Including Highlights from Mike Rizzo’s 2018-2019 speaking tour.
A Path For Everyone – Not One Path For All
A wise gentleman who was a headmaster of a highly respected preparatory school for over 30 years once told me: “Mike you have an incredible way of normalizing what most believe to be abnormal.” I have always said since my early years as a psychologist, there is no such thing as a lazy child! All children want to learn, be successful, and please their parents. What precludes some children from success, is the fit between what they can do and what the world is demanding from them. Many talented children simply have brains that do not learn how traditional classroom environments deliver curriculum and assess progress.
As a consequence of my own challenges with language and dyslexia, I think more in pictures and see metaphors as a way to explain complex neuropsychological concepts. Therefore, to clearly illustrate this “poor fit” concept, let’s think about boats. There are numerous types of boats: canoes, kayaks, flats boats, speedboats, yachts, submarines, sailboats, catamarans, tug boats, barges, airboats, rowboats, and so on. They are all sound vessels if placed in the environment they were designed to navigate. A canoe in the North Atlantic Ocean, a submarine in a shallow lake, and/or a cruise ship in the Everglades would all seem very “disabled.” However, nothing was wrong with the boat; something was wrong with the environment it was expected to navigate!
Creating a proper fit between our cognitive functioning, our ability to focus, and our unique ability to manage emotional regulation, ensures that we can reach our overall potential. When the fit is poor, it does not mean the brain is disabled; it means the environment is a mismatch for one’s unique brain style.
Individual traits and competencies must be understood and considered in the decision as to what teaching methodologies, assessment procedures, learning environments, volume and time constraints of workloads, and academic demands are provided. Each child presents a separate set of competencies and preferences. The match must be at least close for the individual student to flourish in when crafting an appropriate learning environment.
Since entering the field of educational psychology almost 30 years ago, a clear philosophical change has occurred in understanding intelligence, social functioning, emotional regulation, attention, and executive function skills. You will not find any two children with brains that are alike. Yet for years, schools have taught all children as if they were the same. Those who deviated from the perception of “normal,” were given diagnostic labels such as attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, learning disabled, oppositional defiant, obsessive-compulsive, etc. These children grew up thinking that they had “broken” brains and harbored disabilities. When taken to the extreme, these “labels” do in fact reflect pathology that is of real concern. However, many times, this observed pathology was driven by a poor fit between the child’s unique “neuroarchitecture” (i.e., brain make-up) and the demands placed on them in settings where they were expected to learn like most children.
When the way a child learns and their academic readiness to take on new academic challenges is mismatched with the classroom environment, a significant number of students struggle needlessly. Many become disheartened, regretful, and remorseful because they feel “stupid.” These students do not see the relevance of what is happening in the classroom to their lives and feel as though they cannot make their parents and teachers proud. However, those who find an environment that matches the way they learn, can become happy and successful.
The movement toward competency-based curriculum across the United States embraces the “individual differences” concept. Understanding what a child knows and what they need to learn next, as opposed to all children being expected to learn the same thing at the same time, is a major move in the right direction! As parents and teachers gain greater insight into how to recognize and understand the learning style of individual students, children that were once blocked from success can have access to their dreams!
As an adult, if you were required to go to work each day but lacked the “skill set” to be effective at your job, were ridiculed by other employees, reprimanded by your boss, and performed poorly, you would surely be miserable. Perhaps you would stick it out and be chronically anxious/depressed. On the other hand, you may quit or get fired. When you came home, you would probably not be very pleasant, perhaps even angry, and would not be very motivated to go back to work. This is exactly what happens to 15 to 25% of our children who struggle in school, even though over the last 15 years, science has empirically documented that not all brains are designed to learn the way that most schools teach.
Over the last 15 years, CPS has hosted a personalized and prescriptive homeschool program out of our Weston office. These students have typically failed in other attempts to meet their learning needs in public and/or private schools. At CPS, we design the educational environment around the learning style and readiness level of each individual child. While not perfect, it amazes me to see how much happier and successful these children are when the environment matches their learning style! In summary, it all comes down to the fit between the specific child’s competencies and the demands placed on them (i.e., does the boat match the body of water it is launched into). Before embarking on psychotherapy, medication, academic remediation, behavioral therapy, brain training, etc., one must have a clear picture of the “brain architecture” of the student. In short, the child is not disabled; the learning environment is disabled!
Coach Mike’s Presentation Materials
This year, I will be on a “speaking tour” with presentations set up over 30 schools and conferences. I have developed materials driven by my training and experience. Since all interested parties are not able to gain access to my presentations, I wanted to share these materials on a broader scale. By doing so, my goal is to empower more parents, educators, psychiatrists, neurologists, and psychologists to gain insight into what is really happening below the surface level in students who are “learning and behaving differently from the herd.”
The visuals you will see in this newsletter have been made into posters that are given to all attendees at my presentations. It is imperative that more parents and teachers become aware of what science can tell us about why children struggle. Therefore, if you would like these posters at no charge and/or if you are interested in setting up workshops/trainings, please contact our office at: 954-577-3396.
The first diagram below depicts how we each possess three discrete systems within our brain: one dedicated to processing sensory information (i.e., cognitive abilities); one driving our personal “cognitive tempo” (i.e., attention and executive function skills); and one dedicated to our ability to manage challenges and frustration (i.e., emotional regulation). Each system interacts with the other two, which results in the overt behaviors we see in each child.
The next diagram depicts how we each possess a personal profile of cognitive potential, with individual strengths and weaknesses. However, when our weaknesses become unusually weak, as compared to our own cognitive potential, the foundation for a learning disability exists. Imagine, if you will, the horsepower of a Ferrari as being analogous to strong IQ potential. However, a Ferrari with no air in one tire (i.e., a cognitive weakness in a select area) will have a very hard time keeping up! In past newsletters, most of these subdomains of cognitive processing abilities have been discussed in great detail. However, to summarize, difficulties with acquired knowledge (i.e., the tip of the iceberg) must be thought of as symptoms of breakdownsin what is happening under the surface.
The third diagram depicts how some brains are much more sensitive to internal distractions/competing ideas, external distractions, impulsivity, and motoric restlessness. While some brains can process one idea at a time, are resistant to distractions, put a great deal of thought into each decision, and can be comfortable being still/passive, others cannot. Neither “trait style” is broken. They are simply different ends of a continuum. In short, this could be considered our brain’s “cognitive tempo” or “idle speed.” Some are set much slower, or much faster, than others.
Finally, the fourth diagram in this article is a way to conceptualize emotional regulation. We each have a unique ability to modulate our frustration. This can be thought of more broadly as one’s ability to manage emotional arousal (fear and anxiety). The visual below depicts how a little anxiety is a good thing and that learning is most effective when we have just the right amount of worry to motivate us to engage. However, too much anxiety is debilitating. When the task demands exceed one’s competencies (e.g., academic readiness), nothing good can come from this scenario!
Once again, if you would like copies of these diagrams and/or to set up a training at your facility/school, please do not hesitate to reach out to our office (954-577-3396)! Please also stay tuned for future newsletters, which will include even more empowering information!
Child Provider Specialists’ Updates
Watch out for CPS Expansion!
We have opened up our new space in the Village of Pinecrest at the Coastland Office Building. The address is 7740 SW 104 th Street in Suite #104. Dr. Rizzo is proud to announce the opportunity to make a larger impact on the communities and academic institutions located in South Miami. If he could only clone himself… Better than that, he has welcomed the next generation of psychologists! Please help us in welcoming our newest postdoctoral resident, Caroline Betancourt, Psy.D., and newly Licensed Clinical Psychologist, Nicole Cordero, Psy.D. In addition, we are starting the class of 2018-2019 graduate school interns: Caitlin Herman, M.S. and Sofia Cabrera, M.S.
Board Game Club
Come and play with us!
Once a week, your child will have the opportunity to relax with friends and play a number of board games. Cooperative and competitive board games offer an opportunity to work on communication, teamwork, strategy, memory, planning and many other skills, all while having fun! Games will be selected based on age and ability level and will include Hoot Owl Hoot, Headbands, Apples to Apples, Clue, LIFE, Monopoly, Guess Who?, Risk, Battleship, and many more! Call 954-577-3396 for more information and to reserve your spot!
WE NEED MORE HELP IN THE SOUTH!
Our psychologists have been serving Palm Beach, Collier, North Miami Dade, and Broward Counties for over 15 years. A greater and greater demand for our unique style of assessing and planning remediation and accommodation strategies for kids has emerged from the South Dade area than we ever anticipated. In response, we have opened a new office in the Village of Pinecrest. I and my long-time partner Dr. Silverman, two of our most recent generation of young psychologists, Nicole Cordero, Psy.D. and Caroline Betancourt, Psy.D., along with our 2018-2019 Doctoral Psychology Interns from Nova Southeastern University, Caitlin Herman, M.S. and Sofia Cabrera, M.S. will be available starting this school year in our Pinecrest office. No challenge is too big or too small. All kids can succeed if placed in the appropriate learning environment. For more information on our South Miami office or to arrange a consultation, please call Sandy or Karen at 954 577-3396.
TED Talk Nomination
We are nominating Dr. Rizzo (a.k.a. Coach Mike) to share his presentations with a larger audience. Coach Mike travels around the country giving presentations to universities, schools and conventions. He has spent his life helping others and is asking for a chance to help more children on a broader scale. Here is the link to fill out a nomination form. It shouldn’t take more than a minute, and you are free to accept or refuse! Thank you in advance.
Click here: https://www.ted.com/participate/nominate
For more examples of Dr. Rizzo’s talks, you can click the following link to watch his
Hurry, time is running out for the Transitions Conference!
Showcasing professionals from all around the country!! Dr. Rizzo will be a guest speaker at the Transitions Conference 2018, an amazing event at Lynn University. If you are interested in attending, please click here: https://www.lynn.edu/events/transitions-conference-20180921-730am