How to Develop Grit: Perseverance And Passion For Long-term Goals

how-to-develop-grit Perseverance And Passion For Long-term Goals

We all want our kids to grow up and be healthy, thriving, independent young adults. One of the primary indicators of whether our kids will thrive after leaving home is something called grit: perseverance and passion for long-term goals.

Below, we’ll discuss:

  1. What is grit?
  2. What are the benefits of grit?
  3. How to develop grit?

What is Grit Exactly?

So, what is grit anyway? I think it’s something that we’ve heard a lot about maybe the last 10 or 15 years or so. Ivy League professor and best-selling author, Angela Duckworth, defined grit “as 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.

Examples of grit are someone:

  • developing a hobby or interest
  • learning to play a musical instrument like the piano
  • learning to dance or play a sport.
  • working toward graduating high school or college.

Grit shouldn’t be mistaken as short bursts of intense energy. It isn’t grit if a student was able to finish a school project over the weekend. They may have worked for hours and hours, the project was amazing, and they earned a great grade. That’s great work, but different than grit. Grit strives to delay gratification until your child’s goals are achieved. It is a mindset, a focus on consistent effort over long periods of time perfecting your craft. Grit is a willingness to embrace the daily grind in order to achieve long-term goals.

Grit is a little different than IQ which tends to be a little bit more fixed. Grit is something that actually can be developed, harnessed, taught, and most certainly improved throughout the course of someone’s life.


Benefits of Developing Grit

There are two benefits that come to mind when I think about developing grit. The first thing that stands out for me, is that grit prepares and conditions us for long-term success. That can be carried over into graduating college, career development, family relationships.

A second natural benefit is that grit absolutely can overcome talent deficiencies. However, it is on rare occasions that I’ve seen that talent can overcome grit deficiencies.

Here are a couple of examples of how grit may apply. Let’s say someone struggles with some academic learning, you may have a child that really struggles in that way. So what grit can teach is the ability to figure out things like: taking notes is really hard, how do I figure out how to study 50 pages for an exam? How do I take out the themes or highlight the points? And then I can continue to improve and get better at those particular tasks and develop a growth mindset that will take me through high school or college graduation and prepare me for a career.

What if you have a child who struggles with some social or emotional learning? Or somebody who might be really bright but struggles socially with school? Maybe they’re very anxious, struggle with performance anxiety, or social anxiety really hinders school. How can grit help them?

I think that for most of us, when something is uncomfortable, or when we are not good at something, we I would shy away from them. Grit helps to bring about an opportunity to practice over a consistent period of time dealing with the very things that might be difficult. Again, contrary to the notion that we should shy away from things we’re not good at, grit would have us develop the skill necessary to become competent in those areas.

What if your child has a lot of talent and gets good grades? You may still be a little concerned about how much grit they have. What if they haven’t been challenged enough academically, socially or emotionally? And what happens when they get to college and school isn’t easy anymore? I think that’s the fear for all of us.

Grit becomes really critical to help insulate our kids in these challenging situations.


How to Develop Grit

Far too soon, our kids will be out in the world, deciding what activities to spend their time all on their own.  If our children are able to master this self-directed focus while living at home, in an environment that is safe for them to fail and learn, then they will thrive when they go out on their own.   Something we need to remember that as parents we can’t actually control our children. We can’t make someone develop grit.  We can persuade and influence and we can punish and reward. But in the end, if our kids don’t want to do something, we can’t physically make them do it.

For example, if you have a piano player in the house who does not enjoy practicing. You as a parent may decide, “I am going to help them develop grit because I will make them go to the piano practice.”  Probably the only person in that scenario that may be developing grit would be you, the parent. You are the one who has to deal with the arguments, the frustrations, even the tantrums about practicing the piano.

However, there are several things you can do to create an environment that fosters grit development.


1. Start with Passion

If you are just starting to help your child develop grit, try focusing on an area they are passionate about.  If you want them to strengthen their intrinsic motivation, it helps to start with something they already want to do. If they love music, get them playing an instrument.  Or if they love sports, sign them up for a team. But guide them toward something that will take consistent & prolonged effort.

The goal is not to make them hate life, it is to help them understand that it is okay to sacrifice comfort to get something they passionately want.


2. Use Commitments & Contracts

For most of us, the first time an activity is hard or difficult, or we make a mistake, or we feel embarrassed, the tendency is to think, “You know what, I don’t want to do this anymore.” It is in these moments when your son or daughter may say, “Hey, I went. I hated it and I’m never going back again.” They’ll want to quit an activity, not because they stopped wanting the outcome, but because the effort is hard.

Rather than allowing them to quit in midstream, try anticipating this situation talking about ahead of time. Make an agreement with your child before signing up for a particular sports team, hobby, or interest.  Let them know that there are two price tags for these types of activities: a financial price tag and a time/effort price tag. Let them know that you may be willing to pay the financial cost, but only if they are willing to pay the cost of time and effort.  Then talk about how it needs to be a sustained effort for whatever time period you are comfortable with. Maybe it’s three or four weeks, or maybe it’s three months depending on the activity. Just help them commit to an honest effort and attempt.

Again, the goal is not to make them suffer, but to help them be okay with discomfort while striving for something they want.


3. Help Them Understand Delayed Gratification

You could say that grit is just our ability to delay gratification, to sacrifice immediate gratification so that we can achieve long term goals.  When your son or daughter wants to quit something because it is hard, first help them remember why it is they started in the first place. Try to help them visualize what it will be like to win the championship, walk across the stage to get the diploma while their name is being called over the speakers and everyone is standing up cheering for them or to play that difficult musical arrangement at the next recital. This is why it is so important to start with setting a clear goal, something your child wants to accomplish.  It gives them something to hold in their imagination and look forward to when times get tough.

Second, help your son or daughter recognize and be mindful of the immediate rewards they are already receiving.  Can they recognize the value of the friendships they are making by being a part of a team? Or can they find joy in the fact they did better this week than last week? Most experiences are not all good or all bad.  When we validate our kid’s struggles while helping them find the good, it makes it much easier for them to persevere.


4. Develop Self-efficacy

It is difficult to keep working toward a goal if you don’t believe you can actually accomplish it.  Self-efficacy is the belief that one can accomplish difficult things. Higher levels of self-efficacy are linked to greater motivation and positive thinking skills.

Your son or daughter can develop self-efficacy just by trying to do things they previously thought were impossible. We see this all the time with the students at our program. These adolescents and young adults believe that “If I completed all of these difficult tasks during wilderness therapy, I can do other difficult things!”  Our students do things they never thought possible before coming to an adventure therapy program. They master many activities that initially terrify them, including rappelling, rock climbing, skiing, snowboarding, and mountain biking. With each activity, their belief in themselves grows. They not only believe they can do hard things, they know it.

Upon returning home, this confidence in their ability to do hard things helps fuel their commitment to school, family relationships, and other goals.  Self-efficacy is key to developing grit.


5. Embrace a Growth Mindset

Similar to self-efficacy, a growth mindset is a belief that one’s talents & abilities aren’t fixed.  This means that knowledge, skills, talents, and abilities can all be grown and improved depending on how much effort we put into developing them.  For example, someone with a fixed mindset may say, “I’m not good at math.” But someone with a growth mindset would say, “I’m not good at math yet.”  Here are two ways to develop a growth mindset and build grit:

Value Effort over Talent

Students today, particularly in our society, are highly praised for their achievement, test scores or talent. Instead, we may want to focus more on praising their effort. As parents we must ask ourselves, can we value hard work, can we value effort more than talent?  

I think we tend to get sort of enamored with talent and how amazing our kids are. If they start to see success, instead of focusing on how their achievement or talent, try honoring, praising, and rewarding their perseverance.  You may say, “Wow, you have practiced that a lot! No wonder the recital went so well” instead of commenting about how smart or talented they are. Continue to focus on the effort and tenacity that it took to achieve the goal.

Change How We See Failure & Stop Rescuing

This is kind of a paradigm shift for a lot of us, but to help our children learn a growth mindset we might need to let them fail.  An effective way to treat anxiety is called exposure therapy. This therapy slowly exposes people to their fears in incrementally increased doses until a fear no longer holds any power over them.  When we let our kids fail, it is kind of like providing a form of exposure therapy. We’re able to reframe failure from something to be feared and turn it into something that is necessary to learn and grow.

Let failure be an event, not a person. By allowing the process of failure to be a catalyst for teaching, our kids develop even more stamina and resolve.  Many of us have heard of the example of Edison and the light bulb. And it wasn’t about that he failed 1000 times, but that he found 999 ways not to make a light build.  By positively exposing your son or daughter to failure at an early age, you prepare them to handle the difficult situations they will face when they go out on their own.

And as a parent myself, I get it. This process is painful for us as parents. We want to rescue our kids from the pain of failure.  However, I don’t know that there is a better teacher than pain or failure or shortcomings. What we must not do is lift them up and carry them beyond those limitations and those failures.  We must not be helicopter parents or lawnmower parents, but rather failure to be the great learning experiences that can teach grit and long-term success. And success is going and growing from failure to failure without any loss of enthusiasm


6. Validate Painful Emotions While Showing Encouragement

Despite the fact we want our children to be comfortable being uncomfortable, we don’t want to negate what they are feeling.  Trying new things is hard. Failure is painful. And having grit doesn’t mean you don’t feel pain. It’s okay to feel hurt or frustrated.  We all have those feelings. The difference is that people with grit push through the discomfort and pain until they achieve their goals.

If your son or daughter is struggling to push through the struggle, first try to validate what your child is feeling.  Share with them your experiences trying new things.  Let them know that you understand how they feel. But, your goal is not to rescue them from the hard feeling but to strengthen their ability to handle difficult emotions.

Secondly, tell your son or daughter that you are confident they will be able to succeed.  It can be helpful to share specifics as to why you are confident. For example, you may say, “I know how difficult this is for you.  Learning new things can be hard and scary, even for me. I remember how you practiced so hard for your last recital and it turned out wonderfully.  I know if you keep practicing, you can master this piece too. I believe in you.”

And here is the hard part, our actions also need to show we are confident in their abilities.  We can’t tell them they are capable and then rescue them by helping them escape the discomfort or doing the task for them.


Conclusion

Your child’s grit, or their ability to focus their perseverance and passion for long-term goals, might be a better predictor of future success and academic achievement than their intelligence. And while you can’t force your child to develop grit, through deliberate practice you can help your child develop grit.

Please contact us to learn more about how wilderness adventure therapy can help your son or daughter develop grit, overcome behavioral struggles, and heal your family relationships.


  • David Mayeski, LCSW
    David Mayeski, LCSW
    Family Services Director

Wilderness Therapy for Eating Disorders and Body Image Issues

overcoming body image issues in a Wilderness Therapy Program

I became passionate about treating eating disorders and body image disorders almost 15 years ago while working in residential treatment. It’s not an easy area of practice because progress can be slow and sometimes almost imperceptible. Studies show that it takes an average of 7 years to fully recover from an eating disorder. But over long periods of time, I watched men and women emerge from the fog of addiction and reclaim their lives. That work, for me, is rewarding.

As you can imagine, after 15 years, I had strong opinions about the best path to recovery, the best mode of therapy, and had my preferred treatment methods for helping people struggling with eating disorders. A few years ago, wilderness therapy was not one of the types of treatment on my radar to use with this population.

Fast forward to the present moment: my perspective has changed. I have learned much more about how wilderness therapy is precisely the tool that many of my clients have needed to overcome some major hurdles in their fight for recovery.

Read moreWilderness Therapy for Eating Disorders and Body Image Issues

Wilderness Therapy in Winter: Staying Safe While Healing & Having Fun

Wilderness Therapy in Winter

Wilderness therapy in winter offers therapeutic value and unique opportunities for growth, especially at Aspiro. Not only is winter in Utah incredibly beautiful with the views of snow-capped landscapes, but a Utah winter also provides students with diverse environments and allows them to accomplish things they never thought possible. Living in the winter elements provides students with a boost of confidence, greater resilience, and an increase in self-efficacy. Research indicates these qualities translate into a strong belief in the ability to do hard things. Once a student moves on to the next step following Aspiro, this belief stays with them; whether it be the confidence to tackle an algebra class, to communicate with a peer, or to be emotionally open and vulnerable with a parent.

Aspiro’s priority is ensuring the safety of students throughout the year, and especially during the winter months. Maintaining the highest standards of risk management is crucial to the Aspiro team. There are many protocols in place that apply to different aspects of the program. Below are some areas where there is an additional focus in the winter months.

Gear/Supplies

During every season, a variety of seasonally appropriate gear is provided to ensure comfort and safety. In the winter:

  • thick, warm coats are given out,
  • an addition to wool socks,
  • 2 pair of gloves,
  • a warm winter hat,
  • layers of thermal underwear,
  • fleece layers,
  • and waterproof layers.

Students also have insulated winter hiking boots and over-boots.

Students are given a -20-degree sleeping bag plus two insulated sleeping pads in order to protect them from feeling cold at night. The specialized gear, a student’s body heat, and the heat from the others in the shelter provide a cozy place to sleep. Also, students spend a few hours each week at the field office near Aspiro’s base camp, where they take warm showers and get freshly laundered clothes for the new week, ensuring they have clean and dry clothes available. All gear is regularly assessed and replaced or repaired as needed, in order to ensure that all students are comfortable and warm.

In addition, students are taught to properly care for and pack their gear so it stays dry, as well as how to wear the right layers in the correct order, to ensure warmth. Field staff teach the students to first use a wicking layer next to their skin to help move moisture away from their bodies. Second, they put on on an insulating layer to keep that heat trapped in, and lastly, they have a waterproof layer to keep out moisture and wind. It’s a science!

Staying Warm When the Weather is Cold

In addition to quality clothing and gear, another utilized practice for staying warm is engaging in warm-up exercises first thing in the morning, throughout the day, and before bed, in order to keep blood circulating and the body’s core temperature high. Being proactive and getting moving is the best way to stay warm.

To supplement physical movement and activity for warmth, each student and staff member has a stove that heats water efficiently. They then put this hot water in water bottles and keep them next to their bodies under their layers of clothing, or in their sleeping bags at night. This hot water, which can be made quickly and often, is also used for herbal tea and to make warm meals.

Students also utilize fires and wood burning stoves to stay warm. Army grade tents are available while at base camp, and each of these has a wood burning stove inside. Students spend time in these tents doing activities, eating meals, participating in therapy, group activities, and receiving safety checks. Each tent is equipped with thermometers in order to monitor the temperature, as well as carbon monoxide detectors and smoke detectors.

Versatility in the Location of Programming

One of the most unique aspects of Aspiro is the ability to utilize many environments throughout the state of Utah, ranging from the mountains in the North to the warm desert climate down South. Taking into account the therapeutic objectives for each group, as well as weather conditions, Aspiro has the flexibility to send students on various adventure itineraries throughout the state of Utah. These can range from mountain biking on the red rock terrain in the warmth of the St. George desert, to skiing in the fresh snow up in the mountains of Sundance, Utah.

During the winter month’s Aspiro dedicates considerable time to warmer itineraries down South such as mountain biking, rock climbing, hiking, and canyoneering. Although Aspiro often utilizes the warmer desert climate during the winter, there is great therapeutic value in the cold weather adventure itineraries as well. These winter itineraries create a great sense of confidence as students learn to care for themselves in more difficult conditions, learn to plan ahead and ensure they are prepared, recognize they have the tools and equipment to stay warm and safe and gain confidence from their ability to manage the winter elements. Another important part of wilderness therapy in winter is learning to reframe snow and winter as an opportunity for peace, enjoyment, and learning. Students often report that some of the winter adventure itineraries are their favorites.

Cold Weather Adventure Itineraries

Winter presents its own beautiful twist on the scenery and allows students to access incredible places in Utah that might be overpopulated in the spring or summer. This allows them to take full advantage of the solitude and peace that comes from the lack of other visitors while snowshoeing on untouched trails, or backpacking amidst the quiet landscape.

In addition to snowshoeing and backpacking, skiing is a favorite winter adventure.  Not only is skiing an enjoyable activity, but in addition, students gain skills such as awareness of self and others, physical strength and coordination, and an ability to find great emotional reward as they get into the state of “flow”. Flow Theory stems from positive psychology, and is the state of mind where one is focused completely on the moment and is fully “in the zone”. In this state of flow, there is a feeling of being more present than ever, losing oneself completely, and being intensely focused. Being in a state of flow helps students learn to alleviate anxiety and stress in life as they practice getting into this mindful place.

Vehicles

Aspiro’s vehicles are regularly inspected and all have high-quality all-terrain tires, as well as tire chains available to use as needed. Each vehicle is also equipped with a tracking device, allowing the field leadership team to know where all vehicles are at each moment, as well as exactly how each driver is doing. This helps ensure the safety of both guides and staff. All staff also go through a DDC professional driving course and must have a clean driving record in order to be eligible to drive Aspiro vehicles. There is also great flexibility in the Aspiro program that allows a group to drive out to a different area to camp or facilitate a therapeutic adventure if driving conditions are deemed unsafe by the risk management team.

Medical Checks

Aspiro guides complete hand and foot checks on every student at a minimum of 3 times a day, and check to ensure there are no injuries or blistering. During these checks, extremities are closely evaluated and the warmth and comfort of each student is confirmed. This close evaluation is in addition to the constant safety monitoring of every student that takes place 24 hours a day.
The guides call into the leadership team twice per day to report on each student and have access to the Registered Nurse or EMT 24/7 as needed. Aspiro’s medical team also has access to a Medical Doctor at all times.

In addition to guides completing safety checks of the students, students also complete regular hand, foot, and face washing to ensure cleanliness and safe hygiene. Students are also physically evaluated once a week by a member of the medical team, and each student is analyzed by a Body Composition Analyzer, which reports to the team a student’s weight, body fat percentage, body mass Index, and skeletal and muscle mass. Aspiro’s medical team uses this information to gauge each student’s individual diet and to ensure they all are getting the proper amount of calories, nutrition, and exercise.

Diet

In the winter, students receive additional food that has a higher fat content in order to ensure more caloric intake. Foods denser in calories take longer to metabolize, thus increasing overall body warmth. Because winter temperatures can require more energy to manage, a higher calorie diet also helps offset this. In addition to fresh fruits and vegetables, students eat nuts, peanut butter, canned salmon, canned tuna, rice, beans, cheese, oatmeal, and more, in order to get the calories and energy needed. Staff monitor food and water intake closely to ensure that students are getting the nutrition and hydration they need.

Weather Monitoring

Aspiro’s Operations Team is continuously monitoring weather on a daily basis. They use weather predictions and patterns as part of the information gathered when they plan the weekly schedule for students. Guides that are out in the field communicate with the Operations Team and on-call leadership members at least twice a day. During this call, the guides are updated as needed, regarding weather conditions so they can make any changes necessary to their daily plan. Students do not engage in activities outside of the campsite if temperatures drop below 10 degrees.  Instead, at that point, they stay at camp and keep warm by engaging in warm-up exercises and doing activities by the wood-burning stoves or by a fire.

Staff Training

Aspiro guides are taught to empower students with the information they need in order to live safely in the wilderness and to manage various temperatures and environments. These staff are trained on various topics in numerous areas and attend mandatory training on a weekly basis. The training for winter includes how to build winter shelters, how to implement emergency heat wraps, first aid, how to respond to any cold weather emergency scenarios, how to monitor for winter safety, and more. Aspiro’s medical team, a Registered Nurse, an EMT, and a Medical Doctor, are on call 24/7 and available to answer any questions that guides may have while in the field.

Aspiro guides are certified or working toward certification as Wilderness First Responders (WFR), which is the nationally recognized standard in wilderness medicine and provides education on the best practices for risk mitigation. A WFR certification typically requires 72-80 hours of classroom training and practice and includes a written and practical exam.

Throughout the year, and especially during the winter at Aspiro, a great amount of time and effort goes into ensuring the quality of programming, the availability of high-quality gear, the training of staff, a healthy diet, and overall safety. The attention to detail and safety in these areas adds to an impactful wilderness experience. The joy that comes when completing a winter adventure, the peace attained through the serenity of the quiet landscape, and the additional opportunities for growth that are found during the snowy adventure itineraries all lead to a powerful and life-changing experience.

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

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 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.

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

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 application.

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.

Conclusion

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 Group

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:

Aspiro’s Book of the Month – Review of “Option B’

by Ryon Smith, LCSW

One of the many things I enjoy about working here at Aspiro is the emphasis placed on professional and personal development. This development includes many things such as consulting the team on complex cases, calling a colleague after hours to enlist support, joining our Friday yoga class, and more. One avenue of development that I appreciate most is our Book of the Month tradition. Titles in the past have included “Braving the Wilderness” by Brene Brown, “Brainstorm” by Daniel Siegel, “Why We Sleep” by Matthew Walker, and a personal favorite, “Grit” by Angela Duckworth.  These monthly titles have given me an opportunity to contemplate work and life through many different lenses.

I’d like to share some thoughts and ideas I found noteworthy from a recent read, “Option B- Facing Adversity, Building Resilience, and Finding Joy,” by Sheryl Sandberg and Adam Grant. To provide some context, author and Chief Operating Officer of Facebook, Sheryl Sandberg, tragically lost her husband in a freak accident while the two were on vacation. As the title suggests, she recalls her pain, shares her growth, and contemplates what it has meant for her to move forward as a business leader and mother.  

As it is with physical health and body strength, activity and exercise build muscle, while lack thereof results in atrophy.  While I am not a physician of internal medicine, I confidently know this about our bodies, and as stated by my doctor during a recent check-up about my joints and muscles, “You use them, or you lose them.” Let’s call this the Activity vs. Atrophy example.

Resilience must also be built up and exercised regularly, just like our muscles.  (Activity vs Atrophy). Resilience is difficult to measure, see, or touch, and is a current area of research buzzing with interest. The research review on resilience from “Option B” covered everything from grit to post-traumatic growth, at-risk youth, as well as youth not at risk, and the conclusion the authors arrived at is “—resilience is not a fixed personality trait. It’s a lifelong project.”  While the implications to this statement are countless, in this review I want to call attention to how we raise our children, and manage our caseloads.

As both parents and professionals we work to help build resilience in others. In order to do so, it is important that we don’t teach our clients or our children to remove the obstacles they encounter (or be the ones to remove them), but instead teach them to overcome, to experience difficulty, to find meaning, to learn and to grow. The authors describe that we can support the growth of resilience through helping the people in our lives realize the following four principles: “1.They have some control over their lives, 2.They can learn from failure, 3.They matter as human beings, and 4.They have real strengths to rely on and share.”

The book emphasized how resilience can be introspective in thought, but is also vastly influenced by external factors. We each are responsible for building resilience in those around us every day.  Let’s consider our bids to support a loved one in times of difficulty with a statement from the book, “In prosperity, our friends know us, in adversity, we know our friends.” We need to show up, not just say we will show up if needed. Sandberg, the author of the book, discussed differences in how people showed support soon after the death of her husband. When asked if she needed anything from someone, it was easier to say no, and awkward to ask for help. She recalled a sense of relief when someone just took initiative. As Sandberg described in the book, don’t ask someone if they would like you to bring them lunch, let them know you are doing so and ask them what they like or don’t like on their burger.  

The book focused on supporting others in building resilience as well as building it ourselves. To do so, we need to practice self-care and allow ourselves moments when we can feel joy. As we take care of ourselves we are indirectly taking care of our clients and children. Self care also allows us to “take back joy” and give ourselves permission to enjoy small things. We are encouraged to create frequent positive experiences – big or small. Another tip in the book is to write down moments of joy every day.  Doing things like this increases our ability to find joy during times of adversity, and the ability to do this is true resilience! As quoted in the book by a blogger, “Happiness is the joy you find on hundreds of forgettable Wednesdays.”

In conclusion, resilience must be practiced. It’s Activity vs. Atrophy. Lifestyle over time is a predictor of physical health, and the same can be said for resilience and mental health. Like working out, going for a walk, or hiking, strength is built from routine maintenance. Your resilience comes from internal and external factors, and both types of these factors are dependent on each other.  Grow your resilience muscles. Make sure people in your life are seen and acknowledged by you. Take 2 seconds or 10 to seek understanding, to ask relevant questions and to do things for others, big or small. Show up. Live authentically. Love vigorously.

Aspiro Girls Groups Incorporate Both Adventure and Wellness

Aspiro has been successfully working with young women for over 12 years utilizing an integrated approach of wilderness adventure therapy paired with individual, group, and family therapy. With exposure to the Aspiro model, adolescent girls have experienced the therapeutic benefits of mountain biking, rock climbing, canyoneering, backpacking, skiing, and more. These therapeutic modalities have taught them to overcome fears, communicate more effectively, and develop self-regulation skills, resiliency, and grit.
Aspiro is dedicated to providing the most cutting edge treatment modalities in Outdoor Behavioral Healthcare. In addition to continuing with its integrated treatment model, Aspiro is now excited to announce the implementation of a holistic approach to wellness, specifically designed for our female clients. In a world currently filled with increasing mental health and behavioral challenges, it is necessary to teach skills that are uniquely transferable. Incorporating this higher level of focus on nutrition, mindfulness, yoga, and expressive arts therapy provides our clients with an opportunity to learn skills that they can apply for many years to come.

Family Systems Work at Aspiro Adventure: A Wilderness Treatment Program

how to help underachieving students

Aspiro Adventure Therapy is a program dedicated to Family Systems work, and my personal passion for working with families has developed over the past 20 years as a therapist. I have seen the value of the Systems approach in both family therapy, and parent coaching, as well as while leading parent workshops, and running family therapeutic processing groups.  I have seen time and time again how important it is for an entire family to engage in the therapeutic treatment process in order to create lasting change.

Family Systems theory is the idea that there is an inherent connectedness in families, therefore family members react to one another, therefore if one member’s behavior changes, the other family members change their behaviors in response. In other words, we are not “islands” unto ourselves, but we are affected by those in our family system and develop patterns of behavior based on this. We have various degrees of connection and disconnection with different family members as well.

In my career, it has been important to me to help families identify their patterns and their connections with one another, then find tools and build skills in order to strengthen and rebuild relationships. I have seen that with guidance, families have the ability to work together again to communicate effectively and develop healthy patterns and relationships.

Over the years as a clinician, I have heard family members make comments like, “This problem has nothing to do with me.” or “How can this behavior be my fault?  The other kids never did this.” Even statements like “I didn’t even say a word, This is between him and his Mother.” While it is understandable that family struggles can feel overwhelming and unmanageable, our attempt to take no responsibility and disengage from the system is virtually impossible. Each family member’s actions create a reaction and response in every other member, even if we don’t realize it.  And, seemingly doing nothing at all often times can be one of the most destructive things we can do within a family system.

Take for example the story of a father named “Mike.” Mike reluctantly attended a family therapy session where he sat quietly, arms folded and let out an occasional sigh.  Inevitably the student lashed out and said, “Why do you even bother coming? … This is just a waste of time!” Mike turned to the counselor incredulously and said, “What did I do? I was just sitting here and then got attacked for my effort to support.”  This is a prime example of the need for family systems work. Mike needs to realize his actions are negatively affecting his son, even though he isn’t saying anything and believes he is being supportive.

Here at Aspiro we feel strongly that no one is to blame and that everybody has a part.  This is why I love family systems work. Each one of us has the ability to influence the system.  Notice the words “influence the system” not “control”. We often become frustrated when we cannot control the outcome, the choices our children make, or even the ability to keep them out of harm’s way.  Many of us have gone to great lengths to control this outcome only to be hurt, disappointed and fearful.

We want to teach your family a better way of working through family issues such as communication problems, holding boundaries, creating structure, lack of validation and support, negative family roles and negative patterns of behavior.  Understanding how we can become powerful agents of change in our family systems, and not merely alone, and scared members of our families, is powerful.

Families often wonder how we are able to do family systems work while students are out in the wilderness and not seeing their parents. We do this in a number of ways including:

  • Weekly parent calls with the therapist to work on therapeutic assignments, process the student’s letters home, and to coach families through identifying their own patterns and communication styles.  
  • Weekly webinars covering various topics which will include an examination of the current roles played in families and how to adjust these roles, the stages of change, parenting styles and more.  These webinars also serve as a platform for connection and support with other parents.
  • In-person Parent Seminars where families learn more strategies for growth as well as have an opportunity to spend some time working towards a healthier family system with their child while doing some emotional work as well as time spent engaging and connecting over a 2 day period of time.

An additional layer of support as needed through parent coaching with myself, the Family Services Director can be available as well.

It is exciting to be part of a dynamic program that combines a focus on the whole child, the family system, wellness and mindfulness, and adventure therapy, all into one!

David Mayeski, LCSW

TO learn about David click here! https://aspiroadventure.com/dvteam/david-mayeski-msw/

Managing Expectations in Next Levels of Care: Wilderness Therapy Programs to Residential Treatment Programs

INTRODUCTION

Case Study: Adam was an outdoor wilderness therapy superstar. In two short months, he became less anxious, didn’t feel depressed, was motivated, excited to be sober, respectful and loving towards his parents, and willing to work within a highly structured environment. He loved his wilderness therapist, felt confident, and was accepting of his next step — a residential treatment center or a therapeutic boarding school.

Adam quietly began to have reservations about this new residential program after only a couple of weeks. He missed the freedoms he had (demanded) at home. He missed his friends who he felt were “cooler” than these “treatment kids”. He missed home and his parents, which made him more convinced that this program was not the place for him, and believed that he had already done all the work that he needed to do while in wilderness therapy. He decided, although not consciously, to push back.

As Adam began his regression, his parents held the boundary for a couple of months. Afterall, they had carefully chosen this program after touring, meeting staff members, and talking with their educational consultant. But eventually, Adam’s regression seemed to coincide with some of their frustrations with the program. Their frustrations were normal, understandable, and part of an expectations gap in our system of care.

Dear parent,
This is written for you. Please keep these following things in mind:

Speed of Progress/Regression

Even though you are told to expect this regression in residential treatment and to brace yourself, it’s hard not to shift responsibility from the student to the program. Parents are desperate for their child to find the stability they need in order to be healthy. Keep reading, keep working, and continue asking about regression. Be patient.

Access to Information

In residential treatment versus wilderness treatment, you will hear about all the things your child is doing more frequently and from many more sources. In wilderness treatment, you hear from your therapist. In residential treatment, you are hearing from the therapist, program staff, and your student. What does this mean? It means you will hear more about your child’s successes and a lot more about his/her struggles. You have two challenges: 1) Absorb the constant stream of information without coming to quick conclusions (“Why is she suddenly doing so poorly?” “He is ready to come home!” ) 2) Don’t become reactive and mired down by the small details, thus missing the big picture.

Wilderness students are generally in crisis and working on short-term goals for stability and an intricate array of emotional and behavioral issues. In order to stay focused on the big picture in this short-term setting, your wilderness therapist prioritizes the information you receive. When progress is made, that is the focus, rather than the variety of problems that will be fuel for therapy at their next level of care. An example could be a problem area such as disrespectful comments. This is a common struggle for students and is addressed in the wilderness treatment setting, but generally isn’t the prioritized area of concern in wilderness because timelines are short and working toward overall stabilization is the priority.  At a residential program, these ultimately maladaptive and intolerable behaviors get addressed and brought up constantly while working on longer-term goals. Plan to hear about them and understand they will help drive the therapeutic process and help the staff and student to know what needs to be worked on and addressed.

In residential treatment, you will now hear every passing complaint about the staff and the program from your student, whereas in wilderness you just hear what they hang onto over the course of the week and what they choose to write in a letter. Hearing about more concerns doesn’t mean the residential program is not effective or that the wilderness program was better, it is just a different model that allows more freedoms, as well as more access to your student in order for him/her to be preparing to return home.

More Autonomy   

Wilderness therapy is a small and protected community without much, if any, integration with the outside world. In residential treatment, opportunities to make poor choices are greater. With autonomy comes opportunity for mistakes. Parents too frequently hold the residential programs or schools accountable for the mistakes their child makes. It doesn’t mean it is the fault of the program if your child makes a mistake. If your child finds the means to smoke pot, have sex, get into a fight, cheat, or whatever it may be, he/she has sought that opportunity and made that choice. Allow your student to learn from the mistake by holding him/her accountable rather than blaming the staff or program, and allow the student’s choice to inform the therapist and treatment team as to where he or she is at in his or her treatment journey and the process towards making better choices.

In every progress-based transition, e.g. hospital to home-based care, high school to college, t-ball to the big leagues; helpers pull back and the receivers of help are invited to do things for themselves. This is no different in the treatment world. Expect a delay in response time from staff as your son/daughter struggles to work through distress on his or her own. Expect staff to have clearer boundaries between work and personal life as your child is given time to find solutions on his or her own and to grow and learn in a less restrictive environment. Be aware this environment will allow more and more freedoms as the student progresses through the program. Expect less intense and less frequent therapeutic interventions as a greater balance between academics, social life, sports, etc is introduced to your child’s life.

A Long-Term Relationship

We’ve all been there. A few months into an intense relationship, there is a glow. So much has changed, so many new and positive things enter our lives and we focus on these. Eventually, the glow wears off, and we are able to see the flaws, drawbacks, and realities of our partner. In this case, the partners are treatment programs (and their staff) and parents, and you have, in fact, entered a long-term relationship. There will be differences in opinion, conflict, and tough conversations. You will become “real” with them, and they with you.

Programs aren’t perfect. Over the course of a year, staff members will make mistakes, balls will be dropped, and your therapist will become a person rather than a savior, which is all a normal part of life and a healthy part of learning to grow despite frustrations or imperfections.

Parents Regress, Too

In a residential treatment setting, your child is able to push you hard, via phone calls and face to face, and it becomes harder to live the boundaries, emotional regulation, validation, and anything else you were determined to do and began to do a few months ago.

It is also common for defensiveness (or other reactive behaviors) to arise in parents when flaws/ emotional moments, etc. are visible to your child’s therapist or team. It’s easy to be your best self when your child is progressing and you aren’t dealing with their frustrating, even maddening, behaviors and attitudes face to face. If you’re unsure what your reactive behaviors are, consult The Parallel Process by Krissy Pozatek.

Your Role

Have appropriate expectations.

Keep working alongside your student. Students get treatment fatigue and want to give up. You doing your work will role model grit and demonstrate value in what the program has to offer.

Communicate openly and patiently with the program when frustrations arise.

Stay the course. Hold the boundaries the program asks you to, all of them, every time. Picking and choosing sends the message that it is ok for your child to pick and chose which rules to follow. Young people, and even more so young people in treatment, don’t have the judgment or maturity to do this yet. Being unified with the program is as important as being unified with your co-parent.

When your child inevitably complains about the program, validate him/her without rescuing or escalating. This is a tricky skill, so ask your therapist about it and consult the literature.  Encourage your child to solve problems. You can validate his or her concerns and say something like “You seem so frustrated, that must really suck. Tell me more.” or “It sounds like you would just throw in the towel if you could. I know this has been an exhausting few months.”

Final Thoughts

You may put your wilderness program on a pedestal because it was short and the time was fast and intense. You may feel like the long-term residential program is not measuring up. Programs aren’t perfect and that’s ok. If they were perfect it wouldn’t set kids up for success in an imperfect world anyway. Learning to manage mistakes, handle anxiety, trust and let go is all part of the process for you and your student.

Wilderness and residential programs are different. They are a different type of therapy, so we can’t expect the same process, but we can certainly find incredible growth, change and value in both.

Sarah Rothstein, LCSW

Learn more about Sarah below.

Summer at Aspiro Wilderness Therapy – Our Locations and Activities

It’s no mistake that we have chosen the beautiful state of Utah for our wilderness therapy program. The many locations in which we operate, engaging in a multitude of adventure activities year round, gives our clients the best experiences possible. These novel environments in our outdoor wilderness program allow students to be immersed in the many incredible landscapes that Utah has to offer.  At each of the 15 areas we visit, students will engage in an adventure itinerary such as rock climbing, mountain biking canyoneering, backpacking, and more.  These activities challenge students to push beyond their perceived boundaries and accomplish more than they ever thought possible. These adventure therapy itineraries show them that, in a very practical way, they can do hard things.

Here are a few of our many favorite summer areas!

La Sal Mountains

Stretching to upwards of 12,000 feet, the La Sal mountains are a cool paradise surrounded by miles and miles of slick rock and sandy desert. The La Sals were named by the Spanish, meaning “The Salt Mountains” due to the snow on the peaks which lasts all year long, despite the up to 100-degree temperatures in the nearby desert below. Thankfully, the La Sals remain about 20 degrees cooler than the surrounding Moab area and thus are perfect for our students to experience high alpine, backcountry hiking during the summer months. Students practice navigation skills as they bushwhack through large pine and aspen forests and hike up to the mountain peaks. They also utilize mindfulness and meditation while stopping for quiet moments of reflection while enjoying the views of the endless vistas before them.

Escalante

Escalante is located in South Central Utah and is a rugged and breathtaking landscape that is made up of large slick rock domes, canyons, and pinnacles carved out by the Escalante River. Smooth and twisting sandstone slot canyons lead out into sandy washes that are dabbled with cottonwood trees and tamarisk. Students backpack through the dunes, slick rock ridges and slot canyons, enjoy the cooling waters of the Escalate River. Here our students participate in adventure therapy while learning how to precisely navigate through desert landscapes and discover the natural processes of wind and water erosion which create their unique surroundings. Students also see petroglyphs and other rock carvings which have been preserved for thousands of years as they hike through these slot canyons and rappel down the canyon walls. Rappelling allows students to build trust in themselves as well as to overcome fears. This helps them to build self-confidence, gain self-efficacy and to become empowered.

Ouray

The Book Cliffs of Eastern Utah are some of the most remote mountains in the lower 48. As sandstone cliffs climb up from the dry and sandy desert, Ouray presents itself in wide box canyons full of lush green meadows, pristine rivers, and beautiful pine forests. Students backpack through these canyons, utilizing landmark recognition and concise communication in order to accomplish their “thru-hike” goal. A thru-hike is when two groups start at opposite ends of an operating area and meet in the middle to switch van keys, thus leaving from a completely different location than where they started. This is one of Aspiro’s most challenging and rewarding backpacking itineraries due to the natural structure that requires groups to keep moving forward. Students gain strength and stamina, and practice various camping and survival skills during this time, leaving them with a great sense of accomplishment.

Park City

Park City, Utah is a favorite destination for people around the world year round. In the summer it is home to some of the best mountain biking trails in the country. Our students experience these breathtaking high desert mountains while learning technical riding and bike maintenance. Our wilderness guides teach foundational skills and work each day with students in order to build confidence on their bikes by challenging them with more difficult and longer trails each day. For many of our students, who are working through various difficulties such as anxiety, inattention, substance abuse, and more, mountain biking is a healthy and rewarding experience as they seek what we call “flow,” or an optimal experience of challenge and ability. When cruising down a switchback trail on a bike, all a rider thinks about is what is in front of him or her. Immediate feedback is received from both the bike and the earth, as well as a mix of a rush of adrenaline and a feeling of contentment, as a student learns to truly focus and be present in the moment. These mindful experiences help decrease anxiety and lead to overall well-being.

My Story – Sofia and her Wilderness Experience

People can grow from a multitude of different obstacles they overcame, but the growth I experienced called for a unique journey. About six years ago, my parents announced they were getting a divorce. Being the youngest out of 3 girls, I was the one most affected. The following years were, without a doubt, not how I would have imagined my life ending up. Although some people may fear to talk about their past, I am proud of the Sofia I was then and the Sofia I am now. I refuse to push aside who I truly was just because I had not been the accomplished women I am today. Due to the strength I have received from my past experiences, I am able to acknowledge my feelings and emotions to convey my story.

So here is my life-altering journey. I was extremely rebellious, belligerent towards every person in my life, treated everybody as if they were my enemy, and began abusing substances. I was not allowed back to my high school to start my senior year unless I attended Aspiro, a wilderness therapeutic program. I was 18 at the time, so legally it was necessary that I signed myself into the program to begin my journey. I constantly resisted in the beginning, but I had no other choice because the alternative was to see myself go down a road of failure. It took me 24 hours of being curled up under my blankets with tears streaming down my face to realize this. Everything in my life had taken a toll on my mental health. Everything was just miserable. I thought it over, through constant headaches and tears, until finally I had answer, “Dad, I will go.” It was not easy for me to say this, and once I had, my father called my mom, and before I knew it I was on a plane to Utah.

I would never be where I am today if it was not for Aspiro. My life is different in every aspect. The wilderness teaches you that life does not always provide you with everything you want. Fortunately, my parents were able to hand me anything I asked for, but I became too dependent on them. Everybody has hard times in life, but the hardest moments for me were in the wilderness. These are the times that change you as an individual, make you think, and help you realize why you ended up there. I had to learn to cope with things that were challenging, and encounter activities that were unprecedented in my life. Almost everyday of the week for two and half months, I carried a 45-pound pack on my back, and some days hiked for miles. I constantly reminded myself to persevere, knowing that when I came back home things there would also be challenging. If I refused to continue in the wilderness, then I would bring back home that same mentality, so I had to just get through it, and it would all be worth it. I had to continue pushing through, get right back up and keep working just like everybody else. It was not easy rock climbing on high mountains. However, I had to conquer my fears and doubts. I needed to push through activities like mountain biking, climbing, backpacking, or miles of walking, to learn that I was capable of being independent and expressing myself in front of others without the help of my family.

Also, allowing myself to open up to others including my therapist and group members, helped me to grow as an individual. Hearing other group members and their stories, allowed me to understand and take into account others hardships and added to my empathy and personal growth. There was a time when I was reading an impact letter from my parents outloud to my therapist. While reading it, there were certain points where I didn’t want to continue because I knew that the truth was finally hitting me. I could not call home, but I could talk to her about how I felt and work through those emotions. Her advice, support, and commitment to helping me along was an eye opening experience and was life changing. All of these experiences combined, helped me maneuver and figure out who I was, and who I have become as an individual.

When I came back to school, my teachers got the chills and cried when they heard my story. Nobody recognized me and they were surprised by the immense amount of progress I made in such a short time. I ended up being valedictorian and was able to speak at my high school graduation. Currently, I am a sophomore at Muhlenberg college and on the dean’s list. When you put in hard work, the outcome can be substantial!

It starts with the one person who can make the most difference in your life. You. You have the power to tell yourself YOU CAN DO IT!  I now make it a priority to offer my guidance and support for other families, helping them to figure out positive next steps in life, just like Aspiro did for me.

I end with lyrics that are a favorite message of both me and my mother.

“There’s always gonna be another mountain.
I’m always gonna wanna make it move.
Always gonna be an uphill battle
And sometimes I’m gonna have to lose.
It ain’t about how fast I get there,
Ain’t about whats waiting on the other side.
It’s the climb.”

-Miley Cyrus, The Climb

Thank you to my parents for giving me this once in a lifetime opportunity, and allowing me to see this potential. If it was not for Aspiro, I am not sure where I would be currently. Family, friends, teachers, and last but not least, Aspiro – I cannot thank you enough for the constant support I have received throughout these last three years. You all are a blessing and hold a special spot in my heart.

– Sofia E.

David Mayeski, LCSW
Family Services Director

Also specializes in: Family Systems Work / Understanding Family Roles, Dynamics and Power Struggles / Genograms

David comes to Aspiro with almost 20 years of experience working with families in therapeutic programs. Originally David received his Bachelor’s degree in Government and Politics and went on to earn his Master of Social Work.

Prior to joining Aspiro, David served in many capacities at highly respected residential treatment centers as a primary therapist, Admissions Director, and Clinical Director. After working as a primary therapist for two years, he was awarded his License in Clinical Social Work (LCSW) in 2003 and has continued practicing therapy with students and their families. His desire to help families heal and overcome obstacles, his years of experience, and his clinical sophistication, make him the perfect match as the Family Services Director where he continues to help families heal through parent coaching, therapy sessions, webinars, and during groups over Aspiro’s Parent Seminars.

David is passionate about helping others and guiding families through their journey of connecting and healing as a system. David enjoys talking politics, playing a round of golf, and especially cherishes time with his beautiful wife and three children.