There are about 150 students at the LaSalle School in Albany, a residential treatment center for troubled boys. Almost all of them have experienced serious childhood trauma, and then acted out because of it. In parts one and two of Breaking the Cycle, Katie Eastman explained how LaSalle changed the question for these boys from “What did you do?” to “What happened to you?” Now (in Part 3 of the Breaking the Cycle series), they’re encouraging their parents to do the same.
ALBANY, N.Y. — Fifteen year-olds, summed up in sentences hang from a LaSalle classroom ceiling.
“I love basketball,” one person wrote. “I love junk food,” said another mobile. These are the easy things to say.
“It’s something eating inside him but he doesn’t want to open up to nobody,” said Nyoka Gonzales.
But asking about the real stuff to figure out how to help your 15-year-old son is tough. “It seems like I can’t get through to him the way that I want to get through to him,” said Gonzales.
The 36-year-old worries about a knock on her door from a police officer. It’s happened before and she doesn’t want it to happen again. “Probation, it was court required,” Gonzales said about her son coming to the LaSalle School in Albany. “He had no choice but to come here.”
Most of the parents of all the boys who made the mobiles have had trouble asking the right questions to their sons too.
“This is where it all goes bad for us because we can’t understand, why do you think that way?” Troy Kennedy said to a classroom full of parents.
They come to LaSalle when the school day is over for their sons to take a class of their own, and get the answers they’ve been needing.
“Let’s teach the parents how to behave so their kids will too,” said Kennedy. Kennedy trains parents based on information he’s learned from the Adverse Childhood Experiences study. ACEs was the first time scientists connected what we intuitively guessed about childhood trauma with real facts. The CDC and Kaiser Permanente interviewed more than 17,000 adults and found if they experienced 3 out of 10 types of trauma as children- they were far more likely to have mental and medical disorders as an adult.
“Information changes the situation,” Kennedy says is one of his mottos. He’s working to reverse the trauma, and he’s teaching the parents the same tools the teachers and counselors at LaSalle use.
Gonzales stopped arguing with her son when she learned his outbursts came from a part of his brain going into fight or flight mode. “I know how to deal with it, I walk away,” she said. “I’m not going to sit and argue with a 15-year-old.”
There’s no magic trick taught at these meetings, just information about the brain that Dr. Kennedy wants to spread.
“You can ask the average human being, why do you behave like that? They can’t answer that, they don’t know that all behavior is driven on 3 things: feelings, needs, and wants,” said Kennedy.
Gonzales’ son still doesn’t listen to her, but she’s got to hope, if she keeps doing it right that knock will never come.
“I tell him I care, otherwise if I didn’t, I wouldn’t be on your back,” she said.
LaSalle School is a leader in programs and services for youth and families in crisis offering a variety of programs designed to meet their needs including specialized residential placement, day service education, and alternative to detention services. The Counseling Center at LaSalle is an OMH and OASAS licensed outpatient behavioral health clinic located at LaSalle School, and currently implementing ACE treatment practices with youth and families. LaSalle is accredited by the Council on Accreditation (COA), and affiliated with the Council of Family and Child Caring Agencies (COFCCA), and the national Alliance for Strong Families and Communities.