Special Athletes Savor Olympic Moments

Congratulations to friend of CNNH, David Praiss, for powerlifting his way to three gold medals and one bronze at the 2014 Special Olympics! We are so proud of you David!

Excerpt:  “At the College of New Jersey in Ewing, a mist of white chalk sprang from the hands of David Praiss as he dropped a barbell into a shoulder-high stand. He had just come back up from a squatting position when his knees nearly touched his bright-orange “Genuine Jersey” T-shirt — meaning the state, not the fabric. He had 120 kilograms, or 265 pounds, of weight on his shoulders. As many champions do, Praiss pumped his arms in the air while cheers engulfed him inside Kendall Hall. Praiss, a 41-year-old with Down syndrome from Haddon Heights, is 5-foot-5 and all muscle. He won three gold medals and one bronze.”

Courtesy of the Philadelphia Inquirer and Inquirer Staff Writer Clark Mindock, published June 20th, 2014…

“On a soccer pitch in Mercer County Park near Trenton, a team of Philadelphia students fought their way to a 3-1 victory over Team Delaware on Thursday to secure a silver medal at the USA Special Olympics. “He got three goals,” said Dadley Thenor, the goalkeeper for Team Pennsylvania, pointing to his teammate Ayodeji Obisanya. “I feel good. I feel happy, I feel excited to win. I scored for the team,” Obisanya said as he got off the team bus after the game. Thenor, 20, and Obisanya, 16, both attend George Washington High School in Northeast Philadelphia. Thenor emigrated from Haiti in 2006. He had a clubfoot and mental disabilities. A U.S. citizen now, his club foot was surgically corrected. He stashes the walker he usually needs behind the net when he plays keeper for the team. Obisanya, who has other health issues, came to the United States from South Africa, arriving at George Washington this past fall. He loves his family and his home country, takes SEPTA to and from school, and enjoys movies. I’ve “never seen more smiles on all the athletes here,” said John Creighton, the coach of the team.


The 2014 USA Special Olympics, being held this week in the Trenton area, is the third since the first USA games in 2006. It is also the largest USA Special Olympics ever, with a budget that exceeds $20 million, compared with $7 million to $8 million for the first two.

At the College of New Jersey in Ewing, a mist of white chalk sprang from the hands of David Praiss as he dropped a barbell into a shoulder-high stand. He had just come back up from a squatting position when his knees nearly touched his bright-orange “Genuine Jersey” T-shirt — meaning the state, not the fabric. He had 120 kilograms, or 265 pounds, of weight on his shoulders. As many champions do, Praiss pumped his arms in the air while cheers engulfed him inside Kendall Hall. Praiss, a 41-year-old with Down syndrome from Haddon Heights, is 5-foot-5 and all muscle. He won three gold medals and one bronze. He has competed in Special Olympics events for 33 years, and it was not his first time winning. “You see what I mean about muscle weakness?” Donald Praiss, David’s father, said excitedly to those around him, referring to a common condition in those with Down syndrome — low muscle tone. “Bunch of baloney.” When he’s not watching professional wrestling or working out, David works five days a week at the Abilities Center of Southern New Jersey.

The USA games are not a qualifier for the international Special Olympics. The next USA games will be in 2018, though the venue has yet to be announced. The next world games will be in 2015 in Los Angeles. The larger USA games budget this year is the result of a reimagining of the sponsorship model the program uses, according to T.J. Nelligan, chairman and CEO of the 2014 USA Special Olympic Games. “We changed the entire paradigm of how the Special Olympics goes out to raise money,” said Nelligan, who had a son competing in bocce. The organizers wanted to make sure that any company that donated money would be able to see the marketing benefits, he said. The response has been good in Nelligan’s view: 52 companies donated $100,000 to $1 million, and others gave in-kind donations. ShopRite donated all the food for the 10,000 volunteers and 3,500 athletes from all over the country, about 270 from New Jersey and 200 from Pennsylvania. The WWE Network and Fox teamed up to broadcast a 30-second ad 5,000 times in 30 top U.S. media markets — at no cost to the program. “The exposure is beyond our wildest dreams,” Nelligan said. “That’s one of our goals. There are so many people that should be in these programs, and it’s free.” It gives those with disabilities the chance to make friends and feel like sports stars. The games around Trenton felt like a major sporting event, with large, stylized signs and graphics. The games are expected to draw more than 70,000 spectators during the week of competitions which ends Friday, with bocce, bowling, and power-lifting.”

21 Days to a Happier Lens

It all started way back in the summer of 2013. I was home with my teenage son, who was serially watching TED talks on his computer. From the kitchen, I overheard an engaging man speaking about Positive Psychology. “Wait!! Hold up!!,” I shouted, “Please restart that from the beginning!”. I had never heard of Positive Psychology. The ideas were intriguing and, for me, life changing.

The speaker’s name was Shawn Achor. He is an alumnus of Harvard University who has taught a class called “The Happiness Class”. Yes…he teaches a class on happiness to Harvard students.

Happiness is something we all want. Happiness is something that we all wish for ourselves, and especially for our children. But what can we do about making happiness a habit? Isn’t happiness just something that happens out of our control? Something you are or aren’t? How can we teach happiness?

Mr. Achor’s theory is that happiness is something we can achieve by doing, something we can actively pursue, something our brain can learn. We can change our brain through practice. We can make ourselves be happier by using our brain’s neuroplasticity (i.e. the ability of the brain to change and reorganize in response to behavior, memory, development, learning, and environmental influences) to our advantage.

Most people I know base their happiness on their achievements and rewards; that kind of happiness is often fleeting, though, or off in the distance. Perhaps we are happy… for a while. It is something that comes over us, but is it a general state of being? Could we achieve more in our lives if we started from a place of happiness rather than a place of chasing happiness? These are all questions asked and answered in Mr. Achor’s book, The Happiness Advantage.

The idea of doing something to become happier intrigued me. I had been working with my clients for years to change the way they think in order to change their emotional response to events and thus their actions. But this idea was new. I have been thinking about Mr. Achor’s ideas and applying some of them to my own life. I have even begun sharing them with clients in therapy sessions. His ideas about happiness are very accessible for people of all age groups, and I’d like to share them with you, too!

Here’s the idea… It takes 21 days to change a habit. Can we make happiness into a habit? Let’s try!

For 21 days do these 5 things, every day, and I guarantee YOU WILL BE HAPPIER!

  1. At the end of each day think of three things for which you are grateful or appreciative. Three different things for each of the 21 days!
  2. Write a journal entry about a positive event that happened to you that day.
  3. Exercise at least 10 minutes per day. Exercise helps to change neurotransmitters and alter your mindset.
  4. Meditate at least 10 minutes per day. Meditation is a great way to clear your mind of its preoccupations, eliminating any stress and anxiety that builds up throughout the day.
  5. Do one conscious random act of kindness each day. This does not have to be something difficult, make it an easy thing to fit into your day.


  • For me, it helped me stick to the exercise by emailing my #1’s and #2’s to a friend.
  • For me, after Day 10 I had a HARD TIME coming up with three different things I was grateful for EVERY DAY, and when I had a bad day, I had a hard time coming up with a positive story. But this challenge FORCED ME to search for things throughout my day that were positive stories and for things to be grateful for or appreciative of, and thus changed the lens through which I saw the world.
  • For me, this exercise was life changing.
  • I have taught this to 5 year olds and 75 year olds, and everyone likes it!
  • “Can I draw a picture of the positive story?  I don’t like to write,” asked one 9-year-old client. “Of course you can!”
  • The same client asked, “Can I bounce a ball against the wall when I meditate? It helps me clear my mind.” “If your Mom lets you, of course you can!”

Make these exercises fun and light!

Change your habits. Change your lens!

By Cindy Feder

Addressing Anxiety with Creative Arts Therapies

What is Anxiety?

Everyone has experienced a situation where they have felt stress, worry, or nervous – unsure of the outcome of a given situation, discomfort in a new environment, or fear of the unknown. To many people, brief moments of anxiety, or episodes of uncertainty are not something that needs to be examined by a medical professional, but to some children and adults, anxiety interferes with daily life.

For children, anxiety is associated with hyper-arousal (‘flight or fight response’) and with behavioral and verbal inhibition. Children with anxiety disorders show deficits in their ability to communicate their emotions to other people. Creative arts therapies (dance, music, and art) are recommended for children with anxiety due to their direct and at times, non-verbal, approach to perception, expression, and regulation of emotions, as well as the motivational and engaging nature of the therapies.

Creative Arts Therapies may take the form of individual or group therapies. Many children with anxiety may start in individual therapy in order to build a trusting relationship with the therapist and become familiar with the environment. The goal for many children with anxiety is not only to work on increasing self expression and decreasing feelings of anxiety, but also to feel comfortable in social settings.

In Music Therapy, children use musical play to express and regulate emotions, listen to specific relaxation music to regulate their psychophysical hyperarousal and stress level, and begin to communicate their feelings to other people (Goldbeck, L., Ellerkamp, T., 2012). Music therapists lead engaging songs and instrument playing activities, based on the interests of each individual. Music has the ability to trigger various emotions in all people, so identification and expression of emotions from ‘happy’ or ‘scared’, to ‘sad’ or ‘excited’ is a common goal of music therapy sessions. For example, a child may work on a song writing activity that discusses something ‘happy’ – such as a birthday. The therapist may then facilitate the song writing to develop a scenario about a birthday party, which may be a trigger for social anxiety. After the song is written, the child may be encouraged to find various instruments to demonstrate various parts of the song. The tambourine might represent the excitement of waking up on your birthday and opening presents, while the drum might represent the loud and overwhelming sounds of a crowd at a party. The child has now musically expressed various emotions and the music therapist can build discussion or future experiences from that point, dependent on the individual’s needs and abilities.

In Dance/Movement Therapy, individuals with anxiety can develop a heightened awareness of themselves, their emotions, and how to manage their physiologic responses to anxiety producing situations. The mind may over-analyze anxiety producing situations, and the body may respond with muscle tension, headaches and heightened blood pressure. Therefore, dance and movement exercises addressing anxiety may include: Relaxation Visualization exercises to increase body awareness, release emotional tension, and gain an effective coping strategy (Bourne 2005) and Mindfulness to help accept the current situation, foster patience and interrupt anxiety thinking (Foxman, 2007).
A dance/movement therapy session will incorporate role-play frequently throughout the activities. A child will develop individual ideas and creativity, while the therapist facilitates the use of non-verbal gestures, facial expressions, and interactions. Specific anxiety producing scenarios can be acted out and then re-played in various forms in order to work on developing and practicing coping strategies.

Art Therapy provides opportunities in self-expression, development of coping strategies, and improved self-regulation. In addition, art therapy opens the door for deeper communication into anxiety producing situations by first encouraging the child to engage in an art –making experience without using any verbal interaction, encouraging the creativity, and then finally processing verbally with the therapist. The art therapist will be aware of the use of various colors, force, and space within a creation and will then analyze the meanings behind this non-verbal expression in future experiences or conversations. Many art therapists also encourage daily ‘art’ journals, as an alternative to a written journal, which may be more motivating for a child.

Further Reading
Bourne, E. (2005). The Anxiety & Phobia Workbook Fourth Edition. Oakland, CA: New Harbinger Publications, Inc.
Foxman, P. (2007). Dancing with Fear. CA: Hunter House Publishers.
Goldbeck, L., Ellerkamp, T. (2012). A Randomized controlled trial of multimodal music therapy for children with anxiety disorders. Journal of Music Therapy, 49(4), 395-413.

By Kathleen Nace

Pro Soccer Player Tim Howard and Tourette Syndrome



As part of May being Tourette Syndrome Awareness Month, check out this interesting article about Tourette Syndrome and U.S. Goalkeeper Tim Howard’s public and private struggles with the disorder.

CLICK HERE to view the article

CLICK HERE to read about CNNH’s approach to Tourette Syndrome and Tics

Case-Control Study of Neurodevelopment in Deformational Plagiocephaly

A case of which came first, the chicken or the egg, this study looked the neurodevelopment in children with deformational plagiocephaly (DP) to determine if a significant relationship exists. By comparing children with and without DP, it was concluded that while DP does not cause neurodevelopmental delay, it is indeed a marker for higher risk of delays, most evident in motor function. Those children in the study with DP demonstrated lower scores on both motor composite scales and cognitive and language composite scales compared to their cohorts without DP. In addition, children with DP had greater deficits in gross motor abilities than fine motor. Follow-up evaluations at 18 and 36 months are needed to determine the stability of these findings.

Speltz M, et al. Pediatrics. 2009. doi:10.1542/peds.2009-0052

Behavior Therapy for Children with Tourette Disorder


Just published results from a larger NIMH-sponsored study indicate using a comprehensive behavioral intervention based on Habit Reversal (HR) for Tourette Disorder/Tics results in positive outcomes. This study validates several previously published smaller studies. The authors point out that the magnitude of the positive response to HR is comparable to the results of studies using neuroleptics. Even in those subjects that did not benefit, there was an absence of tic worsening with behavioral interventions. The authors discuss that there may need to be a reconceptualization of Tourette Disorder as not just a neurotransmitter disorder potentially treatable with dopamine-blocking agents (and their attendant side effects), but a more complex motor disorder of cortical and basal ganglia circuits that can lead to habit formation, and thus, may respond to behavioral interventions in some patients, but may necessitate medications in others. However, this study provides substantial support for behavioral interventions, particularly Habit Reversal, expanding available treatment options for patients, and providing an avenue for patients and families to take an active role in treatment.

Piacentini J, et al. JAMA. 2010; 303(19):1929-1937.

However, not to get fully away from the neurotransmitter aspects of Tourette Disorder, as a report from the New England Journal of Medicine links the role of histaminergic neurotransmission as a potential mechanism for mediating tics in one family.

By Mark Mintz

Projected Effect of Dietary Salt Reductions on Future Cardiovascular Disease

Reducing salt intake by about 30% of the current average in the U.S. population, or 3 grams per day, can reduce strokes and myocardial infarctions to a similar degree that smoking cessation and weight loss can. This intervention would not only save lives, but it would also save in health care costs from using medication to lower blood pressure.

Bibbins-Domingo K, et al. New England Journal of Medicine. 2010; doi:10.1056/NEJMoa0907355