Helping Neurodiverse Students Grow, with Dr. Eric Nach | EDB 208
Dr. Eric Nach shares how he supports the growth of students with autism, ADHD, and other diagnoses.
(33 minutes) Dr. Eric Nach is the Founder and President of the Support for Students Growth Center in Boca Raton, FL. He has 3 decades of experience working with children with special abilities and their families. Dr. Nach is credited with creating and teaching the Autism Endorsement courses at Lynn University. He is a national speaker on topics such as; “Improving Behavior and Social Skills in Children and Adolescents with Perceptual Differences” and “Promoting Behavioral, Academic, and Social Success for Students with High Functioning Autism” to professionals in the field. Dr. Nach is also a professional consultant with FAU High School and multiple private schools in the South Florida area in addition to being a “consultant/advocate” for families at IEP/504 meetings and school district meetings.
For more information about Dr. Nach’s work, visit:
Note: while this interview was filmed before the pandemic, the Support for Students Growth Center is offering their services virtually. Visit the above links for more information.
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Welcoming Dr. Eric Nach
DR HACKIE REITMAN (HR): Hi, I’m Dr. Hackie Reitman. Welcome to another episode of “Exploring Different Brains”. And today, we’re so lucky to have with us, Dr. Eric Nach, who is the president of the Support for Students Growth Center up in Boca Raton, where he helps so many of us whose brains might be a little bit different. Eric welcome!
DR ERIC NACH (EN): Well, thank you so much Hackie. Very nice to be here today and to meet with everybody.
HR: Why don’t you introduce yourself properly?
EN: I will give you a couple minute overview. My name is Dr. Eric Nach. I am the President of the Support for Students Growth Center up in Boca Raton. We’ve been in business since 2012. I have spent the last 30 years of my professional life working with individuals with special needs including Autism, Asperger’s, learning disabilities, communication disorders, behavioral issues. I spent aboout seven years working in psychiatric hospitals when I first started working as an adult. My first adults’ jobs if you will and I worked a lot with adolescents and teens and I saw that there was a lot of lot of need going on and what I was able to do at that point, I wanted to do more. I didn’t want to just work as what was considered a “milieu therapist” at that time which was like helping the therapist and psychologist and such. So, I went back to school and connected with the Palm Beach County School District and I worked 18 years there and worked my way up to being a ESC department chair and opening a school in Boca Raton called Don Estridge High Tech Middle School and I ran the special Ed department for 10 years that I was there. And the intent, the reasoning for going into that was because there are many students out there that were very cognitively capable or, or within reason but they had all the stuff going on and that other stuff wasn’t always completely addressed by the school system.
So, we found in a High Tech Middle School that a lot of our kids with perceptual challenges whether they be Autism spectrum, what we used to be called Asperger, ADHDish, Perceptual issues did very well with technology and they were drawn to it. Now of course, as you would imagine that the challenges not going into the play world with it, but being able to use a technology to enhance what we’re doing. So, as I went through the system there I did a lot of social skills groups, I was given the autonomy to do so. I got a PhD focusing on Autism education and interventions and that’s what I focused on. Pretty much since 2009 almost exclusively, a lot of what comes into that is the comorbidity issues of the ADHD, of the learning disabilities, of the anxiety to depression. The whole gamut of to; what else is going on. And so, I did very good with getting information and connecting with others and getting training and working with different organizations and in 2012, we created the Support for Student Growth Center and the intent behind was, that we wanted to be able to provide the services that the schools can’t always do.
So, we do everything from individual counseling, family counseling and coaching, we have 13 social skills groups that meet each week from ages four well into the twenties and just a whole list including summer camps and all kinds of things. I’ve got nine clinicians work in office with me that are licensed mental health counselors, licensed clinical psychologist who does testing, master in doctoral level autism endorsed, ADHD endorsed professionals and I also have about a dozen special Ed teachers that do services in home, and they’ll go to the homes and they’ll work on the academics with the kids with me, to work on the behavior issues. I have a couple of behaviors on board and they do a lot of executive functioning work. We find that a lot of what happens with our students is that they’re struggling with planning, organizing, following through on so many different levels and quite often are the young people that work with, their brains are busy there at their spending time in that worry world of what could have been or what’s going to happen and they get into a lot of that. A lot of them have different types of trauma’s that they’ve been through. Unfortunately, there’s real-life bullying and shunning and harassing that goes on in life, not just in the schools and our job is empowerment. If we had to put it down to one word it’s about empowering the students and it’s about empowering the parents, helping them have the tools to help their children be as functional as they can, to be able to go on in and live independently, to go to college, to have families, to learn how to navigate. Whatever it is that’s in their way that’s holding them back, to be able to figure out how to get to where they want to go in spite of that.
HR: You’ve articulated that very well and I know you and I both think labels are a lousy way to describe a human being. But it’s interesting to me is that hit my ears, you were describing so many of the challenges and so many of the comorbidities that go along with so many of us with stress and anxiety and a little bit of depression and trying to get things organized in this increasingly complex world of ours. And the one biggest challenge that we seem to all have, especially nowadays, is that of developing and keeping strong social relationships. Would you care to elaborate on that?
EN: Absolutely. One of the main functions, main purposes of, of schooling, of interacting with others is allowing and helping human beings learn how to socially interact with others. We are social beings, we are not intended to live in isolation. So, as we go through and we’re little, 3, 4, 5 year olds and we’re getting into the schools and we start getting into third grade and the pressure is just off the chain with the FSA testing and all of that and especially once the kids start getting into that 4th grade mode. 4th/5th grade they become much more cognizant of what are peers are doing and they see, “Hey, I don’t do things like that.”, “I have a hard time doing what they’re doing.”, and that’s why we get a lot of this anxiety, that’s where we get a lot of this depression, that’s what we get a lot of this self-defeatist type of behavior, “I’m not good enough.” self-concept takes a beating with so many of our kids, because they’re seeing themselves based on how they think the rest of the world sees them. And I look at their peers and elementary, middle, high school and their peers are interacting, they’re doing, they’re going to parties, they’re on sports teams, they’re doing things in school, they’re hanging out during lunch and our kids struggle with being able to express what their needs are and even before that, identifying what their needs are. Quite often if you ask a middle schooler about, “Hey, tell me about your friend’s situation?”, “You know you have a best friend?”, “I don’t want a friend, they’re a waste of time.” I don’t need them.
All smokescreen, all defense, because every time I’ve tried to initiate and nurture a friendship, they just happened had quite often the ability to really make that happen when it comes to social, it’s all about the communication how can that are little guy be able to communicate and let somebody know what they like, what they dislike, what they believe, if they have a hard time identifying what that is. So, the self-advocacy is one of the key skills that we’ve always addressed, that I’ve always addressed when it comes to helping our guys and girls learn how to generalize the skills that we teach in our groups and then our services. A lot of this is so contingent on the parents follow through and then probably getting a hold of one of your questions to come later, what are some of the big challenges? One of the biggest challenges is the skills that we’re teaching where the schools may be teaching have to be generalized out into other environments.
It’s not just what’s taught at a school or our services but how is Bobby going to use it up there. So, that’s why they come to us not enough of them to do well it with us for a couple hours but to be able to do that in school, to be able to do that at the bar mitzvah, to be able to do that in the dentist office, to be able to do that in the family gatherings. So, it’s that social, just every part of a human being, even today with technology being so extreme and my educated thought is that over the next 10, 20, 30 years, it’s going to become even more a critical part of life. You still have to be able to have those interactions with people and even more importantly, as human beings, we crave them. So, if I don’t know how to have that interaction, at least for very lonely existence.
Utilizing therapy dogs
HR: Which is a natural Segway to our other guest today, who can give that individual unconditional love, give them self-esteem, know that they’re not on trial, and give them a hug in a way, so that their body can then secrete some oxytocin and some other wonderful things. Why don’t you introduce us to the real star of the Student Growth center? Daisy, the star of the show.
EN: This is Daisy. Daisy is our almost 5-year-old golden doodle certified through Therapy Dogs International, therapy dog. She is as hypoallergenic as you can get. She is what’s called an f-1b golden doodle. She is besides being my dog and being the best, because we all have the best. This dog I work 9 to 9 Monday through Friday, she’s with us the whole time. She is the one who has been trained to be able to identify the anxiety and stress, So, it’s that anxiety release that somebody has. She is awesome with young people. The smaller the better as far as she’s concerned. We have her throughout the office when we do individual, in groups, whatever we do, when I go out and I do trainings and different things. If appropriate, I bring her with. And what she is wonderful at doing is just giving it as you mention that unconditional love. There is no judgement here. She does not care if your hair looks good or if you have the latest shoes on, She does not care. All she wants to do is love and hug and tell you that it’s all okay and she is absolutely wonderful. Off… good girl.
What we do is, when somebody comes into our office 99.9% of the time, that first time they come in, they’re in crisis. It’s hit the fan and they don’t know what else to do, they’ve been to the doctors, to the therapist, to the whatever that they’ve done, and they’re just not getting the results. So, we’re kind of that that last house on the block quite often and the moms and the kids or the dads or the families or the grandparents, we’ve had the whole dynamic and siblings often play a good part of this considerable, is that she helps bring down the initial anxiety when our kids whether they’re four to twenty something, whether they’re spectrum, ADHDish, pieces of this and that, when they come into a new environment especially in a doctor’s office, their anxiety is up through here. They don’t they don’t know what to expect. They don’t know what’s going to happen. They know what experiences they’ve had already, and some may have been fantastic, some of them not so wonderful. So, they don’t know what’s going to happen. She just takes that fire out.
I can tell you 20 stories of issues where I’m working directly with the with the young people and their anxiety has gotten the better of them and one particular case thirteen, fourteen-year-old male, year/year-and-a-half ago came and just swearing, alright, and just very upset, “I’m not going to talk to you, and this…” and I said, “Alright, you let me know, I wasn’t going to hurt nobody.” Daisy went over, jumped in the chair next to him, no joke, no exaggeration. Just sat there and just stared at him 2-3 minutes, he put her hand on her, now, the minute or two, she laid down, head on his lap. Now, he started to pat, now he’s calming down a little bit. He starts expressing, communicating what the heightened anxiety fear is all about. We got to the end of it. We made a difference, without her, that particular situation, that particular session, there’s no way the level of progress indifference that we made would have happened without her presence. She did what I could not do by myself. She helped them get out of himself, she helped just bring it down a notch. Now, not everybody is fortunate enough to have a daisy in their life and the fact that she’s a certified therapy dog allows me to do things that that your typical dog wouldn’t be allowed to do because they don’t have that certification. However, the regular pet dog quite often is very in-tune, is very emotionally aware. Especially when they’re treated appropriately and quite often, will go to that area of greatest need in the home.
So those parents who may be listening of those practitioners and it’s like you know what, Bobby has a puppy at home, has a dog at home and he gets along great with. You can utilize that to help Bobby be able to use that animal to help him regulate self-regulation is lot of what we’re talking about here, self-monitoring, how am I doing self-regulation, how do I adjust to what’s going on so I’m not just reactive. So how can Bobby learn to use his animal so that he can use that to help regulate himself and be able to visualize, use that, bring it into memory so that when they’re not around the dog to still help bring themselves back to focus, bring them back to where their feet are, to bring them back to here. So, it’s a phenomenal tool that just one of many and I love having her in my life and it helps so much on all different levels.
Tools for parents
HR: We’re into different tool that actually help here in different brains as opposed to just lamenting we have a problem and you gave us some excellent, excellent tools. Let’s talk about some of the tools that you use to get the parents in a family, with a member who’s maybe a young one who’s brain is a little bit different, see’s things a little bit differently as you put it many times. What are some of the tools that you use to get the parents on the same page?
EN: Excellent and super critical question because without the parents being on board, the likelihood of generalization and change is greatly reduced. So, with the parents, there’s several different levels of what goes on, probably the thing that we’ve learned the most as a bi-product. A benefit of our social skills program is that our social skills program is set up in such a way and anybody please feel to borrow it, replicate it, it’s not a secret, it’s that there are 90 or so lessons that I’ve created over the last 20-25 years, using some of the greatest interventionist that are out there, Michelle Garcia Winner, Jeff Baker certified in the Peer’s Program out of UCLA. So many different components and I’ve put it together to work in how we do to do the things. So, what we do is from each of those lessons, each week, one lesson is taught in all 13 of our groups. Its adjusted for the group of kids that you have. We have those four, five, six-year olds, we have those eighteen to twenty-five year olds, we’re obviously not going to do the same lesson in the same activities with the two groups. So, all of my therapists who are doing the groups and by the way we do a 3 to 1 staffing, all with licensed Mental Health Counselors and such. They are following the curriculum that I’ve established from there. So, with that, we’re starting off each group doing brain storming, trying to get somebody to do something different if they don’t see a value in it, less than more than difficult, probably near impossible.
So, if we’re going to get a four-year-old or a fourteen-year-old, and we want them to start to learn how to join into a conversation in a more productive way, or deal with anxiety and social communication, we have to be able to show them, help them see what the importance is of doing it. So that’s one of the brainstorming comes in, and the counselors are very good, very adaptive to being able to when are you going to need to join into a conversation? What is it that you will get out of joining into a conversation? It always come back to what they get, alright, any of us as a consumer, it’s not about this is a wonderful product, it’s of how it’s going to work for me. Same type of thing. So, we want to get that value from the kids. Then we go into the modeling. The modeling isn’t accurate real life in your face what is it look like.
Alright – we stay with the positive as much as possible but sometimes we have to use a little non-example, here’s an example: joining into conversations. If you think about it, there’s a group of three, four kids. Our child wants to join in. Alright. There are seven or eight different prerequisite skills that a person needs to know in order to be successful in joining into our conversation. You have to be able to read facial expressions and body language, you have to be able to pick up on voice tone. Are they happy or they’re mad? Then you have to be able to use proximity, how many of us experience when we have our little guys and girls or older that when they interact with somebody, Bam! Right on your face. Alright. Most people aren’t excited about that. So, we want to gently move into the situation there. Join into a conversation, they’re talking about a movie they saw last night, you want to come in and talk about Pokemon? Pretty much, you’re not going to fit into that conversation. So, you have to listen as to what it is, you have been able to talk on par and then you have to know what is the right time to join it. So that the good and not-so-good examples are when there is a group that is encouraging you to come in. So, Bobby looks over and then one of the kids is just like “Hey!”. It gives it, compared to the group is a closed group and gives you one of those. You got to be able to read that, if not, our trials are going into a situation that is a no win. So, we show them what does it look like to joining into a conversation or one of these other topics. Then from there comes the role playing, alright.
That’s one of them, everything has its value, the role-playing everybody’s up out of their seat and we’re actually practicing, so if we’re doing joining into a group, we have that group here and now, how are you going to do it? And the councils will walk with them step by step, you were the one joining in, what are the steps involved? Now you’re the one who’s part of a group alright, how do you interact with somebody who’s trying to join in? How do we handle it when you’re invited in? Hey, how do you handle it? Go away. How do you do that? So, it’s actually practicing it. So those are the three main components, we do some other little activities, some warm-up, some join-in, depending on the levels and all. But it’s a very involved, it’s not a lecture activity and then, the part for the family is the last couple minutes of each of the groups, the lead counter will always come out and talk to the parents. They have a document, it goes along with the lesson that was made and it explains what was the topic this week that we were focusing on.
A few key points as to why some of our young people or older people with perceptual challenges have difficulty with acquiring these skills and then most importantly, I think, is, what can the parents do outside of our center to be able to help generalize these skills? So, we get them like three or four suggestions, what I encourage them to do is to read it over, take the one that seems fit your lifestyle the best, and then go ahead and start to merge that, so that when Bobby is getting a support on how to join into a conversation, what we taught him, what mom tells him, what the teacher directs him to do, what the dentist is suggesting, what the priest a rabbi or Grandma and Grandpa, everybody’s giving the same message. That’s when generalization occurs, if everybody’s well-intentioned, but they are giving a different message, confusion, no generalization. So, they had fun, but they didn’t learn anything that they can use.
The role of teachers
HR: What is your method then for getting the third leg of the chair, the teacher, on the same path?
EN: The, all of the components, the way I describe it to the parents is everything that we do in our services starts with initial consultation with me. I sit down, I meet, spend a good hour, application, Blah blah blah… What happens is that I described that there’s three parts of a triangle here. You, the student and us. Now part of the us is the other professional entities in our life, which is the teachers, which is the other therapist, things of that nature. The way that I encourage the parents to address that because it has to come from the parents is to, number one, have a dialogue going with the with the teacher. Any of our kids and being in the school system for so many years. Any of our kids within the first couple weeks of school, the parent has to reach out to the teacher and teachers. And say “Hey Mrs. so and so, just wanted to introduce myself, I’m Bobby’s mom. I don’t know if you had a chance to see Bobby’s IEP or 504 yet. Let me kind of give you a little summary as to who Bobby is and what Bobby’s all about. What we found doesn’t work so well and as important or more, what has worked? So that this way, this teacher has that information going in and they don’t kind of get it piece meal. So, most teachers are going to be very happy to have that information because it gives them step up, so now when that dialogue is established, I would go ahead and say you know what Bobby does a social skills group or he is working with a counselor or whatever he’s doing and each week, we get information that is helpful is it okay if we share that with you? So that when you’re interacting with bobby or the power professionals or other people, you can be part of our team. Alright, because Bobby, all of our Bobbies need a team. It’s not addressed a parent and a kid. It’s not just us and the kid. It’s got to be a team to work together, to help them.
HR: Why don’t you tell our audience how they can get in touch with you?
EN: Okay, we have a very, very formidable imprint on the on the internet, if you put my name in Google, Dr. Eric with the C, Nach and N.A.C.H. You will get two full pages of all different things I’ve done, and we’ve done, and my team has done and in addition, Google once again Support for Students Grow Center or so many different things, Autism Boca Raton, social skills, ADHD, executive functioning. Many, many different searches will scroll back to us. Our office number is 561-990-7305. And that is our direct line in and ninety-nine times out of a hundred when you called between the hours of 9 and 9 Mondays through Friday, Paula my office manager and wife will pick up the phone and she will see what your needs are and get you to me or get you to the right person and help figure out what the next step will be. Our website is very current, modern developing. I put a Blog article on virtually every week. The name of our website is the same as our company. It’s a little lengthy in hindsight probably would have done things a little differently, but it’s SupportForStudentsGrowthCenter.com.
Developing soft skills
HR: Your online presence for Dr. Nach Online. Tell us about that.
EN: Well, what that does is, we found that one of the other avenues of need was helping with what’s called soft skills. Soft skills is as a gentle word for success skills and executive functioning, managing time, planning, prioritizing, dealing with conflict, speaking in public. All these other things that so many people especially are later teens into college, they have gotten pretty good at the academics at that by that point, but they don’t have the other skills that go with it and what we’re finding is that they’re going away to college, where they’re going to a local two or four year, I don’t even think there’s two years anymore, a local four year, and they just aren’t able to live independently, they’ve never written a check, they have no clue how to balance a checkbook, they are not able to go shop for themselves, that they just can’t plan and put a list together, even more so, once they start working, because they may get the degrees, as the young man I was talking to you before, he is in his late twenties, he’s got a Bachelor’s degree in a significant field and every time he tries to go work, he’s not able to pull it together with his peers. He’s not punctual, he gets there late, he will have conversations with people at the inappropriate times, he will borrow something off of your desk if you’re not using it, but he needs it, just a disconnect no malicious intent, it’s just a disconnect with that and so many other things. So, what we’ve done is, I’ve created a dozen different programs or work books that are all independent, that are self-focused, they’re broken into a dozen different modules, each module is online and you’re reading through it and you see the different examples and you practice doing them then you have to take a little quiz. You need to get at least a 70% and then you go on to the second module. This is in the way that we use it is, twofold.
One, people can do that independently or if they have somebody working with them, they have somebody working on executive functioning living skills, soft skills with them, they can use that and help them together to learn those skills. Which is really what I was hoping the most would come out of it, is that it would be a tool for professionals to use with their clients and then the second part is individually I have five or six special Ed teachers and licensed therapist that do strictly executive functioning. And they use these manuals in hard copy and they work directly with our young people from 5th grade and on. So, they work with managing your time management. All right these are some skills, lets you use your stuff using these skills to help you learn how to manage your time. When it’s all said and done, they have their work book, they have their reference guide and they’re able to use that, so if next year they forgot how to do something or something that they learned really wasn’t a value at that time, but a year or two or three later, it became of value was like, “Oh yeah, it’s all right here!”.
So, it’s a resource to help bring that together. An addition to that, I have a lot of blog articles that I have created and I include that, all was part of that and I’m not going to promote on that level, but it is so cheap, it’s not funny, $29 a month for unlimited whatever I mean, you know, anyway I just want to see it out there, I want people to use it as a resource, the effort on my part is done, I don’t have to do a whole lot to keep it going and then of course we use it as an individual tool as well.
A final piece of advice for parents
HR: Dr. Eric Nach, what is the one piece of advice you might have for families, who have a child who sees things a little bit differently?
EN: I think parents need to be aware, that because their child may be wired differently, just means that then we need to take a different approach to get to where we want to go.
HR: Well, Dr. Eric Nach. Thank you so much. I’m sure we’ll be having you back again real soon, and thank you for spending this time with us and keep up the good work!
EN: Well I appreciate it, and the same with you and with Different Brains and I’m glad that we have I have reached out and moving together and moving forward – it’s all good!