Austin Child Guidance Center helps hundreds of families a year. In its more than 60-year history, staff have touched the lives of many and made real differences. Below is just one example of how we have helped families navigate life.
The director of a high-risk child development center served by Austin Child Guidance Center’s Infant and Early Childhood Mental Health Project (IEC) contacted our IEC mental health consultant. The director was concerned about the well-being of Jackie, one of the toddlers in her service who had begun to display signs of aggression towards her peers. Jackie is the child of a low-income single mother. She had been in the child care center since just after her birth, and her sudden aggression was uncharacteristic of her usually mild temperament. The child care center director asked if the mental health consultant would come to the child care center to speak with Jackie’s mother.
Upon meeting the young mother, the consultant recognized her strengths, including her ability to persevere as well as her dedication to providing an emotionally healthy experience for Jackie. Yet the mother described her household as one characterized by immense chaos and contention; it became readily apparent that the overwhelming family dynamics were manifesting themselves through Jackie’s behavior. When asked about recent changes, the mother reflected on her new job and thought, for what seemed to be the first time, about how her new and drastically different schedule may have felt to her daughter. The consultant, mother, child care center director, and parent specialist collaborated to develop several lifestyle modifications in an effort to provide a more secure home environment for Jackie which would, in turn, positively affect her behavior in the childcare center.
After several weeks, Jackie’s behavior improved dramatically and her mother indicated her interest in learning about positive discipline, an area in which she had little experience. The consultant observed Jackie and her mother during play time and snack time together and made several observations. During the feedback session with the mother, the consultant helped her understand the need for praising Jackie and discussed other means of strengthening the parent-child bond. The center director and parent specialist maintain that Jackie’s behavior has improved dramatically since consultation began.
Skills for Sam
Nine-year-old Sam was initially referred to Austin Child Guidance Center for individual therapy due to parental concerns over his difficulty relating to others, obsession with certain topics, sexual curiosity, oppositional behavior, and family conflict around his behavior. Sam’s mother, Ms. J, was distressed about her perceived inability to change Sam’s behaviors, especially the oppositional behavior she engendered.
Initially, individual therapy focused on parent-child relational issues. Ms. J considered Sam’s behavior oppositional, intentional, and primarily directed at her. Over time, the therapist began to suspect that Sam’s behavior might be influenced by behaviors associated with autism.
Ms. J agreed to psychological assessment at ACGC to further explore Sam’s intellectual abilities as well as the dynamics of his behavior. After meeting with Sam and Ms. J, the psychologist conducted the assessment; designed a battery of tests; structured interviews designed to assess pervasive developmental disorders; and assessed Sam’s visual-motor abilities, attentional functioning, and academic abilities. The psychologist also consulted with school personnel to evaluate their records and observe Sam in the educational environment. After thorough evaluation, the psychologist concluded that Sam’s behavior was significantly influenced by extreme variations in his cognitive abilities. Sam’s memory, verbal comprehension skills, and visual-spatial skills were slightly lower than that of most children his age. The most significant influences on Sam’s behavior were deficits in communication and social interaction, impulsivity, and preoccupation, all of which are associated with autism. The focus of therapy shifted to helping Ms. J understand Sam’s behavior and needs. The therapist helped Sam’s parents assess how they might interact with their son more effectively and with less conflict, provided psychoeducational material on autism, and referred them to a support group for parents of children with autism, while Sam participated in a group designed to enhance social skills. The psychologist and therapist provided Sam’s school with references on how to use everyday situations as “teachable moments.” As therapy shifted in this direction, the number of acting-out behaviors at home decreased significantly, while parental empathy for Sam and positive feelings about parenting in general increased significantly.