So, the new buzz in education is all about GROWTH MINDSET.  Which I totally love, because it really, if taught correctly, empowers kids to have persistence and use effort. If I had a quarter for every kid that I heard, "I can't do it", I'd be rich and I bet you can say the same thing.    The more confidence a kid has, often anxiety levels go down.  So really, this content it great taught in conjunction with anxiety prevention.  

So what's the GROWTH MINDSET all about?

Well Carol Dweck, the guru and sort of creator of GROWTH/FIXED MINDSET, says it really well.
"In a growth mindset, people believe that their most basic abilities can be developed through dedication and hard work - brains and talent are just the starting point.  This view creates a love of learning and a resilience that is essential for great accomplishment."

Researchers tell us that students who have this type of mindset-- those that believe they can become smarter and can do almost anything with effort and hard work -- may learn more, learn it more quickly and view mistakes and hard work as learning opportunities, rather than defeat.

I've also read that teaching the science behind it, behind how our brains work, is the key to getting buy-in and belief from kids.  The younger the better.  There are all kinds of great resources out there. One only has to google, "Growth Mindset" to get a heap of great resources.  Here are 2 of my favorite resources.

For a great introduction for children to Growth Mindset, try using the great lesson!

 Teach your kids at an early age -- start with this lesson
Teach your kids at an early age.  Start with this lesson.

Another great resource is the BRAINOLOGY program.  I super love anything that I can use with my kiddos on the computer.  AND SO DO THEY.  I mean the attention is so much better!  This program teaches the basic concepts of Growth Mindset and gives you lots of "hands-on" experiments to try. They call it a blended learning curriculum. There are animated characters: Chris, Dahlia, and Dr. Cerebrus, who teach students how the brain functions and learns, along with healthy habits, study techniques, self-regulation strategies, and other essential non-cognitive skills that help them to become effective learners. Then they deepen their knowledge and apply it to their own experience through classroom lessons, housed in the Brainology Implementation Guides for educators.  Check it out.  You'll love it!

Great program to teach your kids about Growth Mindset.  It is comprehensive and teaches healthy habits, study techniques, and self-regulation strategies.


Anxiety Prevention Groups for my older kiddos was always a big more intense.   By the time they were in 5th or 6th grade, some of the fears have turned into phobias. The fears and phobias were so intense, they interfered in classroom functioning. Therefore for my program, it was a priority to work on anxiety prevention during social work services.  Clearly many of my students need outside therapy as well, but parents either 1) do not have insurance or money or 2) do not have the time as they are single parents of multiple kids.  So in my program, I often do therapy 2-3 times a week with the more severe kiddos. 

My go to curriculum here is FACING YOUR FEARS. Excellent curriculum especially made for higher functioning students with ASD and anxiety, Authors: Judy Reaven Ph.D.Audrey Blakely-Smith Ph.D.Shana Nichols Ph.D.Susan Hepburn Ph.D.

The curriculum is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy based. Following is an overall idea of suggested sessions.  For my kids, we did a lot of repetition and I also customized many topics to include my kiddos areas of special interested.  This is a wonderful program because we talk about how much WORRY has taken over there lives -- there are examples and concrete ways of looking at how much time is spent on worrying. We talk about the physiological symptoms in the body and use the worry thermometer to measure things every day.  Finally we make a list (a fear ladder so to speak) of the things that cause worry, in order of minor to major.  We come up with a plan for gradually becoming desensitized to these things -- sometimes taking only the tiniest of steps.  We use video modeling to show our selves success and use that in conjunction with the actual exposure.  I have used many videos from YouTube to help in this.  Now don't forget, for these students, during the same timeframe, I have a parent group.  So I have to get the parent buy-in to help with providing feedback that decreases and DOES NOT REINFORCE the fears.  So many parents do not realize they actually have made their child's fears worse by giving into some of the most ridiculous behaviors!  This curriculum also includes a series of nice videos by some kids  who themselves have worked the program to overcome a fear - such as a fear of dogs.  I really recommend this program.   

Session 1: Welcome to Group: Words We Use for Worry
Session 2: When I Worry
Session 3: Time Spent Worrying
Session 4: What Worry Does to My Body: Beginning to Measure Worry
Session 5: The Mind-Body Connection
Session 6: More Mind-Body Connections: Introduction to Exposure
Session 7: Introduction to Exposure (Continued) 
Session 8: Practicing Exposure and Making Movies
Sessions 9-13: Facing Fears and Making Movies
Session 14: Graduation
Booster Session


  • Autism now affects 1 in 68 children and 1 in 42 boys
  • Autism prevalence figures are growing
  • Autism is one of the fastest-growing developmental disorders in the U.S.
  • Autism costs a family $60,000 a year on average
  • Boys are nearly five times more likely than girls to have autism
  • There is no medical detection or cure for autism

Happy Autism Awareness Month --- in April!  This is always a great time for those in my program because we have a slew of things we do to promote awareness.  Schools are usually always welcoming (with advance notice and planning) of activities we want to do related to Autism Awareness.  And the possibilities are endless.  A great source for finding "ready made" or simple activities is the site Autism Speaks.  There you will also find all kinds of great things such as providers of services, tool-kits for schools and communities, resources in Spanish, and a resource library.  Autism Speaks also gives out grants, which can potentially be a source of funding for your innovative ideas surrounding Autism. Click on the image below to go to the site and find some great ideas for your school!

A few of the most basic things you can do are to use the awesome bulletin boards around the school. We always have a few in the halls, the library and wherever else the school allows.  For us, it's a team effort.  Teachers and therapists help in putting together the bulletin boards.  We like to include facts that may dispel  some of the myths surrounding autism.  We also like to include the names of famous people with Autism.  Often we have our kids do an art project and post those too.... At one of my schools we have an anonymous  "box" where students from the school can submit questions or concerns.  In the mornings, for the week during April 4th, we have students read autism facts with the morning announcements.  One year, I had a student with aspergers give a presentation about himself (he video taped it first) and then showed it to his class (with parental permission of course).  We also bring in treats for the faculty and post fun signs around the treats about autism.

We are lucky to have such good support in our schools.  I work in 5 different schools and have to say they are overall very supportive.  They allow me to go into the classrooms and give presentations about autism.  This is one of my all time favorite things to do because the students are generally very interested.  After my presentation, I open it up to questions, telling them NO QUESTION is stupid or bad.  And wow, you should hear some of them.  "Are people with autism retard?", "Can you get rid of autism", I even had someone ask me if people with autism were blind!  So you see there is a lot of mis-information out there.  Below is my stock presentation I use in the classrooms.  I try to get into as many as possible each year.  Knowing about autism, in my experience, helps to increase understanding and tolerance.

This is a great ready-made presentation for you to use in general education classes for Autism Awareness.
Available on my Teachers Pay Teachers site.  Click on the image to see it.

Kids and teachers and generally very welcoming to do a presentation on Autism Awareness.  Try it!


Most of my kids enjoy my COOL KIDS groups (anxiety prevention).  I did have one student 2 years ago, whose anxiety increased when he knew he was going to have to go to anxiety group.  The thought of talking about his anxiety, gave him anxiety.  Let's say we still have lots of work to do on UNHELPFUL thoughts.  With this student, I had to do individual sessions as he tries to bolt from the room or becomes extremely disruptive.  We disguised our lessons and intertwined shows he loves in them.  He has improved and is able to set in some groups, using his worry thermometer to let us know if he needs a break.

I use kid's favorite shows to increase attention and to explain concepts in ways they can understand.  This is the TV show American Ninja Warrior.  See it on my Teachers Pay Teachers site.

I always have a written schedule of each item we will do in the group or individual schedule, to decrease anxiety.  With my kiddo mentioned above, I always have a system where if he completes my 4 tasks (watch video, see lesson, practice breathing, answer comprehension questions - usually multiple choice written with pictures), then he can have free choice, usually 3 minutes watching his favorite YouTube videos.


After your psycho education is complete, fear assessment, teaching of helpful and unhelpful thoughts, it's time to teach about the anxiety body alarm.  This is what we adults know as your sympathetic system, which activates feelings of nervousness, such as sweaty palms, rapid heart beat, shaky hands, etc. In summary, some people have overactive systems and their alarms go off too often.  Just realizing that just because you have feelings of panic and anxiety, does not mean you are in danger, can be very empowering to children with anxiety.  I created a concrete and easy to understand story on this, comparing our body alarms to car alarms (false alarms happen!).

Anxiety concepts are so much easier to understand with real comparisons. Check out this lesson on my Teachers Pay Teachers site. 

For my older kids, we used a fantastic program called GO ZEN.  This program uses tons of highly engaging, often funny animations.  It uses a science based approach and is cognitive behavioral.  The characters are kids with common anxieties, in addition to an alien, who helps to teach.  The body alarm system is taught through the use of two characters, Til and Widdle each representing a different part of the brain.  It really makes it easier to understand and accept our anxiety.  This product is highly recommended and I'll probably talk more about it in another post because I love it so much.

This is Til and Widdle, representing, the new brain (reasoning and logic) and the older brain ( fight or flight).

I know we promised to talk about desensitization and it is coming soon!!!!  As always, comment or write to me with questions or successes or failures... happy teaching!

PRACTING SKILLS FOR COMPREHENSION; Helpful and unhelpful thoughts

As the anxiety group proceeds, we continue to practice identifying which are helpful and which are unhelpful thoughts.  I have a series of lessons I use for different age groups, available on my Teachers
Pay Teachers site.

We did lots of practicing on choosing which was helpful vs unhelpful.

As they got more proficient in choosing between the two, we decided to provide students with prompts of actual student worries (based on our surveys we took at the beginning of the group) and have them attempt to give us HELPFUL THOUGHTS.

Example of complete prompt - situation and thought

Even our earliest learners could remember, "It's ok", the most basic helpful thought.

Example of a partial prompt with just the situation.  If students had a difficult time remember, I would use errorless learning and give a partial answer such as, "IT'S....", sometimes doing the "ok sign" with my fingers. Repetition, repetition!

Every session, as I mentioned earlier, we would practice our COOL BREATHING and relaxation techniques.  Often I let a different kid choose from a choice board which technique they'd like to practice, usually trying to add a new one every week (maybe same technique but different way of doing it).  One that was a hit was using the app by Sesame Street called, "Breathe, Think, Do".  Remember, I used this for kindergarteners and 1st graders.  I did have one kid who said Sesame Street was for babies, so we just let him sit out (pick and choose your battles, otherwise he was very disruptive).
Super cute and  educational breathing, relaxing and thinking app for kids

Practice breathing with the monster.  Another fun twist on belly breathing for your kids!

Teaches kids to stop and think.  They get to touch the bubbles on the screen to "pop" them, and then come up with 3 plans for the problem situation given.

There are more and more good tools available to teach relaxation.  For me, the key was mixing it up, making it fun, using technology sometimes and allowing students to choose.  I even had one student, a first grader, who wanted to make up his own prompts for progressive relaxation (he was the one who said Sesame Street was for babies).  We allowed him to do this, he lead the group, and we had such good attention and buy-in from the other kiddos!  In our next blog, we'll talk a little more about some of the more advanced techniques we used in our anxiety prevention groups with our 3rd- 7th graders.  Write to me if you have comments, questions or suggestions.  What great things have you found out there???


So, working with the population that I did, anxiety was very common place.  My kids were mostly medium to high functioning aspergers with comorbidity out the ying yang.  So, almost every kid in my program received anxiety prevention services.  I mean when your kids freak out about schedule changes, strange noises, the toilet, kids "staring" at them, and rain, you really need this to function on a daily basis in a public school building.  And to be honest, I love running my anxiety prevention groups. My kids are usually incredibly attentive, which could be a factor of all the fun stuff we try to use.

We've been talking a lot about the itty bitties... the kindergartners and the first graders.  Well for my 2nd - 4th grade, I bumped up the group slightly.  We follow the same format - assessment, psychoeducation, and the CBT core.  But I added a few extra things.  Some of the 2nd graders (and lower functioning 4th graders), really liked Calvin and Austin.  So we continued with them.  But I found this program, called Camp Cope A lot.  Many years ago, I had purchased a program called "The Coping Cat", for kids with anxiety.  I really loved the program and my regular education kids did too. But I knew that my kids with ASD needed something with TECHNOLOGY.  I am not going to lie.  If it's on the computer, they would do it (I even used to videotape myself doing a lesson, which often would greatly increase attention!).  Anyway, this program, Camp Cope A Lot, is made by the same people, Philip C. Kendall, Ph.D., ABPP & Muniya Khanna, Ph.D. out of Temple University and University of Pennsylvania.  The previews looked great and I was fortunate to have a boss and program that had the resources to purchase it for my group.  I bought, I think, 10 licenses.  It's a program that you can essentially do one "chapter" each session or every other if you are using it as an adjunct.  I liked to do the lesson one week and then do a review of the concepts and a check for comprehension the next week.  Repetition was great for my kids.  They absolutely loved this program and I am not sure if it was because the main character, Charlie, was a cat or if it was because they could see some of themselves in Charlie.  Didn't matter, they asked to see Charlie and would problem solve "for Charlie".  The program also has a writing portion where the student adds in their own content.

Here's what the website site says about the program:

  • No formal training in cognitive-behavioral therapy required
  • Requires fewer therapists hours (approximately 6 hours per child for the 12 sessions)
  • Child-paced interactivities including problem solving, changing self-talk, and identifying somatic signs of anxiety
  • Downloadable (MP3) relaxation script
  • Includes a selection of videos of other children engaging in exposure tasks and using coping strategies
  • Includes a built-in reward system  
  • Contains all needed treatment materials
  • Comes with printable Coach’s Manual (treatment manual) and Go-To-Gadget (child workbook)

I really liked the short videos they included showing kids learning and practicing progressive muscle relaxation.  In my experience, this is a bit difficult to teach and reinforce, but this program has Charlie doing it and also kids on video.  I would recommend this program and my kids loved the reinforcer of being able to choose one of their "video games" as a reward when they got to a certain point.
Click on the image below to go to the website for more information.

Camp Cope A Lot is a great online program that uses a human like cat, Charlie, who is afraid to go to camp, as its main character.  Psycho education, videos, games and problem solving challenges make this a great addition to your anxiety prevention groups!


Introducing and understanding helpful and unhelpful thoughts is probably the main underlying concept of the anxiety group.  It is getting kids to understand that the way you think about a situation then determines how you feel... the heart of cognitive behavioral therapy.  We spent many sessions on this theme.  Below is one of the first lessons we did on this.

FREE DOWNLOAD!  Intro to helpful vs. unhelpful thoughts

Some of my little kids got it right away.  Others I had to backtrack and teach the concept of "What is a Thought"... as this is very abstract.  Below is a link to the lesson I have for teaching this concept.

This is my lesson on teaching, "What is a thought", available on Teachers Pay Teachers

We continued on with practicing this concept of helpful vs. unhelpful thoughts for at least some part of each session.  We used the lesson below as an example.  Download it for free.  We tried to use real life fears for our kids, based on the game/survey they took at the beginning of the group.

We used real life examples of the kids.

We also did matching activities, sorting (cutting and pasting) activities as well with helpful and unhelpful thoughts.  We used Austin and Calvin to do several role plays with a cut-out thought bubble that we laminated so we could use a dry erase pen and write in thoughts.

Another resource I used to help teach this concept of thoughts change/cause feelings was ZEEBU.  
These videos are slowed down and use simple concrete language.  They use thought bubbles and lots of expression to teach thoughts and feelings as well.  I have bought all the Zeebu resources and I think they are fabulous.

Zeebu uses puppets and music that kids love.

Our parent group also continues, a lot of the time we shared in obstacles and then problem solved them or shared in successes.   We continued each session to talk about calming activities for the kids. Everytime practicing belly breathing.  I made laminated Nighttime Calming Activities Choice Boards for all my parents.  They loved them. Next up we introduce the idea of desensitization.  With the kids we talked about goal setting (earning rewards for helpful thoughts and being brave).  Can't wait to share it in the next blog post!  Thanks for reading.

My parents loved this to use with their kiddos at nighttime to establish a routine.  See it on my Teachers Pay Teachers site.