeable impairments in social communication. Common behaviors in individuals with level 1 autism include:

  • Inflexibility in behavior and thought
  • Difficulty switching between activities
  • Problems with executive functioning which hinder independence
  • Atypical response to others in social situations
  • Difficulty initiating social interactions and maintaining reciprocity in social interaction

Theory of Mind in Specialized Treatment Programs for Level 1 Autism

One of the most effective ways to treat level 1 autism is through utilizing the Theory of Mind. Theory of Mind and adaptive skills-based treatment that targets executive function, emotional regulation, cognitive flexibility, social communication skills, and anxiety reduction. These are all critical aspects in the field of Level 1 treatment, particularly in specialized treatment programs such as Vantage Point, Black Mountain Academy, and Daniels Academy.

Theory of Mind is the ability to accurately predict or attune to the thoughts, intentions, feelings, and perspective of another person. Individuals with autism have delays in this particular development. As a toddler, a neurotypical child will transition into a phase of cooperative play in which theory of mind begins to develop. Ideally, the child begins to be aware of the needs and feelings of those around them.  When a theory of mind does not develop, early adolescence is marked with delays in social maturation, social/emotional problem solving, and cognitive flexibility all of which play a crucial part in adaptive function.

Enrolling a teen in a specialized program that both understands and executes Theory of Mind can help these individuals with ASD become more aware of other perspectives in addition to learning social skills and adaptability.

“Our 16-year-old daughter was depressed, anxious, suicidal, and had recently been diagnosed with ASD. We were in desperate need of a miracle. The team at Aspiro made our lives whole again. My daughter THRIVED at Aspiro and made gains we never thought possible. My only regret is that we did not send her sooner. Aspiro gave my family hope again.”
Christina M.
Aspiro Parent, Florida

Wilderness Adventure Therapy and Specialized Residential Programs as Treatment for Level 1 Autism

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Additionally, for teens with level 1 autism, a credible wilderness adventure therapy program, such as Vantage Point by Aspiro, or a smaller residential programs such as Daniel’s Academy or Black Mountain Academy, can be a highly effective treatment option in helping these individuals improve their social skills, establish healthier patterns, and learn how to make smooth transitions.

Vantage Point: Short-Term Program as Treatment for Level 1 Autism

Short-term wilderness adventure therapy programs such as Vantage Point should be considered as an intervention, foundation, and starting point for level 1 autism treatment.  When students first begin treatment in a specialized program like Vantage Point, they participate in a variety of adventure activities, service, and community involvement. This helps lay the foundation for them to establish a connection with the people and the world around them. This is especially effective in a short-term specialized treatment program because of the novel and new environment.

Daniels Academy and Black Mountain Academy: Long-Term Care for Level 1 Autism

With Vantage Point and other short-term programs serving as a starting off point, long-term programs such as Daniel’s Academy and Black Mountain Academy provide students with ongoing reinforcement, application, and long-term efforts to solidify new skills. A long-term residential program is able to teach teens with ASD these skills on a long-term basis through project-based learning systems as a way to collaboratively solve problems that have real-world applications.

Ultimately, both long-term and short-term programs help teens with ASD break through boundaries, build awareness, and establish healthier cognitive and behavioral patterns. Students with ASD who enroll in a specialized treatment program learn how to reduce their stress through coping skills and learn how to increase their flexibility and improve their social skills. The students are able to make lasting change and internalize these skills through cognitive behavioral, collaboration and communication, consistency, active training, verbal praise, and encouragement.


Each individual with autism is unique. The level of disability and combination of symptoms can vary dramatically on the autism spectrum which makes it essential for every child and teen with ASD to get a proper diagnosis and the treatment they need. For teens with level 1 autism, a credible wilderness adventure therapy program or residential program can help refine and teach these individuals how to work through their executive function deficits through individualized care and research-based model to facilitate lifelong growth and lasting change.

This article is brought to you by Aspiro Group. To learn more about the authors of this article, click here.

About Aspiro Wilderness Adventure Therapy

The Aspiro Adventure programs are 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 all of the Aspiro group programs understand individuals don’t come with instructions, and every student is unique, capable, and amazing in their own right.

All of our programs focus on helping adolescents, young adults, and their families through difficulties that occur when various 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. Aspiro group programs include Aspiro Adventure, Daniel’s Academy, Vantage Point, Pure Life,  Black mountain Academy, and Outback.

To learn more about level 1 autism, we recommend the following resources:

About the Author

By Carl Smoot, Ph.D, Director of Clinical Assessment at Aspiro Adventure Therapy Program
  • Carl Smoot, PhD
    Carl Smoot, PhD
    Director of Clinical Assessment

The Life-changing Power of Adventure Therapy

The life-changing power of adventure therapy | Aspiro

Here at Aspiro, we have a unique adventure therapy program model. This article explains how adventure activities at Aspiro contribute to our students’ growth and how we use each activity as a catalyst for lasting change.

At Aspiro, we go beyond traditional therapy and incorporate adventure into the therapeutic model. Adventure is healing because it combines the power of nature with the tenacity of one’s own will to achieve success. Without challenge, little growth happens. Adventure is a unique and dynamic way to break through boundaries and create challenges.

What is Adventure Therapy?

Adventure therapy is a type of experiential therapy that uses challenging adventure activities to aid the therapeutic healing process. Adventure therapy helps promote healthy identity development, self-efficacy, grit, and a growth mindset.

At an adventure therapy program, students get the opportunity to engage in various new activities and experience several novel environments during their stay. Adventure therapy activities at Aspiro are facilitated in an intentionally therapeutic manner. Students are doing more than just rock climbing or skiing. They learn to listen, keep themselves safe, learn emotional regulation skills, and develop grit as they push themselves to overcome challenging tasks. The challenges students face through Aspiro’s adventure programming are designed to forge an identity, build resiliency, and improve self-efficacy.

A unique element to Aspiro’s outdoor adventure therapy model is that students do not just participate in the activity; they learn how to do it themselves. This is called experiential learning and has proven effective with troubled youth. Aspiro students are not just taken rock climbing; they are learning all parts of how to rock climb.

Other key elements unique to Aspiro is that field guides have been trained to facilitate adventure themselves. The same guides that live with students all week, building rapport and making connections, are then able to instruct students during their adventure activities.

Adventure therapy is a type of experiential learning or experiential education?
Created by AEE.org

To ensure safety, our field guides are trained to the standards set by the leading professional organization related to each activity. Additionally, all of our policies are overseen by the Association of Experiential Education (AEE), which ensures that Aspiro meets the highest standards for teaching adventure activities safely and effectively.

Therapeutic Benefits of Adventure

Each student comes to Aspiro with their own story and challenges. While treatment plans are unique to each student, adventure is a part of all of them.

When we include adventure as part of a wilderness treatment plan, we see several benefits:

  • 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 for needs
  • Accurate clinical assessments

While each student comes with their own story, the adventure therapy model is versatile enough to meet each student at their level.

Aspiro students go through a process of learning, facing challenges, failing, getting back up, and eventually succeeding. This process is then combined with an advanced clinical approach. The combination has proved to be highly effective at addressing a variety of mental and behavioral health issues.

Foundational Principles Behind Adventure Therapy

Adventure therapy is extremely effective at helping clients develop these foundational psychological principles.

Identity Development

Identity refers to one’s sense of as an individual and how they define themselves in terms of values, beliefs, and role in the world. Self-identity in adolescence forms the basis of our self-esteem later in life.



Self-efficacy is the belief we have in our ability to succeed in a particular situation, specifically our ability to meet the challenges ahead of us and complete a task successfully. Self-efficacy plays a role in not only how we feel about ourselves, but whether or not we successfully achieve our goals in life.


Grit is “the combination of perseverance and passion toward long-term goals.” Grit is when you’re able to harness the power of passion and turn it into resolve, persistence, stamina, and tenacity, working toward goals that endure over time. In short, grit is: consistent. hard. work.

Growth Mindset

A growth mindset is the underlying belief people have about learning and intelligence. When students believe they can get smarter, they understand that effort makes them stronger. Therefore they put in extra time and effort, and that leads to higher achievement.

A Look at How Individual Adventure Activities Help the Healing Process

Aspiro is unique because it offers a variety of high adventure activities, and a variety of locations to practice those activities. All the adventure activities are facilitated by experienced field guides. This section will give an overview of some of Aspiro’s adventure activities and their therapeutic relevance.

Aspiro Activities Rock Climbing icon

Rock Climbing – Climbing puts students into a place where they need to confront their fears, physical challenges, lack of confidence, and many other obstacles to success. They face a seemingly insurmountable wall, and through thorough planning, coaching, effort, and practice, they reach new heights. This is a powerful metaphor for them to generalize to the rest of their life.

Adventure Therapy Activities: Alpine Skiing

Skiing – Skiing challenges students to think less and be in the moment. Students learn about “flow theory” when they enter a mental state where they react to their changing world without time for anxiety or fear. This natural high is both a healthy coping mechanism and a counter to anxious thoughts.

Adventure Therapy Activities - Canyoneering

Canyoneering – Success in canyoneering is dependent upon teamwork. Team-building and creative problem-solving are critical skills taught to students while canyoneering. Taking the first step in treatment is always the hardest, and stepping into a rappel is an effective way to learn to control one’s fear and trust in oneself.

Adventure Therapy Activities - Mountain Biking

Mountain Biking – Mountain biking challenges students to assess risk accurately and pushes them to react to challenges as they approach. Students may find that they do not have the time to think about what the next obstacle in the trail is, and instead, trust their instincts and training. Mountain biking builds trust in themselves and allows them to learn or practice being in the moment.

Adventure Therapy Activities - Backpacking

Backpacking/Hiking/Navigation – Backpacking is a fundamental outdoor activity at Aspiro. It teaches grit and can be used as a platform to build a group culture. Aspiro students can improve their interpersonal and social skills as they experience what it is like to be a part of a group that works together to complete a common goal like reaching the top of a 10,000 ft peak.

Adventure Activities Leadership Initiatives

Challenge Course – Aspiro’s on-site challenge course is a low ropes course that strengthens group cohesion and teaches social-pragmatic skills. Student groups work together through a series of challenging tasks. All tasks require effective communication, leadership, listening, and cooperation to overcome. Through failure, coaching, and perseverance, students learn what it takes to be a team player.

A Look at How Adventure Therapy Helps Common Mental Health Struggles

Adventure therapy is highly versatile in treating a variety of mental and behavioral health diagnoses. This unique approach is useful in different ways for people struggling with different challenges.

Click on each subject below to read about how adventure therapy helps with common struggles that teens and young adults face.

For students struggling with anxiety and depression, adventure can be an essential avenue for treatment in part due to the benefits of physical activity on their mood.  For people struggling with depression and anxiety, bringing exercise into their routine has been shown to create better treatment outcomes and improve physical health. At Aspiro, students develop good habits surrounding the daily exercise routine as they learn how to do a variety of adventure activities.

Aspiro students walk away with the skills to continue any of the activities in their post-treatment lives. They will also be able to experience the benefits of physical activity on their mood.

Students struggling with anxiety and depression show particularly good treatment outcomes when incorporating adventure activities that trigger flow theory concepts. Mountain biking and skiing meet many of the requirements to regularly trigger a mental “flow” state where students learn to eliminate the thought cycle between sensory input and action. They read and react to the terrain in front of them without worrying about possible outcomes. This is nearly the opposite of anxiety. Mountain biking can create a borderline euphoric experience that is highly effective at treating depression and anxiety.

Further, overcoming seemingly impossible challenges like climbing a rock wall or rappelling off a cliff helps these students build self-efficacy. Increasing self-efficacy is one of the building blocks that can contribute to teens and young adults overcoming anxiety and depression.

Wilderness adventure therapy is well suited to address poor self-esteem/self-efficacy. For a variety of reasons, youth often struggle to see themselves in a positive light. They may have developed self-defeatist internal narratives or learned to dislike themselves.  They may have learned an attitude of helplessness in life and expect to fail.

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. This process is backed up by several studies. Including one that showed statistically significant positive outcomes over 3.5 times greater than alternative therapy methods in the area of self-concept. Another study showed that improvement in self-efficacy translated from the outdoors to academics.

This suggests that wilderness adventure therapy’s outcomes are generalizable to other aspects of life. A foundational work on self-efficacy indicates 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.

Relational conflict can take many forms, but one of the most common is conflict within the family. Family units are the most important structures for youth as they develop into adults. Maintaining positive and healthy relationships within a family unit, while at times challenging, is critical to overall healthy development. When relationships are unhealthy, it may be time to seek help.

Aspiro addresses relational and family conflict through the adventure therapy model. Recent research has shown that adventure therapy has a positive effect on outcomes for overall family development. These positive effects were greater than other alternative therapies. Clinicians at Aspiro take a whole family approach and try to facilitate healing on behalf of students, parents, and other family members.

Identity development is a crucial step for youth and is tied closely to ideas of self-concept and social development. Developing a clear concept of who you are, your values, and where you fit into the social world is central to achieving success and happiness. Many young people find that they struggle to define these areas and may fall behind in terms of identity development.

In a recent study, adventure therapy was shown to have significant positive effect outcomes on factors that contribute to identity development. These include; social development, self-concept, and morality & spirituality. Further, these positive effects were more significant than non-adventure-based therapies. Finally, these effects show no post-treatment regression.

This study attributes the lasting positive change effects to the adventure therapy model. It also singles out experiential education’s “active and direct use of client participation and responsibility” as a critical treatment element. The study indicates that key programmatic elements for adventure therapy included

  • the presence of, and interaction with nature,
  • use of perceived risk to heighten arousal and to create eustress (positive response to stress)
  • meaningful engagement in adventure experiences
  • solution-based focus on positive change (present and future functional behavior)
  • ethic of care and support holistic process and effect on participants.

Understanding how wilderness adventure therapy can apply as a treatment for school failure means looking beyond the academic failures and delving into the reason behind them. School failure can be a symptom of a variety of issues, from anxiety to depression to trauma.

While each case of school failure is unique, wilderness adventure therapy has shown to be an effective treatment. In a large study, adventure therapy had a statistically significant positive impact on school failure. Further, the impact was over four times greater than that of alternative, non-adventure model therapy. School failure can be a significant barrier to future success, and the adventure therapy model has shown to be a highly effective treatment.

The adventure therapy model at Aspiro is grounded in creating seemingly impossible challenges, and guiding students through the difficult, but rewarding process of overcoming those challenges. Studies have shown that this process has led to “large to very large, statistically significant improvements in behavioral and emotional functioning.” Behavioral issues can vary widely. However, the adventure therapy approach appears to be versatile in meeting each student where they are at.

All of the adventure activities at Aspiro are conducted in a group setting including group therapy. They all require cooperation, communication, collaboration, and conflict resolution. These are all skills that many of our neurodiverse students are working on while at Aspiro.

Whether a student is struggling with symptoms associated with being on the autism spectrum, or from another neurodevelopmental disorder like a non-verbal learning disorder, Aspiro can provide individualized treatment plans to meet them where they are at. The adventure therapy setting creates authentic social interactions that can be tailored by staff to meet the group’s needs and allows for processing and debriefing of behaviors. Karoff et al. breaks down the reasons that adventure therapy is effective for youth on the autism spectrum or with other neurodevelopmental disorders into three elements:

  • Adventure therapy is inherently unpredictable. This provides ASD youth with frequent opportunities to engage with peers in an authentic, uncontrived way. They can engage with peers in the way while in an environment of support and trust.
  • Adventure therapy is a group-driven process that is, by nature, flexible and adaptable to the specific needs of the group and individuals within it.
  • Adventure therapy is a here-and-now approach that creates space for youth to cognitively process how behaviors and feelings experienced in the moment relate to participants’ lives beyond the treatment setting.

Karoff et al. sum up the value of Adventure Therapy in treatment for those on the autism spectrum writing, “The power of Adventure Therapy lies in experiencing real behaviors, in real-time, and reflecting on how they are either helpful or limiting to a participant’s life, and then learning new ways of behaving, thinking or feeling, and providing a space to practice those new behaviors before trying them out in the real world.”

Eating disorders present unique clinical challenges and are often difficult to manage in the home. While the presentation of eating disorders can vary, a common thread is often an issue with body image.

Wilderness adventure therapy can be an effective treatment option for eating disorders with proper planning and supervision of eating habits to address and mitigate health concerns. A research journal article (focusing on women) describes the wilderness treatment process as an opportunity to reconnect with one’s physical body.

The author emphasizes that “the wilderness experience alone is not sufficient to create a major transformation. Other critical elements are the therapeutic effect of the group process and risk-taking activities, such as hiking and team-building exercises, which contribute to breaking down the stereotypes concerning women and their bodies.” 

Eating disorders present unique treatment and health challenges, but evidence supports that wilderness adventure therapy is an effective therapeutic intervention for various presentations.

Traumatic brain injuries (TBIs) are known to cause behavioral, cognitive, and executive functioning impairments. Cognitive rehabilitation for TBIs traditionally consists of a context-sensitive method like the Positive Behavior Supports (PBS) approach.

Context-sensitive approaches aim to enhance the quality of life and minimize problem behaviors by expanding the patient’s range of behaviors. These approaches emphasize that cognitive rehabilitation must take place in natural environments. Wilderness adventure therapy can effectively facilitate cognitive rehabilitation by allowing students to practice behavior skills in novel environments.

One study on treating TBIs with a wilderness adventure therapy model indicates that “wilderness adventure therapy (WAT) relies on teaching through experience in natural contexts and, consequently, can also be considered a contextualized intervention.”

The critical elements of wilderness adventure therapy that make it an excellent option for the treatment of TBIs are:

  • That the client becomes a participant rather than a spectator in therapy.
  • Therapeutic activities require client motivation in the form of energy, involvement, and responsibility.
  • Therapeutic activities are real and meaningful in terms of natural consequences to the client.
  • Reflection is a critical element of the therapeutic process.
  • Functional change must have present as well as future relevance for clients and their society

Wilderness adventure therapy is, therefore, able to leverage its fundamental components in a way that makes it an excellent option for those looking for a contextualized intervention based in cognitive rehabilitation for traumatic brain injuries (TBIs).

Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a common neurodevelopmental disorder that can significantly impact youth’s lives. ADHD is often associated with academic issues and school failure, relational issues, and behavioral issues. Evidence has shown that wilderness adventure therapy is both an effective treatment for ADHD, and for many of its associated issues.

A study assessing nature interactions and ADHD found that 7 out of 13 high-quality studies identified a significant relationship between increased nature interactions and decreased ADHD symptoms. Further, the study found that increased accessibility to nature showed significant positive findings in six out of nine cases and that increased exposure to nature showed significant positive findings in seven out of nine cases.

While this study looked at the overall efficacy of including nature in treatment for ADHD, other studies look more closely at some of the issues associated with ADHD and treating them with experiential therapy. One of these studies found that adventure therapy had significant positive outcomes on academics, behaviors, and social development. It is, therefore, possible to address both ADHD directly, and many associated issues in a wilderness adventure therapy model.

When someone experiences trauma, they can get stuck in what is called a heightened or arousal state. They start to feel a heightened state of fear similar to that that was felt at the time of the initial trauma. Many people hold on to that state of fear and do not have a chance to finish the arousal cycle. This is supposed to be four stages ending in a stage where they feel safe again.

For those who get stuck in this fear stage, high adventure activities can be an effective treatment. They can mimic feelings of fear and anxiety, by introducing perceived risk, and then help students complete the last phase of that cycle to where they feel safe. Any adventure activity that provokes this fear response, including rock climbing, skiing, canyoneering and mountain biking, is particularly useful in treating trauma.

One study on treatment of posttraumatic chronic stress disorder found that Nature Adventure Rehabilitation (NAR), a component of wilderness adventure therapy, had positive impacts on:

  • perceived control over illness (PCI)
  • emotional and social quality of life
  • hope
  • and functioning

Further, the study indicated that NAR “seems to work through a process of behavioral activation, desensitization, gradual exposure to anxiety evoking situations, and gaining control over symptomatology.” By engaging outdoor therapy activities, students who have experienced trauma can learn to control their lives.

Adventure therapy is an excellent tool for addiction treatment because it provides healthy, non-substance, natural high for the student. These are skills that the student can take with them into their post-treatment life. It is a healthy alternative to substance seeking behaviors and often lets them access a new network of friends who are also participating in the adventure activity. This can draw them away from negative influences that may encourage substance abuse relapse and assist in addiction recovery.

Adventure therapy has proven effective in treating youth with addictions. This is particularly effective in raising awareness of strengths, allowing for a healthy dialogue between students struggling with similar issues, promoting positive family relationships, and increasing resilience related to maintaining sobriety.

Wilderness therapy has proven highly effective in treating oppositional defiant disorder (ODD), It provides space separation to members of the family unit, slowing down the parent-child communication process, and makes room for relationship resolutions and restoration. Further, this research has shown that in strong-willed adolescent males, especially those with co-occurring ADHD, ODD can emerge in an environment where parents are unable to hold firm boundaries or set clear expectations. At Aspiro guides can provide those clear instructions, set achievable goals, and allow natural consequences to take effect. This, combined with the other factors mentioned above, contributes to the efficacy of wilderness therapy for youth struggling with oppositional and defiant issues.


Aspiro’s adventure model effectively addresses a variety of mental and behavioral health issues with a particular emphasis on increasing levels of self-efficacy, identity development, resilience, and grit. By achieving a seemingly impossible goal, students learn to push themselves to new highs. If you can climb a mountain, what challenges can’t you overcome?

About Aspiro Adventure Therapy Program

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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

Carl Smoot, PhD
Director of Clinical Assessment

Also specializes in: Psychological Evaluation / Supervision / Autism Spectrum / Disorders / Developmental Disorders / Psychodynamic Psychotherapy / Group Therapy

Carl has been working with outdoor and residential therapeutic programs for over 30 years. After completing his degree, Carl supervised three school-based mental health programs in Hawaii. Carl moved back to Salt Lake City because of his love of the outdoors and for the opportunities in Utah to work in wilderness programs, complete psychological evaluations, and to conduct consultations.

Carl has been with Aspiro since 2012 and is currently Aspiro’s Director of Clinical Assessment. In this role, Carl supervises the Aspiro clinical team, reviews complex clinical cases, and consults with Aspiro clinicians and families when unique clinical challenges arise. Given his extensive experience in mental health, Carl often assists with training Aspiro field staff in a variety of clinically relevant topics.

Under Carl’s leadership, the Aspiro clinical team aims to create positive client outcomes by implementing evidence-based clinical practices. Critically, Carl ensures that the Aspiro clinical model is motivating and is built on the principles of positive psychology.

Away from work, Carl enjoys fly fishing, duck hunting, and being outdoors with his wife of over 20 years, his 3 children and his grandchildren.