Developing systems to help children and adolescents develop greater communication within and without is my calling. I have discovered that the most powerful, impacting and lasting treatments take place when the entire family decides to make changes together. It is my goal to provide you with the most current, data driven, and relevant information available and to tailor it to your family's needs. You may then take what you find useful and apply it to your daily lives to solve specific problems and support your family from an informed and empowered perspective.
The Stronger Self is Inner Connectedness
I am a Speech Language Pathologist who helps children, adolescents, and families to use communication therapy systems to connect to themselves, and then to connect themselves to the outside world. All communication problems speak to the need for more connectedness and meaning on the inside. That inside connectedness reflects on the outside as a child having the ability to use language, speak clearly, speak smoothly, think and problem solve, and maintain relationships. My specialty is in adding meaning to life events and finding a system in which a child/adolescent can take in new information and think about it.
For very young children, therapy means providing greater opportunities to connect to their immediate environment physically and emotionally. Play and scened events help bring more meaning, and therefore more feedback and emotional reward.
For the older child or adolescent, therapy is similar, but with more emphasis on using language (especially written language) to solve social or emotional problems, as well as designing learning systems to help him/her literally communicate with him/herself towards generalization of information, increased skills, and a stronger self-concept.
The highest quality progress occurs when a child can take an idea and make it their own. Another word for this is thinking!
How I can help you
My practice is particularly suited for children with Autism Spectrum Disorder, non verbal learning disability, or those who struggle with navigating relationships, struggle to problem solve, or have a hard time knowing how to fit within a group.
Additionally, I have specialized training in helping individuals develop greater language facility, fluency management (stuttering), and articulation.
If your child needs communication therapy but refuses to work, gets panicky, angry, hysterical, or if your child is painfully sensitive to mistakes/criticism, I may be able to help. I welcome all families who are interested in communication/language therapy to develop greater independence and understanding of relationships.
I provide a free consultation to you in the form of a meeting, phone call, or skype visit, where you and I each decide if my therapy approach is a good match for your child/family. If we find we're a good match for one another:
I speak with family members and gather as much information as I can about the child/adolescent. I let you know what you are already doing well, and help you emphasize it!
Meanwhile, I learn about the child/adolescent's learning system and then can provide an outside influence and specialized instruction. I teach new concepts related to developing a stronger self, and language to represent concepts the child is learning or already knows. On the outside, the products of a stronger self are greater ability to relate to others, greater independent actions and thought, and more emotional stability.
After I have discovered how the child takes in information, I develop a learning system for the child that he/she or family can begin to use on their own.
Traditional Approaches versus a Stronger Self Approach
Traditional therapy approaches in communication often do not result in growth for several reasons:
They are not founded in neuroscience and neuro-education
They provide “more of the same” instead of providing information in the way a child needs to receive it
They focus on what the child can do rather than what who the child is
They do not account for motivation and imagination
They do not work from the strengths of the child, but attempt to “bandaid” or “bolster” weaknesses (with scripts, visuals, etc)
Therapy that is designed with the outcome of strengthening the self:
Is based on the way a child learns, neurologically
Focuses on who the child is, motivations, strengths, and talents
Takes into account social and cognitive developmental level and begins there
Works from the inside, out
Factors in Building the Stronger Self
In the progression of my practice, I have collected information to answer these questions: “What are the factors that positively effect a child's ability to make progress? What are the circumstances that allow some children to move forward, and others not as easily?”
Children who make faster gains have a larger percentage of the following items:
Have a secure home life, with parents who like and love themselves, and are engaged with their own lives and the lives of their children
Have a family with an active spiritual faith
Have a family who eat regular meals and do other interrelated activities together
Have an outlet for physical play outside of video games and electronics
Have developed self esteem by attaining the things they want on their own
Know their talents and explore them regularly
Understand the concepts of practice and collecting
Know how to make themselves comfortable and are able to relax
The Importance of Family in a Stronger Self
Family life is related to the cultural values that shape motivation. Independence is the goal, and independence begins with healthy motivations. Children are a part of a family before they become an independent person. They are directly inspired by the growth, actions, and passions of their parents and other family members. In short, we want to inspire them to want things. The more that they want, the more they will move to take action, and therefore, learn.
A large part of forming a stronger self is learning to obtain what you want. Creating a beautiful environment encourages children to want to explore it.
If we are to embark on a professional relationship together, it is important that we share a similar philosophy and values. I would like to share mine with you now.
I have been working with children with special needs since 2003, at the age of 21, when I began my journey as a student therapist for a special needs family. I practiced the principles of D.I.R. (Developmental Individual Relationship Difference), also known as Floortime, as an initiation into the practice of Communication Therapy. The more experience I gained, the more I realized that I was called to become a professional communicator. I realized that communication is something that unifies, strengthens, and grows us all. I saw, and continue to see, that communication is what creates autonomy, independence, and freedom.
I received my Masters of Science in Speech Language Pathology in 2008, and have practiced in the school setting since then, both in Oregon and in Washington. I have worked with hundreds of children who provided many opportunities for me to learn what it means to help someone express and understand him/herself. Equally, I learned a lot about myself in the process.
However, I realized that the school schedule did not allow me the time and energy to focus as closely as I desired, on the children I was trying to understand and grow with. My philosophy is that every communication "disorder" is an opportunity for a child to "find his/her voice" and to figure out who they are. This is something we are all working on, in some capacity. Our children with special needs are just easier to notice.
I believe that I have a talent and a calling to help families as an entire unit, or system. All children need to see that the "culture" of their family is to be growing, learning, changing, and enjoying life. Thus, when we learn how to help ourselves grow, learn, change, and enjoy, we have great joy and energy we can put towards helping our children see how it can be done.
My specialties are in the areas of autism, childhood apraxia of speech, articulation, and language-learning strategies for "visual" thinkers. I subscribe to the research and neuro-educational strategies of Dr. Ellyn Arwood in many of my approaches to therapy. I see my role as ultimately training parents to teach their children how to "find meaning" in the ways that are most natural and inspiring.
I have an ongoing love of learning how to communicate with all people. I continue to hone my capacity to reach and commune with others through my love of music and rhythm, dance, and art.
April 9, 2014
When young children mistake a metaphor for a physical reality, we laugh and say, “She took that so literally!” For example, if a child heard an adult say, “I need to have a talk with the man upstairs”, the child may walk up the stairs to a second floor, checking for unfamiliar room mates, or may wonder if there is a secret stairway in your one story bungalow. She will insert whatever context her imagination may conjure up, without logic.
When children do not have enough language to form a context, the idea that was heard can take on many possible shapes. We learn context by asking context-building questions, like, “What was my mom's expression as she said this?” “Has she said this before?” “Where and when has she said this before?” “Who was she talking to?” “What did she do with her body as she said this?” “What did her tone of voice sound like?” “What did she do after she said it?” and so forth. These questions are usually asked and answered silently and unconsciously, so we're not always aware of this process of “carving out” a sense of the intended message.
Let's examine the statement, “She took that so literally!” to see how the pieces of meaning connect.
When we speak of “she”, we speak of the child. When we speak of “took”, we refer to how the child received the bit of language, when we speak of “that”, we speak of the bit of language that the child responded to. “So” explains the greatness of how the bit of language was taken, which was “literally” or “in the physical-reality sense.”
All children start off “taking” or “receiving” all information on a literal level. Babies begin to gain a sense of the separateness of their own bodies from receiving literal, mechanical feedback from their motor system when they begin to move on their own (such as feeling the chair or floor's surface change on their skin and pressure on their body). As information gathers from this motor system, there are connections made between other senses, like sight, hearing, smell, and even taste. Generally, the more sophisticated we are as thinkers, the more we begin to focus on sight and sound, and less on the associations of taste and smell.
Once information is “old news” at this motor level, it is symbolically connected to and with specific patterns of hearing and sight. Generally, neuro-typical people begin to collect and mingle these auditory and visual patterns internally to produce ideas that are organized unconsciously into ideas related to desire and agenda of the self.
In the case of children with ASD, we tend to see more of this “literal” interpretation because not enough patterns have been processed over the lifespan of the child to give them the abstracted knowledge we would expect for their chronological age. They are not able to take the metaphor because they have not processed the first and critical data points of true experience, which are always literal, and physical/perceptual.
Children with ASD are not mingling enough of these higher level perceptual patterns to create enough thoughts to help semantically shape and separate the child as a unique “self”, to shape other related ideas like other people, wants, needs, emotions, events, and other ideas that are generally considered important to the neuro-typical “self”.
Children must be able to think with enough ideas to generate wants. Often, their thoughts are created from a pittance of perceptual information and are not “conventionalized” by the use of language. The child with ASD has very different ideas about things than others, because their minds have not been tempered with the standardizing effect of language and regular communication. When their ideas are different, this can cause emotional instability because life is unpredictable and the child cannot communicate to seek more information conventionally. The child is not driven to seek and expand in the neuro-typical way because they have not thought enough to connect to their own desires. (See the work of Clotaire Rapaille on the reptilian brain to learn more about desire, language, and the language of the body, and how autism taught Rapille about marketing).
Before we can learn language, we must have an experience as the root of an idea. The experience is what we could call what is literal. The real thing. We can only process an experience if there is an emotion associated with it, because emotion triggers the neurotransmitters that continue to carry a signal to other parts of the brain and make a connection.
What we want to do is help the child do enough thinking (creating of ideas upon more ideas) in order to make more and more relevant connections between the child and his life. When sufficient thinking has happened, the child will gain in self-awareness, which includes connection to what he/she wants. This is a crucial beginning point for shaping a person who can continue to grow independently.
No matter what, a child who can walk is a child whose motor system is functioning well. It is at this level that we must make an event more meaningful, less subtle, more intentional. Patterns that we put in the body through hand-over-hand guidance, or through explicit demonstration or instruction (for higher functioning children, who can be shown or told to put it in themselves), in multiple ways, will be received by the motor system that can then make more sense out of the event because there was more explicit, concrete, intentional, and literal feedback from the environment (mom, dad, sisters, brothers, and community: you are all the environment).
We forget about the motor system because we are listeners and seers. Children on the autism spectrum are keen feelers. Sensation and movement in the hand (such as when drawing pictures and writing) are literally traveling up to the brain and activating the visual cortex. When we move the child's system, we are making pictures in the mind. Now the child has a cognitive product that can be considered, to activate the memory of the event. Then we can provide the movement/tactile “code” (which is language in the form of print) to symbolize (abstract) this picture. This phenomenon is related to the reason why this eyeless and blind man is able to paint accurate pictures. His hands have graphed space, volume, dimension in a mental capacity.
Our children with ASD can receive this input of a picture and then a code to symbolize the picture, through movement. We could also use sign language as a code. This “feeling” information may be strong enough to hold attention through enough time to process it. Enough movements in familiar ways over the same topic (perhaps self-help skills, perhaps safety training, perhaps social concepts like taking turns) can create the “shape” of the idea.
Physical experience and physical symbolism represent a way for nourishment to go into the system. We can “feed” the child's mind through this physical input. Eventually, with enough meaning (experience, routine of movement, predictability), the physical input will become visual understanding, and it can be filed away and will serve as the foundation for newer, more specific, and/or interrelated information. Once children have enough physical input, their eyes will recognize the movements and the child will be able to recognize and store the information visually. Once the idea can be recognized and symbolized visually, it can then be used for thinking. When an idea is ready for thinking, it can be "grown" and will evolve semantically. Eventually contextual questions can be applied to understand the "type" of meaning that was intended, and the metaphor can be understood.
When we talk about literal interpretation, we're talking about an experience, followed by many intentional and obvious motor patterns that are connected to that experience, such as drawing, writing, signing or moving symbolically to represent that experience as having great meaning. Some of our children resist receiving outside stimulus, but it is critical that the child's system receive meaningful information. With hand-over-hand work, the child's body cannot block out this input. This takes time and preparation, but it means being able to pave an avenue for your child to access new ideas and therefore new language that will become the filter for his world and his path to independence.
What is the remedy for inappropriate behaviors, lack of thinking, inability to direct their own actions in my child with ASD?
Children with ASD need to learn how to build a connected set of thoughts so that they can carry these thoughts with them and apply these thoughts to events in life. Thoughts are connected through language. If we teach language in a way they can understand, they can connect thoughts properly and these thoughts will “pop up” at the appropriate moments in their life and guide them to choose appropriately. In most cases, thoughts are visual in nature, and so language must also be visual in order to connect ideas together in usable ways.
What is the remedy for anxiety and depression I see in my high functioning child?
High functioning children may be self-aware enough to suffer from the emotional pain of not being able to properly regulate themselves when around others. In this case, it is common to see these children disconnect emotionally from themselves, widening the gap between themselves and healthy connections with others. (Asperger Experts) will tell you that the first obstacle to helping one of these children is anxiety. Anxiety of being rejected, anxiety of “missing something”, anxiety of being humiliated, bullied, etc. Anxiety can be helped, again, through language and teaching the children how to think for themselves. Strong family ties and values, spiritual/faith practice, physical exercise, and meditation practice are extremely important resources for helping an individual with ASD consciously find ways to support his own emotional well being. The child with ASD who is chronologically 19 years old may be three, four, five years old emotionally because he never knew it was his job to collect examples of love and internalize them. He did not know it was his job to grow himself because he stopped investing in himself long ago when others did not accept him. His growth was literally stunted by emotional pain.
So many parents and caregivers I have worked with have been concerned about their children's social life; that is to say, their ability to make friends. There are many programs on the market designed to teach children “social skills” towards helping them present as more acceptable to their peers.
To these programs, I say, phooey.
Becoming socially attractive to others is the product of accepting, loving, and nurture yourself first and foremost. This is especially important since we must remember that our “big kids” are often “little kids” on the inside, and they were delayed in developing this self-love. The focus of social skills programs is on the wrong target. The individuals who designed these programs are more concerned with the idea of appeasing others than of developing a true core in the individual with ASD.
Here is the logic behind developing a child's love of self before trying to develop social skills for the benefit of those around them.
The child learns an ultimate worthiness that comes from seeing parents who love themselves, participates in spiritual functions, is immersed in family events and values, and sees how his efforts contribute to the family and to his own success. The child learns concepts of love and has language to connect these to himself. The child experiences unconditional love, regardless of behavior. The child's talents and interests are supported and he is allowed to express them and receive feedback about them.
This is the proper foundation in which to grow a person.
The child learns through his family's actions and responses that he is a person whose job is to pay attention and learn about himself. The child learns through his family's actions and responses that his actions have an effect on other people. He has the strength of self worth to accept when mistakes happen and to change them.
The child knows his job is to work on maintaining and regulating his own emotional states, with increasing independence. He is learning to take care of himself, and is developing language to soothe and explain his experiences.
The child is receiving feedback from the world about his actions and behavior (in modified ways such as drawing and writing). The child gains confidence about his conduct when around other people.
The child has enough sense of self to act as an independent entity in the presence of others. He knows what he needs in order to become “comfortable”.
The child has enough sense of self to interact with others.
The child has enough sense of self to know what he needs in order to be comfortable, and thus he can begin to apply that information to other people. There is enough “head space” to think about others, because the self is monitored and cared for. The self does not present as an all-consuming need any longer.
The child becomes thoughtful of others, (rather than helplessly empathic) and thus is able to negotiate basic relationship functions, such as taking turns, sharing, monitoring speech for unkind statements, conversation and communication, etc. The child has enough “pop ups” in his mind to remember to think about another person.
The child learns about problem-solving and negotiation within friendships, because he is strong enough in self to understand that he and the other person both deserve a fair and happy outcome. The child learns about self-advocacy. He develops ethics from practicing a sense of right and wrong in social negotiation.
The child becomes confident in problem solving and negotiation, and becomes aware that some relationships are more enjoyable than others, leading the child to choose friendships beyond a desire for human contact or acceptance.
The child learns more about himself through his relationships with others, and is able to categorize and analyze different “kinds” of people and learn what they need in order to function in a group. Thus, the child begins to learn more about leadership.
Now compare this with teaching a child “skills” for interacting with others.
The child is taught that they must follow a set of rules when interacting with others. The child is coached to say the words while in a group environment of (generally) high anxiety with other children who most likely also have ASD and are also experiencing anxiety. Anxiety turns off higher levels of thinking and represents a constant state of “fight or flight”. This is a poor environment for children to learn anything.
The child practices the words without knowing why they work or what their meaning is. They are learning a script. This lesson creates an assumption on the part of the child that this is the only way to communicate. When something fails in the script, the child cannot handle the break down because a) he is too anxious to think b) he has not been taught how to think c) he does not know what he needs
If the child has enough capacity for language, he may learn many forms of language for communicating, but he will not have the sense of self developed for being calm enough to think in real time. Thus, there will continue to be breakdowns in communication or interaction that the child cannot repair because a) he is too anxious to think b) he has not been taught how to think c) he does not know what he needs.
Even when the child has enough language capacity for basic communication, he will not know how to solve problems appropriately because he lacks the sense of self to understand the social concept of fairness. Thus, when a problem arises, he will either reject /escape the situation or he will always defer to the other person's solution or action because a) he is too anxious to think b) he has not been taught how to think about fairness c) he does not know what he needs and thus d) he does not know what the other person needs.
With systematic escapism from and deference to others, the product is a very low self esteem, a sense of powerlessness, and fear of what others will do and say. The child has no concept of what he can do to take action in a problem. Thus, there is no concept of self-advocacy, no concept of fairness, no concept of negotiation, and an underdeveloped sense of ethics.
Lindsey McLaren - Testimonial
Haiku for You
Our Miss McLaren
Effective. Honest. Intense.
Smart. Fun. Supportive.
One of the best decisions We’ve made for our twin boys with autism was to hire Lindsey. She’s worked with them on a weekly basis for the past 3 years. She prefers to work with them at home, where they’re most comfortable. That has been such blessing for our entire family because we've spent so much time in doctors offices, therapists offices and waiting rooms all over town. Our boys have made huge strides in the past few years. She is much more than a Speech Therapist. She has gone above and beyond, coaching my husband and l along the way, which has enabled us to support our boys better. She is our interpreter, willing and able to explain where our boys are cognitively, how they process information, why they respond the way they do, and where they are with their language processing. She provides us a different perspective, given her extensive knowledge and experience working with kids on the spectrum. I can’t tell you how many “aha” moments we’ve had along the way...too many to count. Having a better understanding of how our boys experience the world has made such a difference for us. We are better parents because we understand our boys better. Lindsey has been the best therapeutic investment for our boys. . .and for our family.
John and Jodie Kotrlik
To Whom it May Concern:
I Worked closely with Lindsey McLaren in the 2011-2012 school year. During that year we worked together, co-teaching students in my self-contained classroom. All of my students have a form of learning disability, including autism, mental retardation, Down's Syndrome, etc. Lindsey was very knowledgeable about how to convey social, relational, sequential concepts in visual and drawn form, and she trained me and my staff how to draw for our students in order to get them to learn to perform daily activities appropriately, how to learn new ideas that helped improve behavior, how to brainstorm with them about ideas they have read or ideas they would want to write. As a result of Lindsey's work with the students and in her training and explanations, I have a better understanding of how to communicate with my students, how to elicit communication from them, and how to use drawing and writing to help them in academic tasks like math, reading and Writing. My students have improved in behavior, self-management, and in their skill levels of literacy and writing. Two of my students now draw themselves to convey information. Lindsey is a very friendly, approachable and trustworthy person who is always willing to Work with anyone to solve problems.
Lindsey McLaren is a phenomenal speech therapist. She has been working with my child for over three years, both in a public school setting and in private lessons. My child was reluctant to work with anyone on his speech and has had difficulty "working" on speaking, but Miss M always makes it fun to learn. My child likes going to see Miss M. He has made great progress on his speech, but more important has confidence in his ability to communicate what he's thinking and feeling. He has made fun videos using dinosaurs and dragons and uses his imagination to tell stories that they both illustrate. Miss McLaren is organized, creative, and flexible. She is amazingly intuitive when it comes to kids. She knows how to connect with them to make learning fun and relevant while maintaining discipline and high expectations for successful outcomes. Her feedback is thorough and informative. She is willing to go above and beyond to help her clients achieve their goals. She obviously cares a great deal about her clients and is a thoughtful and respectful listener.
Ms. Jemé Sutton