Megan Mellington, Psychologist
Clinical Professor of Psychiatry, Dan Siegal talks about the parts of the brain involved in emotion regulation. He also coined the term, “flipping your lid” as a metaphor for our experience of being in the throes of anger, and what happens in our brain when anger takes hold. This Hand Model of the Brain clip demonstrates this idea beautifully.
As Dan Siegal outlines, there are two main parts of the brain involved in anger; the pre frontal cortex or “thinking brain”, and the amygdala or “alarm system”. In my next post, read how we get our “thinking brain” back online so that we can respond in a more helpful way for our children.
Paula Dadson, Occupational Therapist
First: What is Sensory Processing?
Sensory processing is when the body takes in sensory input, such as a bright light or a noisy classroom, and has the ability to process and interpret that information and react in an appropriate way. Sensory processing difficulties occur when this information does not get organised into an appropriate response leaving the person to feel the sensory input more or less than others would. A person may be seeking or avoiding environmental stimuli, or they may be constantly distracted by some input. Where some may not register the amount of stimuli around them.
This can make it very hard for people to complete daily activities when they are constantly under or over stimulated by their environment. It often leads to trouble engaging in a task and being able to concentrate. An example of this is when a child has sensory seeking preferences and is given a task that requires concentration while they sit still at a desk. This child will find it very difficult to focus and complete this task while they are not receiving this sensory input for a long period of time.
Why Deep Pressure?
One technique that is proved to increase attention and help organise a response to sensory stimuli is deep pressure.
It is hard to understand how deep pressure would help people who are seeking sensory input as well as those who are avoiding this input.
Deep pressure provides proprioceptive input which calms and regulates the Central Nervous System. The Central Nervous System includes both a parasympathetic and sympathetic systems which work together to regulate our body. Deep pressure decreases the sympathetic activity that causes your “fight or flight” reaction to stressful situations. It also increases parasympathetic activity which will slow down high energy functions like heart rate, and blood pressure. This will help regulate the body to interpret sensory input and increase attention and concentration. Deep pressure also helps release serotonin and dopamine hormones which increase mood, and stimulates melatonin release to help with sleep. Therefore Deep pressure should help people with sensory processing difficulties to complete those activities they were having trouble with.
Some Examples of Deep Pressure
Stella Franzese, Psychologist
We can all agree that the ‘school world’ children live in today is completely different to ours ‘back in the day’. There are notable differences in the subjects studied, classroom layout (assigned desks vs flexible learning spaces), interests (outdoor cricket vs Minecraft), jargon used (“the bomb” vs “lit”), technology available and teaching methods provided to students (blackboards and paper vs interactive whiteboards and iPads). Consistent with these changes, there has been a shift in the way we think about and assess children’s progress, thinking and learning in school settings.
Imagine that you have a son named ‘Johnny’ in Grade One. He is a vivacious and affectionate boy who loves sports and enjoys going to school. His teacher has completed her usual assessments to determine Johnny’s progress in fundamental subjects (reading, writing and maths). From Johnny’s previous school reports, you’re concerned that he’s performing below standard and don’t want him to fall behind further. One day, Johnny’s teacher and Assistant Principal sit you down and ask you to sign a consent form as they believe that given Johnny’s difficulties he may benefit from a Cognitive assessment and/or Oral Language assessment. At this point you’re thinking, my son would benefit from what? Why? How is this going to help him?
The ‘What’. What are they talking about?
First off, let’s define cognition.
Cognition is our mental process of not only acquiring information, but making sense of it.
Do these assessments have a name or is it just ‘cognitive assessment’?
The most commonly used cognitive assessments in Victorian schools are:
For children in Years 11 and 12 there is the Wechsler Adult Intelligence Scale (WAIS-IV) for individuals aged 16.0 to 90 years 11 months. However, it is rare that cognitive assessments at this age are administered for educational purposes.
Cognitive assessments (or intelligence tests/IQ tests) are used in school settings to assess a child’s level of overall cognitive (aka mental) ability, learning capacity and identify their cognitive strengths and weaknesses (for example, does your child thrive with visual information? Are they good at problem solving? Do they better deal with verbal information?).
What do these assessments measure?
These assessments measure cognitive abilities within 5 primary indexes, or ‘areas’ of intelligence:
There are many other ‘ancillary’ or ‘other’ indexes that can also be calculated, however it’s not a ‘need to know’ for now. If relevant to your child’s case the Psychologist can explain it to you.
The assessment within a whole process
The cognitive assessment itself is actually NOT the only thing Psychologists do when they conduct a cognitive assessment. Here is a brief dot point summary of the process:
Now, depending on the unique situation of your child, there may be other things that occur alongside this ‘standard process’. For example, if you’re looking to obtain funding through the school system for Intellectual Disability, a Psychologist would have to complete other assessments AS WELL as this and write a separate funding report.
Cognitive assessment, part of a formula
It is quite often that the entire cognitive assessment process (from parent consult onwards) is paired with other standardised assessment for different referral questions. Here is a brief snapshot.
Intellectual Disability: Cognitive Assessment + Adaptive Functioning Assessment
Language Disorder: Cognitive Assessment + Language Assessment
Specific Learning Disorder: Cognitive Assessment + Achievement Assessment (sometimes memory assessment and phonological awareness testing is also included)
Giftedness: Cognitive Assessment + Gifted Rating Scales or other information gathering
The ‘does this ring a bell?’ game
A good way to understand the abilities that cognitive assessments measure is to know what the “strengths and weaknesses” in these skills actually look like in school aged children. Have a look at this table and see if any of these ‘ring a bell’ or ‘ring true’ to your child.
Now that we understand what it measures, how do I make sense of these results?
A lot of scores come out of cognitive assessments, however I feel that parents should be knowledgeable of two things:
Percentile ranks reflects how a child performed compared to children the same age. Let’s say we lined up 100 boys the same age as Johnny in order of ‘ability. The little boy sitting at position 1 would be the worst performing and 100 the best. If I told you that Johnny was sitting at the 50th percentile, it means that he is RIGHT in the middle and performing as he should be for his age OR that he is performing better than 50% of children his age. With cognitive assessments, the Average Range falls within the 25th to the 75th percentile.
Put simply, standard scores are these converted scores that Psychologists use to determine where Johnny’s cognitive abilities lie in comparison to other children his age and what range of ability he falls under. You’ll see ranges associated with standard scores for the indexes and Full-Scale IQ. As an example, any standard score between 90 and 109 falls within the Average Range.
Here is a general scoring guideline table for quick reference:
What do schools do with cognitive assessment results?
Psychologists make recommendations that teachers can use to develop a personalised learning plan for the child. These recommendations are made based on your child’s strengths and weaknesses. As a very simple example, Johnny might have a personal strength with visual-spatial skills but weaknesses in working memory.
The psychologist might then recommend that all instructions provided to Johnny in the classroom be concise, clear and provided to him one at a time. The psychologist might also recommend that instructions or demonstrations in the classroom be highly visual in nature when being delivered to him or that verbal instructions are paired with visual stimuli.
Depending on the reason for the referral, these results and the report might be passed onto a paediatrician or submitted as evidence for a funding application within the Victorian school system.
The cognitive assessment process is a highly rewarding one. It provides educators and parents with the opportunity to better understand the learning needs of the child involved, and also to address your concerns as parents about why they are falling behind academically.
At Hopscotch and Harmony, we have a team of Psychologists including myself who are highly experienced in conducting cognitive assessments and thoroughly enjoy collaborating with parents and educators to achieve the best outcomes for children.
To make an appointment, please don’t hesitate to ring the Werribee Clinic on (03) 9741 5222.
I have developed a “Guide to cognitive assessment: A cheat sheet” as a resource for schools and parents. This provides a brief snapshot of the contents in this blog post. I hope you find it useful!
With an estimated 90% of children and adolescents playing video games (Lenhart et al.2008), the impacts that video games have on users is a fierce and ongoing debate in academic literature. There is a wealth of literature that reveals that there are both positive and negative outcomes associated with gaming.
Some academics hold the perspective that gaming is a modern form of play and should be considered as a contemporary means of psychosocial development. With the increasing social connectivity built into modern video games, playing online provides an opportunity to connect and cooperate with peers. Social connection is an often cited as a positive outcome for users. Yet, researchers have discovered various other benefits too.
Playing ‘shooter’ games has been shown to promote some specific cognitive skills. This is likely to do with the visually rich environments and rapid attentional demands within modern games. Recent literature has shown that ‘shooter’ video games have been associated with enhanced attention allocation and enhanced spatial abilities (Green & Bavelier, 2012; Uttal et al., 2013). These cognitive benefits remained over time and generalized to other contexts. Gamers that are strong in these cognitive skills are advantaged academically in the STEM fields (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) (Wai, Lubinski, Benbow, & Steiger, 2010).
Another - admittedly more speculative - area of benefit relates to motivation. A recent study (Ventura et al., 2013) found that the extent of video game use significantly predicted how long participants would demonstrate persistence in attempting to solve difficult puzzles.
Many psychologists and educators are familiar with Carol Dweck’s seminal ‘Growth Mindset’ philosophy which posits that persistence and continual effort are key to success (Dweck & Molden, 2005). The finding by Ventura and colleagues (2013) links to the ideas purported by Dweck and is particularly interesting in light of the popularity of the recently released videogame, Fornite.
In Fortnite, success involves outlasting other players. With the likelihood of winning being small, a substantial amount of persistence and determination is required for players who seek to win. Some researchers speculate that players of video games, such as Fortnite, can develop a ‘persistent motivational style’ which may have beneficial generalized effects in school or work contexts. Though this relationship is merely correlational and needs further empirical evidence.
A final benefit, which is more robustly researched, is that of social benefits. Research has found that video game players can develop prosocial skills when they play games that are designed to reward effective cooperation, support, and helping behaviours (Ewoldsen et al., 2012).
The critical dimension that seems to determine whether video games are associated with helping and prosocial behaviour is the extent to which they are played cooperatively versus competitively.
A day spent searching for research papers debating the negative impacts of gaming would yield dozens of papers with wide ranging and opposing findings. Thankfully, we have meta-analyses. Meta-analyses are a type of research review that combines the findings of many other studies. Further, we have great research bodies that do meta-analyses of other meta-analyses, combining the results of hundreds of individual studies.
One such research body is the American Psychological Association who has recently released a major review of research into the impact of violent video games. To conduct their review, the APA contacted approximately 130 of the most frequently published researchers and experts in the field of gaming and requested nominations of the 10 strongest empirically based studies on this topic. This process yielded four meta-analyses which took into account more than 150 individual studies.
The review produced robust evidence that violent video game exposure was associated with increased aggressive behavior and increased aggressive thoughts. The review also clearly evidenced that video game exposure produced desensitization to violence and decreased empathy. The review concluded that violent video game use is a risk factor for adverse outcomes.
There are also factors that have been found to influence and interact with the development of aggression in gamers. Some researchers have suggested that it is the competitive features of certain games that produce the aggressive effects (Adachi & Willoughby, 2011). As mentioned above, this is contrary to cooperative games that can have prosocial benefits.
Past research has identified a number of risk factors that can moderate and influence the development of aggression, such as: pre-existing aggressive traits, low socioeconomic status, harsh parental discipline practices and experiences of peer rejection and bullying (Dodge, Coie, & Lynam, 2006; Herrenkohl et al., 2000). The APA review was able to determine that in the majority of studies, even after these factors were controlled for, violent video games still independently predicted aggression. Existing research suggests that higher amounts of exposure are associated with higher levels of aggression and other adverse outcomes. The conclusions of the APA review relate to children, adolescents and young adults.
This is far from an exhaustive list of outcomes that result from gaming. The intention of this paper is to inform the public of a range of valid findings from either side of the debate.
Calvert, S. L., Appelbaum, M., Dodge, K. A., Graham, S., Nagayama Hall, G. C., Hamby, S., ... & Hedges, L. V. (2017). The American Psychological Association Task Force assessment of violent video games: Science in the service of public interest. American Psychologist, 72(2), 126.
Dodge, K. A., Coie, J. D., & Lynam, D. (2006). Aggression and antisocial behavior in youth. In N. Eisenberg, W. Damon, & R. M. Lerner (Eds.), Handbook of child psychology: Vol. 3. Social, emotional, and personality development (6th ed., pp. 719–788). Hoboken, NJ: Wiley.
Dweck, C. S., & Molden, D. C. (2005). Self-theories: Their impact on competence motivation and acquisition. In A. J. Elliot & C. S. Dweck (Eds.), Handbook of competence and motivation (pp. 122–140) New York, NY: Guilford Press.
Granic, I., Lobel, A., & Engels, R. C. (2014). The benefits of playing video games. American psychologist, 69(1), 66
Green, C. S., & Bavelier, D. (2012). Learning, attentional control, and action video games. Current Biology, 22, 197–206. doi:10.1016/j.cub .2012.02.012
Herrenkohl, T. I., Maguin, E., Hill, K. G., Hawkins, J. D., Abbott, R. D., & Catalano, R. F. (2000). Developmental risk factors for youth violence. Journal of Adolescent Health, 24, 176– 186.
Lenhart, A., Kahne, J., Middaugh, E., Macgill, A. R., Evans, C., & Vitak, J. (2008). Teens, video games, and civics: Teens’ gaming experiences are diverse and include significant social interaction and civic engagement. Pew Internet & American Life Project. Retrieved from the Pew Internet & American Life Project website: http://www.pewinternet.org/ Reports/2008/Teens-Video-Games-and-Civics.aspx
Uttal, D. H., Meadow, N. G., Tipton, E., Hand, L. L., Alden, A. R., Warren, C., & Newcombe, N. S. (2013). The malleability of spatial skills: A meta-analysis of training studies. Psychological Bulletin, 139, 352– 402. doi:10.1037/a0028446
Ventura, M., Shute, V., & Zhao, W. (2013). The relationship between video game use and a performance-based measure of persistence. Computers & Education, 60, 52–58. doi:10.1016/j.compedu.2012.07 .003
Wai, J., Lubinski, D., Benbow, C. P., & Steiger, J. H. (2010). Accomplishment in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) and its relation to STEM educational dose: A 25-year longitudinal study. Journal of Educational Psychology, 102, 860 – 871. doi: 10.1037/a0019454
There are many reasons you might feel frustrated if your child is experiencing eating-related challenges. For example, when your child:
Preparing for Healthy Eating Habits
Here are some things to consider as a way of developing healthy eating habits in the home environment:
Professional Support for Eating-Related Challenges
It is important to check-in with your child and explore the reasons your child may be experiencing eating-related challenges. Young children may be experiencing power struggles at home. Pre-teens might be preoccupied with their body or friendship groups as they develop and become exposed to unrealistic body goals. Children may also be preoccupied with screen time during meals or feeling stressed about upcoming tests or social events at school.
An alternative to constantly reminding your child to ‘just sit and eat’ or ‘finish everything on your plate’ is to take a skill building approach. A psychologist or paediatric dietitian can help the child build on the following skills that may be linked to eating-related challenges:
Children can learn to practice relaxation and eating new food mindfully in sessions with the psychologist or dietitian. Parents can also be provided with helpful resources around mealtimes and addressing challenging behaviours.
Infant mental health refers to how well an infant (newborns to the age of three) develops socially and emotionally. Specifically, this refers to: developing the ability to form close and secure adult and peer relationships experiencing, managing and expressing a full range of emotions exploring the environment and learning
How to promote Infant Mental Health
Infant mental health can be nurtured through a secure and stable relationship with their caregiver. This is done by what caregivers do, the things they say, as well as through the environment created at home.
It includes even small things that caregivers may do without even noticing it, such as talking to your infant and spending time with them. In particular, noticing and responding to your infant’s cues can help to nurture your relationship with your infant as well as support their mental health.
Learning to understand your infant’s unique cues
Cues refers to the sounds and movements infants make. These can include facial expressions, vocalisations, body movements and reactions. Cues can be as subtle as an opening hand or widening their eyes.
Cues let us know something about the infant’s needs, their emotional state and physical
state. In other words, cues are an infant’s way of communicating with us. Caregivers can
learn to understand what an infant is trying to communicate by:
understand your infants cues every time! However, become a curious observer of your
infant and their cues. Continue trying to understand what your infant is trying to
Responding to you infant’s cues
As cues are a way for your infant to converse, it is important for caregivers to respond to these cues. This involves responding sensitively and promptly. By responding to your infant’s cues, it helps the infant make sense of the world. It lets them know that their caregiver will respond to them when they are feeling insecure, it makes them feel safe, creates a predictable routine and creates trust.
Understanding and responding to your infant’s cues is just one way that you can promote your infant’s mental health. It is also very important that caregivers take care of themselves and their own mental health, in order to continue to build a secure and stable relationship with their infant.
If you would like support regarding your infant’s mental health or your own mental health, please contact Hopscotch and Harmony to discuss further.
Humans are biologically wired to play. Play creates feelings of joy at all ages and stages, including adulthood. Play helps us to connect with others. Play is used to safely explore the world and learn about emotions. Play supports the development of healthy nervous systems and to regulate the excitement and calming systems in our bodies.
Leanne Smith, Psychologist
Anyone, at any time, anywhere can engage in mindfulness. This is the beauty of
it. Mindfulness is about paying close and undivided attention to one thing, such
as bringing attention to a flavor when eating, noticing the color or curves of a
leaf, how warm water feels on your hands, the weight of your body or the flow of
When we practice mindfulness, we bring our attention to the current moment, without reflecting on the past or looking into the future. It is a time for stillness and calm in the mind.
How can we create more space for mindful moments?
Choose a time to be mindful
Think of a time during the day or night that you can devote to yourself and your
mindful practice. At times it is a tight squeeze to find the space to completely
stop. Ask yourself if you can do this within your daily routine.
Will you use mindfulness while washing the dishes; paying attention to the warm water on
your hands and the motions of the cloth? Will you practice as you drink your
morning coffee or tea; noticing the feel of each sip? Will you practice as you
shower; reflecting on the warmth of the water as it sprinkles onto your feet?
Use the outdoors and nature
Take time out to enjoy a mindful walk close to nature. Sit close to a plant or
grassed area and center your attention to your breath. Observe an indoor plant if
you do not have a garden close by. This doesn’t need to be for long, even 5 or 10
minutes will do.
Consider a modern approach
With a rise in technology and broadening availability of resources through it,
let’s use this to our advantage! Mindfulness can be confidently guided and
practiced with Apps, Podcasts or even through YouTube. These can be used on
your phone, an iPad, computer or other devices.
One of my favorite mindful Podcasts for kids is ‘Peace Out’ written by Chanel
Tsang. For adults, the Bhudify app can be a great guide.
One of our talented Hopscotch and Harmony clinicians, Kessia Ianzano wrote a
great article for Apps to use for mindfulness very recently for Mindful May.
Check it out here.
A great article by our Clinical Psychologist Georgina Psomiadis is also presented
on our blog if you would like some tips on the benefits meditation for you and
your children. Find it here
Include essential oils
Including essential oils safely in your routine can increase the opportunity for
mindful moments. Oils can be diluted into a spray bottle, a roller ball, or into an
It is recommended to consult a trained aromatherapist when considering the use of essential oils for you and your family. Aroma can be the focus point of the mindful moment, noticing how the aroma smells, and the way our body feels when we are in its presence. Small aroma diffusers can be great for the office or car too (Ebay or many other online stores sell these). Using aroma can become a routine and can remind us to take some time each day toenjoy a mindful moment.
By selecting a few of the tips from above, you will be able to find small ways in which you can bring mindfulness into your home and your life. Happy Mindful May everyone!
Kessia Ianzano, Psychologist
In a society where technology is everywhere, there is now a phone app for just about everything! Meditation and mindfulness for children and adolescence is no exception, and there are currently hundreds of apps available.
Below are the top 5 apps I recommend to my clients who need a little extra help with worries, getting better sleep, focusing in the classroom or when they might become a little too angry.
Smiling Mind's programs are divided by age, starting at 7-11 years. If you have children who are struggling with their emotions, this app may be a helpful addition to the current methods you and they are using.
The DreamyKid meditation app offers meditation, guided visualization and affirmations curated just for children & teens. It uses proven techniques that teach your kids methods to guide them towards a happier life through mindfulness.
Calm is the perfect meditation app for beginners, but also includes hundreds of programs for intermediate and advanced users. Guided meditation sessions are available in lengths of 3, 5, 10, 15, 20 or 25 minutes so you can choose the perfect length to fit with your schedule.
Stop, Breathe & Think Kids
Stop, Breathe & Think Kids offers children a fun and easy way to identify and process their emotions. From counting breaths to friendly wishes or frog jumps, each activity brings fun rewards to keep them engaged.
Headspace: Guided Meditation and Mindfulness
Meditation made simple. Guided meditations suitable for all levels from Headspace. Meditation can help improve your focus, exercise mindful awareness, relieve anxiety and reduce stress.
Georgina Psomiadis, Clinical Psychologist
When looking at the research, different studies, together with anecdotal evidence, there are various results in ratios between males and females on the autistic spectrum, ranging from 2:1 to 16:1, respectively!
So why are there such differences across studies? There are several possible reasons for this, some of them being:
The below table illustrates the differences between more obvious characteristics of ASD compared to more subtle characteristics (National Autistic Society):
Often, I hear parents say that their daughter’s teachers don’t notice any ‘problem’ in the classroom, and in fact, they’re considered the perfect student! This is often quite distressing for parents as their child may to experience intense emotional outbursts the moment they arrive home.
Girls tend to mask their behaviours quite well, as they are more motivated to engage socially. They spend excessive amounts of energy doing so at school, as to not get noticed and fly under the radar. Because of this mental and emotional exhaustion, here comes the meltdowns when they finally feel like they can be ‘themselves’.
Unfortunately, there may be very little clear ‘red flags’ in early childhood other than shyness, being quiet and having interests that are ‘typical’ for young girls, though the intensity of this interest is excessive.
The expressive language used by autistic females is often exceptionally good, which can then mask their difficulties processing verbal information. Their eye contact might also be quite good, they may do ‘small talk’ well and can be very chatty, though these tend to be quite exhausting and when their energy is not replenished, can cause significant distress and other mental health conditions over time.
Females who seek therapy present with mental health issues such as eating disorders, personality disorders, depression, anxiety and self-harming behaviours that can divert the clinician’s attention away from a possible underlying autism.
Mothers who identify with having autistic characteristics are typically the ones who bring their young daughters into therapy or for assessment, as they notice the difficulties in their child as similar to their own difficulties, and don’t want their child to go through the same challenges as they did growing up.
We know that appropriate support at younger ages leads to better outcomes. Early intervention is always a good idea, whether a formal diagnosis is made or not (although having a diagnosis can open up funding support for interventions); if the clinician is attuned to the ASD presentation, they will provide the appropriate interventions.
Our mission at Hopscotch and Harmony is to smash the stigma of mental health conditions and a big part of our work is working with young children, teens and adults on the autistic spectrum.
Having an Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) does not have to be scary.
There is so much support out there and this will continue to grow as our understanding of their needs deepens. Listening to so many individuals with autism talk about their relief and enhancement of self-understanding when they receive a diagnosis are some of the benefits of going through the formal assessment process. Though this is not true for everyone.
Some people identify with having autistic characteristics or self-diagnose as having ASD, and are content with being aware of what they struggle with and their strengths and don’t want a formal diagnosis. Some people may overly-identify with a diagnosis and feel like ‘something is wrong with them’. This is where clinical judgement and parental intuition come into play… there is never a black and white answer, is there?
Many psychologists at Hopscotch and Harmony are highly skilled in the assessment process for ASD. If you want more information on this process, please call us and we will guide you through this.