Live on The Woodbury Report, joining hosts Lon Woodbury and Elizabeth McGhee was our guest, Doug Maughan, the Clinical Director for Daniels Academy, a small family-living style therapeutic boarding school for young men ages 13-18 who struggle both academically and emotionally, in addition to Executive Functioning issues. Often described as "quirky", students with Autism Spectrum have individual neurological differences that need to be treated, as the pre-frontal cortex isn't working as it should.
These adolescents are often misunderstood as being oppositional defiant or show 'rigidity'. It is not intentional, for these kids cannot make shifts or see different options and within traditional academic schooling, teachers all too frequently see these behaviors as willful. "If someone teases or bullies them, it really impacts these kids with Autism Spectrum and becomes a huge issue for them. They may participate in that behavior themselves so that it doesn't happen to them again", explained Doug.
They work with very basic social processing in order for them to learn healthy ways to maneuver through social interactions. These boys, often very bright but with low self-esteem are taught techniques for building social skills and skill development and practice, through individual therapy, group milieu settings and interactions in the local community. There is a lot of stress and risks for them in social interactions because they face these situations in the moment with little reference to their past experiences. The DSM Manual Version 5 says there are 3 levels within the autistic spectrum. Level one is referred to as high functioning autism. These students are often misdiagnosed with ADHD or Asperger's. Level Two is more severe and level Three are adolescents who are generally extremely non-communicative. Daniels Academy works only with students on Level One. The students with level One autism are functional, but need constant practice with social interactions. The basis of the Academy's work with them are what they call Four Pillars which include Executive Functioning skills which are mental processes that help connect past experiences with present actions; and Social Thinking skills; Emotional and Mood Regulation skills and Daily Living skills.
They also work on fine motor skills, which is a frequent problem those on the spectrum have, and help them recognize their limitations and how to adapt to them. In addition, they learn daily living skills- hygiene, making their beds - really basic living skills. They have skills they need to re-learn and patterns that need to be shifted into healthy patterns. For Daniels Academy, to measure the effectiveness of this hands-on therapy, the Academy observes if they are using the tools and skills they have learned at a high level for at least 6 months within their interactions with staff, the community and their peers. "When they trust the skills they have gained, they just take off. It is fun to watch!" Doug shared.