School Bullying – Defense for your Child

October is National Bullying Prevention month. During the entire month, schools and organizations work together to increase awareness of school bullying and help prevent its impact on children.

School bullying is the use of power to control another person. The student who is being bullied may have a hard time defending themselves or may be unable to guard against these attacks. Bullying always intends to harm the targeted child – usually psychologically, but sometimes physically, as well. Additionally, bullying is carried out by the same person or the same group of people who repeatedly go after the same child.

The children most at risk of being bullied are those who:

  • Are less popular than others
  • Have low self-esteem
  • Have few friends
  • Are depressed or anxious

Bullies usually:

  • Have social power
  • Like to dominate others
  • Are concerned about their popularity
  • Often also have issues with low self-esteem
  • Are aggressive and often act impulsively
  • Are easily pressured by their peers

Most bullying happens in middle school and about 1 in 4 children report having been verbally or socially bullied at school.

Types of Bullying

While bullying can be physical (for example: hitting, fighting, or forcing a person to do something they don’t want to do) or verbal (teasing, name-calling, threatening someone), today’s children also face social bullying:

  • Cyber bullying – Kids practically live on social media, but this has created an environment in which the bully can be anonymous. Since they don’t have to face their target or witness the effects of their bullying, they don’t have to be sympathetic about the pain they are causing. Texting and social media allows the bully free reign to post embarrassing pictures, make rude comments, or post humiliating videos almost instantly and without recourse.
  • Social Alienation – In social bullying, the idea is to damage someone’s reputation, get them excluded from social activities, and to get others to avoid them. This can often be accomplished by cyber bullying.
  • Slut shaming – censuring a female’s character in sexual terms in order to embarrass, humiliate, or intimidate her for actions that are a normal part of female sexuality. For example: a male teen may be praised for his sexual experimentation, however a girl may be bullied and called a slut. This scenario has been explored in Netflix’s 13 Reasons Why show (you can read our recent article about it here. In the show, the girl who is slut-shamed ends up committing suicide.

What are the Effects of School Bullying?

A child who is bullied may avoid situations and interactions with others that could actually be positive for them. The effects of school bullying can create depression and anxiety disorders in the child who is being attacked. Often this depression and anxiety will stay with the youth and follow them into adulthood. In fact, someone who was bullied in school is more likely to be the target of workplace harassment as an adult.

The symptoms of school bullying can be both physical and emotional. Your child may experience:

  • School refusal
  • Headaches, stomachaches or other aches or pains throughout their body
  • Weight loss
  • Nightmares and/or sleeplessness

Fight Back against Bullying

StopBullying.gov offers the following suggestions to help stop school bullying.

They say:

  • Look at the kid bullying you and tell him or her to stop in a calm, clear voice. You can also try to laugh it off. This works best if joking is easy for you. It could catch the kid bullying you off guard.
  • If speaking up seems too hard or not safe, walk away and stay away. Don’t fight back. Find an adult to stop the bullying on the spot.

StopBullying.gov also lists things your child can do to stay safe in the future:

  • Talk to an adult you trust. Don’t keep your feelings inside. Telling someone can help you feel less alone. They can help you make a plan to stop the bullying.
  • Stay away from places where bullying happens.
  • Stay near adults and other kids. Most bullying happens when adults aren’t around.
  • Stand up for others When you see bullying, there are safe things you can do to make it stop.
  • Talk to a parent, teacher, or another adult you trust. Adults need to know when bad things happen so they can help.
  • Be kind to the kid being bullied. Show them that you care by trying to include them. Sit with them at lunch or on the bus, talk to them at school, or invite them to do something. Just hanging out with them will help them know they aren’t alone.

Additionally, child psychologists, such as the professionals here at The Children’s Center, can work with your son or daughter to develop coping techniques that will teach them how to react in particular situations. Child psychologists can also help bullying victims rebuild their self-esteem and confidence so that future harassment can be avoided.

In all cases of school bullying, it’s important to seek help and report the incident as soon as possible. Ignoring the issue often makes it worse because the bully begins to think it is okay to continue hurting others. Additionally, the targeted child sometimes begins to believe what is being said about them.

We Can Help

For more information about how we can help your child learn to defend against school bullying, contact the Children’s Center for Psychiatry Psychology and Related Services in Delray Beach, Florida or call us today at (561) 223-6568.

Read More

Autistic Children Find Help through Virtual Reality Therapy

Children with autism and Asperger’s often have phobias that limit their interaction with others. One child may be fearful of any social gathering, another of going shopping, while someone else may be afraid heights or be terrified to be in a crowd of people. These phobias can be so difficult for the child to experience, that often family members will go out of their way to avoid a situation they know will trigger the child’s fears. Additionally, children with Asperger’s syndrome and autism spectrum disorders often have trouble with safety boundaries that others take for granted, such as needing to stay within their own yard or being able to cross a street without harm. But, studies are showing that the new field of virtual reality therapy can help autistic children learn to manage everyday situations, allowing them to live a more normal life.

How Does Virtual Reality Therapy Work?

Virtual reality therapy (VR therapy) is a computer-based simulation of the world around us. It is multi-sensory, providing both visual and auditory environments that can be configured to mimic a setting. By going through VR therapy, an autistic child can challenge and overcome their fears in a safe setting and in a way that gives them control.

With virtual reality therapy, a simulated environment allows the child to use an avatar to interact with others. Reminiscent of a video game, the children move their avatar through the program while a therapist views the session and provides coaching and feedback to the child. The kids have the ability to pause, repeat, or review their avatar’s interaction inside the setting until they feel confident about the situation.

How Can VR Therapy Help Autistic Children?

Among other applications, virtual reality therapy is being used to teach or enhance social cognition skills and emotion recognition to help children with autism become more comfortable in social settings. Social interaction is often a source of discomfort for autistic children because the syndrome keeps them from picking up on the subtle social signals most people take for granted. In fact, Daniel Smith, the senior director of discovery science at Autism Speaks has said, “Virtual reality and avatar-based programs may be especially promising for people with autism who are uncomfortable in social interactions where subtle social cues are important.”

Studies have proven that virtual reality therapy can actually rewire the regions of the brain that relate to social skills. VR therapy also amplifies those areas that relate to attention and information exchange. The result is an increased understanding and awareness of social signals and a higher perception of the back and forth exchanges that is the foundation of conversation.

In addition to teaching social skills for circumstances such as attending school, sitting for a job interview, going to the mall, or going on a date, VR therapy has helped teens and children overcome more physical situations involving things like a fear of heights, phobias surrounding crowds, and traveling on a school bus. Because the virtual simulations can be configured to show real-world settings, they can be adapted to conform to each child’s specific fears.

For example: for a child who is afraid of heights, VR therapy can create a situation in which the child – via their avatar – experiences riding an escalator or crossing a bridge. The scenario introduces the child to the situation slowly and increases the stimulus as they learn to desensitize their fear and build up their tolerance.  The child is given encouragement and feedback by a child psychologist and has full control of the scene, so they can turn back or go to an earlier (less frightening) version whenever they need to.

After working through these phobias, the children are able to transfer their new skills to real-life situations – something that is usually difficult for autistic children because they focus on details instead of intangible perspectives. By targeting a child’s specific fears, virtual reality therapy provides real world scenarios with immediate feedback, which greatly enhances the child’s ability to cope under stress.

Need More Information about Autism and Virtual Reality Therapy?

Our warm and welcoming Children’s Center offers a wide range of clinical, therapeutic, educational and supportive services specifically for children ages two through twenty two.

For more information about how our skilled professional can use virtual reality therapy to help with your child’s autism, contact the Children’s Center for Psychiatry Psychology and Related Services in Delray Beach, Florida or call us today at (561) 223-6568.

Read More

PANDAS Disease Following a Strep Throat Infection

PANDAS disease (short for Pediatric Autoimmune Neuropsychiatric Disorders Associated with Streptococcal Infections) isn’t a true disease. Instead, it is a rare disorder that can occur in children following a strep throat infection. With PANDAS strep, the child’s body sets up an immune response to the invading streptococcus bacteria, but ends up attacking the child’s own tissues in addition to the strep bacteria. The result is inflammation within the brain, and the dramatic onset of OCD (obsessive-compulsive disorder), tics, intense anxiety and other debilitating symptoms.

The hallmark of PANDAS is that these new symptoms and disorders appear or worsen very suddenly. In fact, parents say they come “out of the blue” or that their child changes “overnight.” Keep in mind that children who have been previously diagnosed with OCD or tics will always have their good days and their bad days, so an upswing in symptoms does not necessarily mean the child has PANDAS disease just because they’ve had a throat infection. With PANDAS disease, however, the child’s tics or OCD would flare up dramatically and continue to stay elevated anywhere from several weeks to several months.

PANDAS Symptoms

The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) reports that the diagnosis of PANDAS syndrome is strictly a clinical diagnosis. There are no lab tests that can diagnose the PANDAS disorder. Additionally, the diagnosis of PANDAS is controversial, so some clinicians either don’t understand it or may overlook the syndrome.

Currently, the only way to determine whether a child has PANDAS disease is to look at the clinical features of the illness, so health care providers use diagnostic criteria to make a PANDAS diagnosis.

NIMH’s diagnostic criteria for PANDAS:

  • Presence of obsessive-compulsive disorder and/or a tic disorder
  • Pediatric onset of symptoms (age 3 years to puberty)
  • Episodic course of symptom severity (see information below)
  • Association with group A Beta-hemolytic streptococcal infection (a positive throat culture for strep or history of scarlet fever)
  • Association with neurological abnormalities (physical hyperactivity, or unusual, jerky movements that are not in the child’s control)
  • Very abrupt onset or worsening of symptoms

If the symptoms have been present for more than a week, blood tests may be done to document a preceding streptococcal infection.

Additionally, the NIMH reports that children with PANDAS often experience one or more of the following symptoms in conjunction with their OCD and/or tics:

  • ADHD symptoms (hyperactivity, inattention, fidgety)
  • Separation anxiety (child is “clingy” and has difficulty separating from his/her caregivers; for example, the child may not want to be in a different room in the house from his or her parents)
  • Mood changes, such as irritability, sadness, emotional lability (tendency to laugh or cry unexpectedly at what might seem the wrong moment)
  • Trouble sleeping, night-time bed-wetting, day-time frequent urination or both
  • Changes in motor skills (e.g. changes in handwriting)
  • Joint pains

PANDAS Disease Risk Factors

The risk factors for PANDAS syndrome are:

  • A family history of rheumatic fever
  • The child’s mother has a personal history of an autoimmune disease
  • The child has a history of recurrent group A streptococcal infections
  • PANDAS is more common in males
  • It is more common in prepubescent children

PANDAS Syndrome Treatment

Treatment for PANDAS disorder is medication to treat the strep throat infection (*Tip: Sterilize or replace toothbrushes during and following the antibiotics treatment, to make sure that the child isn’t re-infected with strep.). Treatment also includes medications to control the neuropsychological symptoms and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) to help with the child’s OCD or ADHD symptoms.

Research does not indicate long-term penicillin use to try to prevent recurrence of PANDAS disorder. Current information suggests the syndrome is caused by the antibodies produced by the child’s body in response to the streptococcus bacteria, not by the actual bacteria itself. Research also does not support the removal of the child’s tonsils strictly to prevent recurrence of PANDAS disease.

Have Questions about PANDAS Disease?

If you are concerned your child may have PANDAS syndrome after a strep throat infection, we can help. Our Children’s Center focuses specifically on offering a variety of clinical, therapeutic, educational and supportive services to children ages two through twenty two in a warm and welcoming environment.

To learn more, contact the Children’s Center for Psychiatry Psychology and Related Services in Delray Beach, Florida or call us today at (561) 223-6568.

 

 

Read More

How Does Virtual Reality Therapy Help School Anxiety?

The start of a new school year is just around the corner. While many children are happy about heading back to the classroom and seeing their friends again, for some kids, a new school year embodies fear and school anxiety. But, what if your child could go into their classroom in a non-threatening way, interact with a new teacher and classmates, and learn effective methods for coping with the anxiety-inducing situations they dread in school? With virtual reality therapy, they can do just that.

This innovative treatment is emerging as a high-tech solution that lets kids challenge their fears in a safe, realistic environment, but in a way that gives them control. VR therapy can be used across age groups and can be adjusted to the child’s developmental age as they mature.

Additionally, this therapy can be tailored to vary the complexity of school phobia scenarios. For example, one child might be apprehensive about taking exams, while another dreads interaction with their peers. Both can be helped with virtual reality therapy, which is a combination of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and in-vivo exposure therapy, but with a state of the art twist.

For example, if your child has a high level of test anxiety, as studies indicate anywhere from 15% to 25% of students do, virtual reality therapy will allow them to mimic test taking in a non- or less stressful environment (just like in-vivo exposure does) in order to overcome their negative thought patterns (“I always fail tests.”) through cognitive behavioral therapy. In a test-taking scenario, the virtual reality simulated distractions and stresses of taking exams would be minimal to start with, and then slowly be increased as the child learns to process and adjust to them. At the end of the therapy, the child will be able to face an exam with reduced or minimal fear.

What Happens During Virtual Reality Therapy?

Because most kids relate so well to video games, virtual reality exposure therapy seamlessly integrates treatment with real-world interface. It helps children retrain their brain so they have a defense against problems like meeting a new peer or being bullied, which makes them feel more comfortable about situations at school. VR therapy has also been successful in teaching or improving social cognitive skills and emotion recognition in high-functioning autistic children.

When kids go through VR therapy, they first learn coping skills to help them stay calm under a stressful circumstance. Once they are comfortable with these strategies, they continue on to virtual reality therapy, where they view computer-generated environments and use an avatar to experience interactions with adults and other kids.

As you can see in this Today Show video, the teens have the freedom to pause or review and repeat their avatar’s interaction with others inside the setting until they feel confident about the situation. A therapist listens in on the virtual reality session and offers feedback and coaching to help the child navigate the difficulties that have created their school refusal.

Studies have shown that virtual reality therapy actually “rewires” the brain so that the areas relating to sociability and attention are heightened. This leads to increased awareness and understanding of social cues, enhanced perception of the give and take in conversations, and more control when faced with real-life school issues. In studies done after kids have gone through virtual reality exposure therapy, scans have shown that the regions in the brain associated with social skills and those sections that exchange information during social interactions are heightened.

This interactive and visually stimulating approach to treating school anxiety delivers a dynamic platform that can simulate an unlimited number of phobia situations. By targeting a child’s specific fears, it provides meaningful close-to-life scenarios with immediate feedback, which greatly enhances the child’s ability to cope under stress.

Did You Know?

Our Children’s Center focuses specifically on offering a variety of clinical, therapeutic, educational and supportive services to children ages two through twenty two in a warm and welcoming environment.

For more information about how our child psychologist team can use virtual reality therapy for your child’s school refusal, contact the Children’s Center for Psychiatry Psychology and Related Services in Delray Beach, Florida or call us today at (561) 223-6568.

Read More
Call Us (561) 223-6568