November 18, 2017

Trauma, brain structure and the power of nurturing touch – Video

I’ve spent the past three days assisting with the Theraplay training.  It’s been a wonderful experience.  We had some time and my good friend and mentor, Dr. Rand Coleman gave a talk about trauma and it’s effects on the brain.  I share this talk with you because the information is critical to parents and mental health professionals alike.

 

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Trauma, recovery and addiction — Interviewed by Michele Paiva at the Mind Body Institute

I had the great honor and pleasure to join Michele Paiva on her radio show today.  The topic was addiction, trauma and recovery.  Check it out!

http://www.blogtalkradio.com/bodymindradio/2013/10/30/emotional-detox-radical-recovery-rethinking-addiction

 

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Site updates and a special offer!

Friends,
I have been crazy busy lately…and this means lots of updates. However, it also means some special opportunities to you.

The Book is out!

First, my book, The Special Needs Parenting Survival Guide, is officially available! You can buy it here. Or you can get it at Amazon.com. If you purchase the paperback version, you can get the kindle version for free.

As a special thank you for your support, I am offering five signed copies for $12 (that’s a 30% discount) to the first five people who send me an email. (erikyounglpc@verizon.net)

Check out the store!

My website now features a store where you can purchase my new line of stress reduction and relaxation audio files.   Learn about diaphragmatic breathing and progressive muscle relaxation.

Also, check back later for video new video relaxation demonstrations.

New Curriculum Certification

I am excited to announce that I will soon be releasing a new on-line certification curriculum based on the principles of The Special Needs Parenting Survival Guide.

The Special Needs Parent Support Specialist (SNPSS) certification will teach parents, teachers, and other professionals the principles behind the social support network system and prepare participants to assist other special needs parents.

I am really excited about this as I hope it will help teach professionals and lay people alike how to recognize the unique needs of special needs parents and create a network of people that can ease the challenges these parents face on a daily basis.

Until next time, remember…Breathe, you got this.

Peace,
Erik

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How to Have am Autism-Friendly Halloween

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HOW TO HAVE A HAPPY HALLOWEEN WITH YOUR AUTISTIC CHILD

If your child has autism, then you know how challenging holiday events can be.  With these events, you combine changes in routine with increased sensory stimulation and mix all that up with used-once-a-year social conventions that fly in the face of the day to day rules.  This perfect storm of “wrong” can set the stage for tantrum inducing disasters for many individuals on the spectrum. Despite this, I believe there is no reason that you and your child have to avoid special holiday events, such as Halloween.  It just takes a little planning and preparation for both of you to have a wonderful, candy-filled, spooktacular Halloween.

My Foster Child’s First Halloween

My oldest foster child has autism.  In the run-up to his first Halloween with us (when he was twelve), it quickly became apparent to us that he had never been trick or treating.  We really wanted him to go, but were concerned about how he would handle the event.  Like many autistic children, he is very ridged and does not take to change well.  At that time, he was prone to get upset and bite people when things did not go as planned or if anybody had to tell him “no.”  However, despite our concerns, Lorrie (my wife) and I felt it was important for him to have a shot at experiencing a “traditional” Halloween.

First, we had him look the through the costume store circular.  He chose a cow costume (complete with udders).   Cows are his favorite animal on the planet (why this is the case is a story for another post).  Then, Lorrie went out and found the very costume he picked out.  We then tried to explain to him over the days leading up to trick or treat night what he was going to get to do.  It seemed like a good idea at the time, but he simply did not get what we were telling him.

“OK, you are going to put on your cow costume.  Then you are going to go up to houses, say trick or treat and then you will get candy!”

“Candy Candy Candy!”  was his typical reply, followed by confusion as to why the candy was not forthcoming right that second.  ( I tell you, I’m a brilliant therapist at times…)

At long last, the night came.  We put our son into his costume and gave him a pillow case to collect his loot.  He immediately became really uncomfortable.  He did not understand what was happening. We went out into the night and started at some neighbor’s houses that knew us and our children.  The first challenge was to get him to say “trick or treat” after ringing the doorbell (but waiting for someone to answer the door)this came out more like “tickatweesh.”  (Our boy has some language…two to three word phrases but his diction is poor and he is hard to understand.)  The next challenge came after he got his candy.  He immediately tried to run home so he could eat his one piece of candy.  My attempt to stop him and go to the next house almost resulted in a tantrum, but we were able to persevere.

After about three houses, my boy gave me a look that, to this day, I will cherish.  Without saying a word, he looked me in the eye.  The look he gave me basically said “So, I go to houses in a costume.  I say tickatweesh.  They give me free candy.  GENIUS!!”  He was into it after this.  I could barely hold him back.  We avoided a couple of houses where they were doing haunted house/scary things.  I checked in every couple of houses and asked him “do you want to keep going or do you want to go home?”  As soon as he said go home, we headed back.  I didn’t push things.  Once home, my boy got to eat himself into a classic Halloween sugar coma.  It was fantastic.

The best part of the tale came the next day.  Our boy came downstairs after school and handed us his cow costume and said “tickatweesh.”  He wanted to go out again.  We tried to explain that Halloween was overhe asked us every night for the rest of the week before giving up efforts to get more free candy.  It was pretty funny.   We ended up saving and re-using that cow costume for 5 years before we had to replace it.

All in all, a successful outing for all concerned.

Tips for an Autism-Friendly Halloween Night

—   Let your child choose his costume.  Avoid costumes with full face masks, lots of makeup or glue-on accessories.  These can be uncomfortable and take the fun out of the night for your child.

 

— Remember the night is supposed to be fun.  This is not the time to push limits with your child.  All the changes in routine and possible overstimulation will be more than enough for him/her to process.

 

 

—   Start small, just go to a few trusted houses and see how things go.  Then, check in with your child frequently.  Gauge how they are holding up.  You want to be at home BEFORE they are over-stimulated.

 

— It might be a good idea to start your trick or treat route at the furthest point from your house and work your way home (as opposed to the more traditional stat at home and work your way out).  This has the benefit of having you closer to home when your child runs out of patience (as opposed to being at the furthest point from home when he was done…as happened to me one yearnot a fun walk back).

 

 

—  If you are unsure as to whether your child can handle the whole trick or treat experience, explore alternatives such as trick or treating at the mall (a more structured, better lit environment), or attending or hosting a small party where you can get treats and dress up for a little bit.

 

— Spend time before trick or treating explaining the expectations and laying out the “rules.”  Even non-verbal children have pretty good receptive language and will get the gist of what you want.  This helps by giving them some idea of what to do that will reduce the “newness” factor of the event.

 

 

—  Don’t be afraid to abort the event if your child shows signs of not being able to handle it.  There have been years where we brought a child back after a few houses because he was getting too upset and needed to calm down.  One year, one of our kids didn’t go out at all because he was just having a bad day.  It is more important to keep everyone safe and happy than to be slaves to “tradition.”  If the candy is an issue, it ALWAYS goes on sale November 1stdeals are there to be had.

 

— Avoid going to houses that do scary things like haunted houses and such.  Keep things on the low-key fun side unless you are DEAD certain your child will enjoy being scared (my kids simply don’t like that stuff).

 

 

—  Praise your child frequently throughout the event for following rules, being brave, etc.  Cheer him/her onthis stuff is new and hard to do at first.

 

—  If your child LOVES his/her costume… demote it to pajamas or weekend-wear until they get tired of it.

 

 

—  If your child is a very picky eater, buy some treats you know he/she will like and slip them into the Halloween bag.

 

I hope this information helps make your Halloween more fun. If you have other stories or tips for making Halloween more Autism-friendly, please leave a comment. Please feel free to email me aterikyounglpc@verizon.net with any questions or suggestions.

 

Remember, BREATH and DON’T PANIC!  You got this…

 

Visit me at www.erikyoungcounseling.com to find out more about myself and to schedule an appointment.

For more parenting tips, check out the SPECIAL NEEDS PARENTING SURVIVAL GUIDE  available at Amazon and all fine book retailers.

Copyright 2013 Erik Young, M.Ed. LPC

 

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What is your life worth? The importance of connections

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I.                   Actuarial tables and a radio program

The other day, I was listening to a radio program on NPR (a therapist who listens to NPR I hear you say?  Shocking!).  I forget which program, but the host described going to see a person who did actuarial work for insurance companies.  This person’s job was to figure out how much a life was worth so if they were injured or killed the insured parties would be properly compensated.  Pretty cold, I know…but it’s a real thing.  In any case, the guy doing the piece was shocked to find he was only worth about $35,000.  The piece went on to talk about how people with families and kids tend to be worth more, because they are connected to and valued by others.

 

II.                 Let me google that for you…

This radio piece got me thinking.  On the one hand, life is priceless.  The whole actuarial process is pretty cold and ruthless.  Then again, the idea that one’s connections to others adds value to ones life is a profound and fascinating truth.  I decided to explore the idea further.

The first thing I did was go to google and type in the search “how much is my life worth.”  Go ahead…try it.  What I found was mostly fun, time-waster sites (although there were a couple of insurance sites that came up in my search).  They all let me take little surveys that purportedly placed some sort of value on my life.  I spent some time playing with these.  I know the results aren’t remotely valid or scientific, but is was interesting.  One thing I did was enter in data as a single man (keeping age, income and health stats constant) and then as my true self as a married father of 5 kids.  As a single man, I was worth about $50,000 but as my true married self, I was worth anywhere from 1.5 to 1.8 million dollars.  Quite a difference, eh?

What does this mean?  My life is enhanced by being married to my wife.  My life as further enhanced by the birth of my two children.  When Lorrie and I set about doing foster care, my life was enhanced further.  Everytime I make a new friend or help out someone else, it leaves me feeling good and thus enhances my life.  There’s something to the idea of being connected to others adding value to one’s life.  How much is it worth when I help one of my clients resolve some personal issue and live a happier, healthy life?  That person now interacts more positively with their friends and loved ones.  How much is all that worth?  How much does a teacher helping a student discover their passion and talents add value to that student’s life?  How much does that student then add to others as they pursue their talents as a functioning adult?

golden gate bridge

III.              The story of a bridge

If you are still not convinced of the importance of the connection to others, then let’s talk about suicide.  It’s one of my areas of specialty interest.  When I was a young therapist doing his internship at the Lehigh University counseling center, the director of the center told me that to save a the life of a person who was suicidal you needed to get them connected to at least one person.  He felt that single connection would often be enough to keep the suicidal individual from going from ideation to attempt or completion.  Later on, as  Devereux clinician, I became a gatekeeper instructor in the QPR suicide intervention system by Dr. Paul Quinnet (http://www.qprinstitute.com/).  As part of the training that I received (and the training I give on this topic), we tell the story of a bridge.  Here is a condensed version of that story.

There is a bridge in a major western city (it’s the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco).  This bridge is a magnet for people who are suicidal.  They come from miles around to leap from this bridge.  It’s a pretty long fall that is almost always fatal.  However, every once in a while someone leaps from the bridge but does not die.  In all the years the bridge has been in existence, never has a person who survived the jump climbed onto shore, gone back up the bridge and tried to jump again.  Some researchers were examining this phenomenon came up with an elegant intervention.  They met with all the people involved in the upkeep and maintenance of the bridge.  All the workers, security, administration, etc.  They trained these people to be on the look out for people who might be suicidal (lone people hanging around the edge of the bridge, people looking forlorn and sad, etc.)  They then tasked everyone who worked on the bridge to approach anyone acting suspiciously and ask them if they were ok.  They were to offer their help and listen to them…no threat, no intimidation. In short, they were to connect with these people.

The results of this intervention were surprising to say the least…incidents of suicide attempts on the bridge were reduced by something like 40% (I’m not sure of the exact results as I don’t have my training materials at hand right now).  Just think about that for a second…by simply asking people if they were ok and offering to listen to  them, there was a dramatic reduction is suicide attempts.  How many lives were spared by the mere act of connection?   How much value is added by that?

IV.             Ways to connect

I want you to add some value to your life.  Go out there and make some connections with people.  You could go out and make new connections.  You could also go out and re-connect with someone with whom you’ve lost touch.  In either event, add some value to your life (and their life) by making those connections.  Still not sure how to do that?  Here are a few simple tips to grease the wheels of connectivity.

A.                The 8-5 rule

I learned about this while researching ways to teach my Asperger’s clients how to socialize more comfortably with others.  In a book by Craig Kendall, he discussed the 8-5 rule. The 8-5 rule is used by high-end hotels. These hotels instruct all their staff to smile at customers when they are 8 feet away from them.  When they get within 5 feet, they are to say “hello.”  A nice simple guideline to give a friendly greeting.  I‘ve found that not only is this a good tool to teach my Asperger’s clients how to greet  others, but a handy way to be more warm and friendly towards others in my own life.  Try this out for yourself and see if you don’t make those connections a little easier.

B.                 Two ears, one mouth – listen

It has been said that we are gifted with two ears and one mouth…and we should use them proportionally.  We should listen twice as much as we talk. People like to feel they are being heard.  When you spend the time to listen to them, they feel like you care about them.  This increases your connection.

C.                 Ask lots of questions

Finally, when you do speak to someone with whom you are trying to connect, ask questions.  Asking questions shows that you are interested in them and what they have to say.  It encourages them to give you more information that you can use to deepen your connection to them.  I guarantee that if you listen more than you talk and that if you ask questions when you do talk that you will find yourself easily connecting with others and thus adding life value to you both.

As always, I hope you’ve found this information entertaining and useful.  I welcome your stories and tips on how to connect. You can post them in the comments section below.  Also, please feel free to share this or any of my articles with others.  If you are interested in working with me to learn more about how to connect with others then contact me at erikyounglpc@vrizon.net to schedule a free consultation.

©Erik Young, M.E., LPC 2013

 

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LIFE WITH JEREMY — An Adoption Story

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Preface

I know, dear readers that my articles are usually of the “How-to” variety.  This, one is going to be a bit different.  While there are certainly lessons to be learned here, they won’t be spelled out in easy step-by-step directions.  I totally understand if this is not your cup of tea.  It’s cool.  But, this is a story that I’ve been waiting almost a decade to tell.  It’s an important story to me and I hope you forgive me a little bit of self-indulgence.  I promise more “How-to” articles will be published soon.

February 8, 2013

“You do understand that if I enter this judgment, it is irrevocable? Jeremy becomes your child now and forever just as if he was born to you. ”

This is what Judge Fritch said to me and my wife during our adoption hearing.  Here’s the running commentary scrolling through my mind at this time: “Of course I understand, why wouldn’t I understand?  Wait, did he say IF?  What does he mean if??  Could he say NO?  This was supposed to be a done deal!  Why would he say no?  What will I do if he says NO?  I’ll get upset is what…if I get upset I’m going to open my mouth that’ll mean a contempt of court charge.  I’m not gonna apologize though.  No judge is keeping me from my son.  If I don’t apologize I’ll go to jail.  Can I handle jail?  For Jeremy?  I sure can.  No problem….”

Thankfully, that was just in my head, I simply looked the judge in the eye and said “I wouldn’t have it any other way.”

Judge Fritch entered the motion and Jeremy, who had been living as our son for almost a decade since he was 12 years old became our legally adopted adult son.

Adoption day!

Adoption day!

How it all started

Just about 11 years ago, my wife and I were looking for a little extra income to make ends meet.  As it turns out, working for a non-profit organization is not the path towards being independently wealthy and socially secure (shocking, I know).  In the course of looking for new income opportunities we started providing respite care for special needs kids form Devereux’s teaching family program…we were essentially part-time foster parents.

When my wife lost her job as a daycare teacher, the director of the teaching family program (Maria) mentioned to me that we would make great full-time special needs foster parents.  I laughed.  This was funny.  I already spent 40-60 hours a week working with autistic and intellectually disabled teens…doing this at home meant doing my job 24/7 without a break.  No way, no how, no thank you.  This attitude lasted all of 2 hours until I got home.

“Lorrie, Maria sad the funniest thing to me today.”

“What’s that?” replied my lovely wife.

“She said we should be full-time teaching parents.  Can you imagine doing that full-time?  I’d go nuts!”

My wife just sat there pensively and murmured “Hmm….”

All I could think was “Uh oh…”

Into the breach…

We didn’t take the plunge right away.  We talked about things for a while  The fact I would essentially be working without a break was a big deal and not something to be taken lightly.  However, I love my wife dearly, and it was obvious she adored being Mom to all these different kids that came to our house.  She had a knack.  Furthermore, I’d been espousing for a number of years the therapeutic benefits of a loving family to the treatment of behavior disorders.  This was my chance to put my money where my mouth was…to walk the walk.

Our first child turned out not to be a good fit for us (but her story had a good outcome).  It was with her I learned the true meaning of “attachment disorder.”  However, the second child we considered turned out to be our first and most enduring success.

His intake packet read like a horror story.  He was prone to sudden violent outbursts.  He was a biter.  He broke his sister’s arm when she was only 5 years old.  There was hardly a single positive thing in that intake packet.  However, families often accentuate the negatives when they are desperate to get their child into placement.  I used my pull as a Devereux clinician to ask his therapist about him.  I found out that, as I suspected, the info in the packet was a more than a little exaggerated.  My colleague said that Jeremy was a good kid who was very bright and would probably have a normal IQ but for the communication issues that came with his autism.  He encouraged us to go ahead and at least have him do some visits to see if he would be a good fit.

Jell-O Cheesecake and Flubber

So, we had our first dinner visit with Jeremy.  I picked him up from his group home.  His staff told me that she was working on getting him to eat more vegetables and that we should make him eat those first before giving him preferred foods.  I didn’t get any other words of wisdom.

Jeremy and I drove back to my house.  I tried making small talk with him, but as he was pretty much non-verbal at this point, it was pretty one sided.  God I was nervous.  The kid was so serious…never cracked a smile.  He just stared at me…through me…with these deep blue eyes.  Was I making a mistake?  Did I have what it takes to work with a kid like this?

Finally, we pulled into my driveway.  I escorted Jeremy cross my lawn and into the front door where my family was waiting. As Jeremy entered, my wife greeted him with a big smile and a “Hi Jeremy!”  In reply, he dashed right past her, grabbed a video off the shelf and proceeded to decipher our TV and vcr (in all of about 3 minutes…the kid was gifted!).  The movie was Flubber.  Jeremy sat himself in my big blue easy chair and happily watched Robin Williams blow cgi green goo out his pants.

For dinner, we had salad (first of course…he ate it without a problem) and hotdogs (he verbally asked for two…guess the boy could talk) and French fries.  For dessert, we had one of those no-bake jello cheesecakes.  Jeremy ate like a man on a mission.  He attacked his food with singular purpose.  It seemed to me that if I could bottle that intense concentration, we’d have a cure for ADHD. In fact, this is how Jeremy lives his life…from objective to objective…a man on a mission.

After dinner, we put in another video and enjoyed just being together, trying out the new family dynamic.  At one point, Jeremy went to use the bathroom.  No issues there, he’s pretty self-sufficient.  However, on the way back from the bathroom, he dashed into the kitchen.  I followed but a few seconds later.  There was Jeremy scarfing down half a cheesecake.  I’m serious; he devoured that half a cheesecake in about 15 seconds flat.  If I were a less ethical person, I could make a fortune betting on him at eating contests.  In any event, it was clear he fit in perfectly with our family.

Five lessons I learned from Jeremy

1. The “N” word — We learned pretty quickly that the combination of Jeremy and the word NO was problematic.  Saying that word to Jeremy was a good way to get bitten.  We very quickly learned that we needed to be very creative in how we denied Jeremy access to desired tangibles.  No was replaced with such phrases as “not right now”, “later”, “try this instead”, and “Look!  Elvis!” (that last one didn’t work so well, but it made my kids laugh).  Now, over the years, we did a lot of hard work with Jeremy.  We taught him that he could trust us.  Because he could trust us, he learned that we would give him things he wanted…eventually.  Now, we can use the “N” word.  He still doesn’t like it, but he accepts it.  He knows that we love him and that the things he needs will always be there when he needs them.  The lesson here is that trust needs to be established and maintained in order to help your loved ones change.

2.  Changing clothes is bad —   On one of our early outings, we took Jeremy to buy clothes.  He was so excited to pick out new outfits.  Lorrie, not knowing his sizes, took him to the changing rooms at the store.  Jeremy quickly put on his new clothes.  We figured out what fit.  The problem came when it was time to take OFF the new clothes and put the old clothes back on.  Jeremy had a meltdown in the store.  It was ugly.  However, Lorrie was calm.  She persevered.  The clothes were purchased.  We did not take Jeremy back clothes shopping for some time.  We had similar problems when Jeremy would try to dress himself in an inappropriate outfit (such as long sleeve shirt and jeans  in 90 degree summer weather).  We got creative in setting out his clothes.  We made sure that we stored weather inappropriate clothes so he couldn’t put them on.  We even went so far as to throw out clothes that no longer fit…Jeremy would retrieve these from the garbage when we weren’t looking.  At one point, I had to drive a favorite shirt three towns away and dispose of it in a dumpster because Jeremy kept putting it back in his dresser.  Eventually, we taught Jeremy to be a little more flexible.  We praised him for dressing so handsome.  We rewarded him with praise and new cool clothes when he could tolerate changing clothes.  It took years.  The lesson?  Be patient.  Change comes slow to the autistic child, but it can happen.  Don’t try to change too much too fast though.

3.  I put Ketchup on my Ketchup – Jeremy LOVES ketchup.  He puts it on just about everything.  .  At first we tried complicated reinforcement and teaching programs to manage the flow of ketchup in the house as the level of ketchup abuse seemed problematic to us.  At one point, despite our best efforts, we were going through a large bottle of ketchup a week! It turns out, Jeremy was sneaking down to the kitchen in the middle of the night and drinking straight from the bottle.  We gave up on our fancy plans and just let Jeremy have his ketchup.  If he wanted it that bad, why stand in the way?  The only thing we did was not buy new ketchup until it was time to do the shopping.  Eventually, ketchup consumption returned to more normal levels in our house.  The lesson?  Choose your battles.  Just because you think it’s weird doesn’t make it a problem.

4. Macy’s, elevator, bathroom —  Recently, Jeremy was writing one of his many lists.  When he writes a list, he’s usually asking for something.  This list was unique.  It said, Erik, Rhi Rhi (my daughter) Macy’s, elevator, I want bathroom please.  He wrote that list daily for a couple of weeks,  For whatever reason, he wanted me and my daughter to accompany him to the mall.  One evening, I didn’t have a lot scheduled, so we piled in the car and went to Macy’s  Jeremy was clearly excited.  Once at the mall, we let Jeremy take the lead, curious to see what he wanted to get.  He did his little speedwalk through the store, didn’t stop to buy or even look at anything.  Once through the store he made a beeline for the elevators which we rode to the first floor.  From there we walked around the outside of Macys until we came to the mall bathrooms.  There Jeremy went in, peed, then washed his hands.  Once done he smiled at me and declared himself finished. He was happy and content.  I must confess I didn’t get it, but I was happy that he was happy.  We went home and the lists stopped. The lesson?  Don’t ignore the little things.  Take time to enjoy the little pleasures in life.  Don’t question them either.  Happiness is where you find it.

5.  Family is more about DNA – Here is a picture of me and Jeremy.

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This says everything about our relationship.  We have a special bond.  Mere words can’t adequately describe it.  I would take a bullet for Jeremy.  One of my colleagues, after recently becoming a new Dad, asked me about my children as we were waiting for a meeting to start.  I described all my kids, biological and foster.  He asked me if it was different with the foster kids.  I replied that of course it was different; raising special needs kids is different almost by definition. He said, “no, the love. You love them less right?”  I said, “No, of course not…I love all my kids equally.”  I could tell by the look in his eyes that he didn’t believe me.  He didn’t get it.  I wish I had that picture on me then.    The lesson?  Family is about who you love.  Not who conceived you.  To be successful as a (foster) parent, you have to accept the children as your own, and treat them the same as you treat your own.

In closing, I owe Jeremy a huge debt of gratitude.  By sharing his life with me, by letting me be his Dad, he taught me to be a better parent and a better therapist.  When I talk about bringing together clinical knowledge with practical experience, I’m talking about life with my son, Jeremy.

Thank you son…you are the best!

I want to hear about your stories of life with your special kids.  Please share them in the comments below.

I welcome your questions.  I can be reached at erikyounglpc@verizon.net

Find out more about me and schedule a complimentary session at www.erikyoungtherapy.com

Copyright 2013 Erik Young, M.Ed.,LPC

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Welcome to the new blog!

As you can see, the website has had a total makeover.  I hope you like the changes.  The new site should be easier to read and navigate.  In the next post, I will re-post some of the old articles from the old website and blog.  New articles will start going up soon.

 

 

 

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