What If This Pandemic Is the Best Thing to Happen to Children with Challenges?

Miranda Spencer
19
1221

This interview is with Nicole Beurkens, PhD, about the impact of the COVID-19 crisis and “quarantine life” on children with different types of behavioral, emotional, and neurodevelopmental challenges. Families may be understandably worried that the stress of lockdown may aggravate their child’s struggles. Yet, we hear some parents say the situation has changed their child for the better. Why might that be?

A unique combination of psychologist, nutritionist, and special educator, Dr. Nicole Beurkens has more than 20 years of experience supporting children, young adults, and families.  She is an expert in evaluating and treating a wide range of learning, mood, and behavior challenges. Dr. Beurkens holds a doctorate in clinical psychology, master’s degrees in special education and nutrition, and is a Board-Certified Nutrition Specialist.  She is the founder and director of Horizons Developmental Resource Center in Grand Rapids, Michigan, where she leads a multidisciplinary team dedicated to exceptional evaluation and integrative treatment services, research on innovative treatment protocols, and professional training on best practices.

Dr. Beurkens is a highly sought-after international consultant and speaker, award-winning therapist, published researcher, and best-selling author.  Her work has been highlighted in numerous publications, and she is an expert media source.  When she isn’t working, Dr. Beurkens enjoys spending time with her husband and four children.

We discuss:

  • Her background as a holistic therapist helping children with severe behavioral and emotional problems, which combines training and experience in special education, psychology, and nutrition. She integrates these skills to uncover and address the physical, social, and/or environmental “root causes” underlying her patients’ symptoms, which often include dietary, sleep, immune, and other previously undiagnosed issues.
  • How “sheltering in place” slows down and simplifies life, which can benefit kids with neurodevelopmental, mental health and other challenges by reducing the usual heavy demands of school, therapies, and activities; allowing them to take the time they need to accomplish things; and letting them get more sleep.
  • That schools tend to focus on academic achievement at the expense of developing other important skills such as planning, time management, and interpersonal relations. Being home offers parents an opportunity to focus on nurturing these life skills through planned and spontaneous family activities.
  • How parents can leverage the plusses of staying at home and minimize the minuses. Lowering stress levels and activity overload is key: Parents should not only limit their expectations of their kids, but of themselves. That said, this is an opportunity for adult-child collaboration on household chores and decision-making, especially with older kids.
  • The importance of maintaining balance between learning activities, personal development, play, creative pursuits, and exercise or movement, tailored to your child’s and family’s needs. These need not be structured to be valuable; some kids learn best through self-directed activity. Boredom and doing nothing can also be valuable; parents should not feel compelled to entertain or teach their children all day long.
  • Specific strategies to support children with different types of challenges during this quieter period. For example, those typically given an ADHD diagnosis, whatever the underlying cause, struggle with planning, organizing, and follow-through. Now we can help them practice these skills and become more independent by developing their own goals and schedules for the things they want and need to do.
  • The opportunities the pandemic offers children with anxiety to face their fears and “build resilience.” These include developing coping strategies with a parent or tele-therapist, such as practicing talking back to negative, scary thoughts, or inventing their own. It’s also important for parents not to dwell on dangers and worries in front of frightened kids and to limit kids’ exposure to the news media.
  • How Dr. Beurkens is balancing her own personal and professional lives, including doing telehealth sessions while having all four kids and her husband around the house. She emphasizes that constant communication and renegotiating priorities are key, and advocates finding a daily structure that works for your job and your
  • The importance of parents’ own self-care, including finding new ways to exercise and relax so you can be your best for your family. The need to “focus on what we can do rather than what we can’t.”

Relevant Links

Nicole Beurkens’s website

19 COMMENTS

  1. “Specific strategies to support children with different types of challenges during this quieter period. For example, those typically given an ADHD diagnosis, whatever the underlying cause, struggle with planning, organizing, and follow-through. Now we can help them practice these skills and become more independent by developing their own goals and schedules for the things they want and need to do.”

    Who are the typical ones? What do “typical” kids exhibit and who is watching and by what and who’s rules? I want to know WHERE these rules came from. Is it a universal rule? And how unlucky to get all that attention. What labels do the non “adhd” kids get? Doesn’t each child get a special token? Perhaps each parent struggles, especially those in the “MH” field, to make certain their children grow up in the parameters of “normal”. Lord knows we don’t want any more fantastic discoveries or perhaps great leadership.
    How sad that we all have to be good parents and good kids.

  2. 4 children. Let’s see, if everyone did that, we would have a doubling of the population every 30 years or so. If you look up the reasons for the recent population explosion, it’s generally attributed to illiteracy and poverty. What’s your excuse?

    Telehealth sessions. Brilliant idea. Even better than the 15 minute med-checkups that shrinks do.

    • I find this ad hominem attack on someone’s personal reproductive choices both offensive and irrelevant to this discussion.

      If you read Dr. Beurkens’ bio and visit her website, you’ll see that she has a holistic, integrative practice that looks for underlying causes of what gets labeled psychiatric and other behavioral issues and seeks to address those, in lieu of conventional psychiatry. This type of practice would seem to be something MIA readers could get behind.

      Even if you disagree, attacking someone’s family is below the belt, in my opinion.

    • Yeah, I would have felt the same way! I’d have been SOOOO happy to be at home and able to pursue what made sense to me instead of being bossed around by bullies and teacher/bullies and forced to be together with people I didn’t choose doing activities I had mostly no interest in at all. Homeschooling must be a Godsend for a good percentage of kids, at least the ones who don’t need to escape from their parents/siblings.

      • Homeschooling deprives children of the most important things they need to learn when growing up. It’s dealing with and learning from other people. It’s a bit like hiding from the corona virus by wrapping yourself up in a sterile bubble.

        There was no bullying at any school I was in. Teachers were seen as comical misfits, but likeable.

        • Well, you were very fortunate. Bullying was common in the schools I attended. There were plenty of good teachers, but also some totally crazy ones. My second grade teacher was screaming and yelling at us one day and tossed a book over our heads against the back wall of the classroom. When I stood up to object (and I NEVER talked back or did ANYTHING to get in trouble, but this was just too much even for me), she came down the aisle and smacked me in the back of the head and took me and another kid who was crying and tossed us out in the hallway. I never even told my mom, it was so NOT surprising that such things happened. A friend of mine was shoved down onto the gravel track by Miss Cooper at the end of recess in front of 100 kids and some staff. Yelling at kids and forcing them to stand at attention for a half hour, flicking them in the head with fingers – all of these were totally normal and accepted by the school staff.

          I think it is pretty biased to say that homeschooling automatically deprives kids of anything. It obviously depends on how it is done.

          • Well, at the least, you are depriving them of the experience of school. Something most kids go through.

            I didn’t much like the last few years, it was a boarding school.

        • Actually people who homeschool most often belong to organizations and their kids are socialized in many ways, often with neighbourhood kids plus the kids from other homeschool situations.

          I think classrooms are way too large and just because kids seem “okay” in an environment does not mean they are. And in the public system, so many get “diagnosed” by wannabe doctors, which does not happen at home.

          So many people go to dog parks and expect their dogs to run around with 30 other dogs. It totally stresses a lot of dogs out, but the owners can’t see it.
          Kids don’t even know when and what stresses them.
          Parents and kids see the past better once they get much older.
          Often even at a much older age, they can’t figure out what incidents were the hurtful ones.

    • Whatever happens, I don’t really care anymore. The general idea, from the big thinkers, is that there needs to be a drastic culling of the population, or a drastic reduction in energy consumption and waste, or both. Renewable energy was a massive scam.

  3. Even when the facts are glaringly rooted in physical lifestyle problems such as sleep and nutrition, the label/psych fraud that the pseudo-sciences are, never ends.

    There is a mountain of evidence proving that that dietary/vitamin/lifestyle issues are biological problems that far too often (even when marketed as “holistic”) result in symptoms falsely commandeered under the guise of the “mental health” industrial complex to sell their services for profit and social control to the masses who have long since lost the ability to critically think.

    You can take the oil out of the equation
    but the snake itself remains
    (c)JMGayton April 27, 2020, MH/AB/CA

    EXERTS
    Jay Watts is a clinical psychologist and psychotherapist
    The mental health first aid programme is a pet project – if the NHS services were properly funded in the first place, it wouldn’t be needed
    Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) is the big new thing in mental health. But does the reality live up to the hype? And why are so many people in the mental health community concerned that this benign looking programme may cause harm?
    developed in Australia and has now been expanded to 21 countries.
    a day or two course taught to recognise human distress as mental illness and then to provide mental health first aid.
    ALGEE model –
    1) Assess risk
    2) Listen non-judgmentally
    3) Give reassurance and information
    4) Encourage professional help
    5) Encourage informal support
    To date, 185,000 people have received training in the UK, almost two million internationally. MHFA courses are run regularly in companies, universities, for the armed forces, the police and even those in the construction industries. Schools are the next target, with the government ring fencing £200,000 to assure there is a one-day trained MHFA Champion in each and every state school.
    sold on its evidence-base, but this is far more problematic than the hype suggests.
    next to no evidence on whether these changes actually help people suffering from mental distress
    It is like training two million adults to help kids learn maths, being impressed when the adults report feeling more confident in teaching maths, but failing to see whether this actually helps the kids learn maths!
    predicated on the idea that further help is readily available with adequate signposting.
    Jeremy Hunt “we know early intervention massively increases the chances of making a good recovery” and that the “question of prevention” is “vital”.
    MHFA courses take certain beliefs about mental health problems as given truths. These include ideas such as that: depression, anxiety and schizophrenia are meaningful constructs with clearly identifiable symptoms backed up by scientific evidence and that it is the individual rather than the environment that they inhabit that needs to change. These ideas are fraught with controversy, with legions of patients having found their contact with psychiatric ideology damaging and traumatic.
    The “first aid” metaphor implies that a toolkit can be used to help wounded individuals with superficial injuries, at least temporarily, and that physical and mental health are equivalent. Yet the majority of mental anguish is inseparable from far deeper and wide ranging problems such as social fragmentation, trauma and discrimination. The idea of first aid serves to individualise and depoliticise mental distress at the expense of the very real changes in society that we need to foster a mental health friendly society.
    MHFA programme creates a new form of benevolent oppression, peppering everyday conversations with psychiatric discourse and producing a new breed of lay-diagnosticians ever watchful for signs of your mental illness, whether you like it or not.
    For how can informed consent remain a possibility if the psychiatric gaze is now ever present in the classroom, the university, the office, the supermarket? How can this be anything but a new form of social control and surveillance to police minds in the interests of neoliberal governance?
    Public health campaigns such as MHFA are no doubt well-intentioned. Elements of the programme are exciting, for example the emphasis on non-judgmental conversations, speaking about suicidal thoughts, and self-care. However, there is simply no need to package these into a framework which may cause more suffering than good. Bandages, after all, rarely stick.
    https://www.independent.co.uk/voices/mental-health-first-aid-theresa-may-depression-anxiety-nhs-underfunded-services-turned-away-a7842571.html

  4. It seems like one very basic human need is to share thinking/feelings with those around us. Parents encourage their kids to share, and the need is met and the example is shown. Kids go to school and share with other kids. Sometimes even teachers can be open to sharing. It’s instinctive, for cooperation and survival. When the example of filling the need doesn’t get passed down the generations, we end up where we are today. I think there has been a mass forgetting of what humans normally do.

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