Frequently Asked Questions
Below are some of the questions that we have been asked most frequently. If you prefer to read them all at once, click below to view a PDF file of this information. However, you're welcome to ask additional questions by contacting us. You may call at 818-788-2100 or click here to use our secure contact form.
Why is there a materials fee for parents?
All families pay a materials fee. However, for private pay and school district pay families, this is incorporated into their total fees. Families who are funded by their Regional Center pay the materials fee, which covers food, raffle prizes, and outing costs for both school year and summer programs. For adults, it pays for just the food costs.
Why do you take public buses?
This provides an opportunity for the students to practice leaving other people alone and focusing on having conversations with one another.
Can parents sit in or observe meetings?
We receive requests from parents about this all the time. As much as we'd like to accommodate such requests, it would be disruptive to the students. We do video all sessions, except adult groups, and show snippets to families during the live parent support meetings that are held in the office.
My child doesn't want to eat a meal. Can I send special food with him?
We find that the vast majority of kids who attend our program are able to find something to consume. If your child has truly special needs regarding food and absolutely cannot eat in any sort of restaurant, then we would consider it with a doctor's note. However, we constantly have children who have restrictive food habits. One of the areas we work on is flexibility and being able to try new things. Of course, this includes foods. You may have tried, unsuccessfully and with frustration, to address this problem at home. Based upon our past experience, the majority of children either begin to try new foods or have a less intense negative emotional reaction when we offer them foods. This is something we can discuss further during the assessment process for your child.
Our family keeps Kosher/Vegetarian. How will my child be able to eat?
Just as we track food allergies, we can accommodate most Kosher families. The key question is this: Can your child eat dairy in a non-Kosher restaurant? If yes, we can have them attend, and if not, our program is not right for your child. It doesn't work out so well (we've tried) to have kids' parents deliver special meals or have the child bring food from home. Part of our program involves having the kids accept that they can have soda with some meals (with portion control) and only water with other meals. Often we link it to our activities. For example, if we have taken the children to the park, usually that will be a "water day," because it is healthiest to drink water after exercising (the kids are always offered water bottles or a nearby drinking fountain when we are out at a park).
My child says she won't attend any "social skills" program such as yours because the other kids won't like her.
Of course, your child couldn't know what the other kids are going to be liked until they meet the other kids. The real question is, do they need help regarding their social skills? If so, then you should consider some form of treatment or intervention for them. The disadvantage of individual therapy when it comes to helping a child learn (notice I didn't say teaching) important and useful skills, is that sitting with an adult who is understanding and empathetic bears very little resemblance to what it feels like actually being with a group of peers. Also, it is necessary for the child to process the information discussed with the adult, practice strategies developed in therapy outside of sessions, and recognize when their own social skill behaviors are adaptive versus maladaptive. That's a tall order for any child or teen.
Most social skills programs have "lessons" and "homework." Does LUNCH Groups®?
We do not "teach" social skills. Instead, after evaluating the group of children who will participate in our program, we set up situations that help them learn more effective ways of interacting with peers, managing their emotions in a social setting, learning to handle disappointment, and learning how to make and keep friends. Our use of technology and engaging activities keeps them motivated and interested plus allows them to practice behaviors in the office that would not easily be possible out in the community. We have multiple motivating reward systems that are largely based upon peer acknowledgement and status (for example, one peer might encourage another to try a new food, saying: "Remember, you'll probably earn a Hero Ticket."). Finally, we use peer and participant modeling, which can be very effective in helping children learn in indirect, non-threatening ways.
My child is highly gifted. I am worried about them picking up bad habits from less capable individuals. How do you address this?
Two-thirds of the world is average when it comes to intellectual prowess. Intelligence isn't always accompanied by sound, mature judgement and a set of social skills that will advance one socially or in their occupation or career. I have known countless highly gifted, underemployed and unemployed individuals who do not develop useful social skills. This costs them friends, job opportunities, and ultimately money and happiness. Learning how to use one's intellect is a powerful gift as well as knowing how to be kind to others. In our program, we accept a wide range of individuals and take care to develop a group where each of them can provide some level of support to others.
Why are the groups larger? I sent my child to a social skills program and there was just one counselor, and she had her hands full.
We maintain somewhere between a 1:3 to 1:5 staff to group participant ratio. One person could not likely effectively provide active social skills intervention for more than a few children. Additionally, staff have specific instructions to monitor selected children and are given specific techniques to use, determined by me. In essence, they are there to provide "the S's:" Support, Supervision, Structure, and Safety. The group leader often acts as a "roving clinician" and can observe your children engaged, or not engaged, in conversational and related activities. They may "set up" situations by instructing one or more of my staff or by speaking to one or more students directly. For example, if staff see two group members sitting silently at a restaurant, they might say to them, "You will each earn two Hero Tickets if you can tell one of the staff some interesting facts about each other." This is a social-cognition technique known as “information processing.” Then, as one child says to the other (let's say they're teens), "What is your favorite color?" They might be interrupted and asked if that meets the definition of "interesting." If necessary, we will involve an alumni member (someone who has attended the group previously) to help them come up with more truly interesting material for their topic discussion.
What are your staff's qualification to work with children?
My clinical staff is composed of doctorate and masters level graduates in psychology, education, or a related field. All have prior experience working with children before being hired. Support staff who work under the supervision of clinical staff typically have graduated or are in upper division college classes in similar majors. In addition, once they are hired, they participate in an intensive training program that mirrors the Parent Orientation program offered to parents when their children are accepted into the program. Finally, I monitor my staff very closely. Supervision is a dynamic, ongoing process. They know that if I see something I feel should occur differently, I will speak momentarily to one or all of them. Also, I will prompt and direct their interactions via nonverbal signs and gestures that are invisible to the group members.
How are families involved in your program?
There are a number of ways that we support parents (actually 10, but here are the main ones):
- Parent Orientation - This is a three hour training program we developed in the Summer of 2011. All parents are strongly encouraged to attend. This occurs prior to the first group meeeting. They learn or review the basics of behavior management, various data collection and parent support procedures, how to take various diagnoses and turn this information into target behaviors, and the kinds of strategies that we use during sessions.
- Parent Meetings - Our meetings occur three ways: a) In office meetings; b) Parent dinners, designed to help parents get to know one another and ask questions about their children; c) Online parent telemeetings, where families participate from the comfort of their own homes/offices.
- Parent Email Communication - I often develop extensive email communication relationships with families. This may include anything from clarification of specific techniques I have discussed to asking about how to generalize (extend) behaviors that are successfully changing in group to other settings, such as home, school, or the community.
- LUNCH Points - Every parent is encouraged to use this program to support the gains observed in LUNCH Groups. It consists of targeting specific behaviors that are important for your individual child and completing our online LUNCH Points program, which takes only a minute. This will result in the generation of a certificate, which parents print out and give to their child. It also contains a "parent review" section, where parents rate the effectiveness of their own behavior. Their child receives additional raffle ticket points based upon how effectively a parent reports they are working with their child. Finally, certificates include reinforcing phrases that parents can read to their child so they can begin to move away from the ubiquitous, and, in my opinion, useless, "Good Job!" We much prefer that parents make a specific verbal statement, describing what their child did in a concise, easily digestible phrase (e.g., "I'm really proud of how you pick up your room without being reminded.").
My child is very shy and quiet. How can this help them?
Shyness is what we consider to be an "internalizing behavior." Our approach for helping these children is quite different than for kids who do not have significant levels of shyness. My staff know that I will guide them as to when we want to be more focused on helping the child develop competent strategies, when we just want them to observe others, and when will be have them practice social skills, even if it makes them uncomfortable. This is a clinical judgment on my part and my staff follow my instructions. For example, we once had two children waiting at Baja Fresh to order their lunch. One child forgot to say "please" and "thank you" and staff appropriately had him start his entire order over, and used our strategy "Positive Practice" to help him order more politely. The next child, who was socially shy, also forgot to use these "words." Rather than focusing on this, my staff knew to focus on him picking up his head as he spoke, looking generally in the direction of the cashier taking his order, and using a slightly louder and more distinct voice level. That was plenty for him to work on; the "please" and "thank you" would have to wait. Finally, I monitor the child's level of autonomic activity as we work with them. Socially anxious children often do not evidence obvious signs of their level of discomfort.
Do you really use a therapy dog? What's the point?
Sophie is my third therapy dog. I have been using dogs to desensitize children and for other adjuncts in therapy since 1980. Previously I gained experience training animals at Sea World, San Diego, where I worked training dolphins for research studies on reinforcement and communication as an undergraduate student.
All of my therapy dogs have been Samoyeds. This breed is known for their intelligence, smiling face, and devotion to children. Sophie has been coming to my office since the Spring of 2009, when she was nine weeks of age. As is the case with my previous Samoyeds, Sascha and Brandy, Sophie will intuitively seek out children or adults who come to the office and "greet" them. At this point, currently 2 years old, she is well-behaved and will gladly avoid someone if I instruct her in that manner. She has a few unusual "tricks" which involve the children and will respond to their commands.
But why use a dog in the first place? I use Sophie as a means for facilitating communication, social understanding, and behavioral inhibition. Sometimes she can be an "attractive nuisance," coming into the large room when the children are supposed to be engaged in a project, such as computer animation. At those times, they are instructed to ignore her and rewarded for doing so. This provides an easy, naturalistic way, to work on behavioral inhibition. If her presence creates a problem, she has a kennel in my office and thinks of it as her "den," so she never minds going into it for a time. I have desensitized many fearful children over the years and particularly in the context of the LUNCH Groups program.
What should I do if my child reports that other children are being mean to him or her?
We really work hard to treat children respectfully and our parent data, going back several years, indicates we are pretty successful at this. There certainly can be occasions where a child treats another child in a disrespectful manner. We closely monitor for such behavior and have procedures in place to address this. That information is covered in more detail during the parent orientation. It is also true that we sometimes have a subset of children, fortunately rarely, who simply don't like the idea that they are being asked to change their behavior. For these situations, they will often complain to parents about group. If this happens, how you initially respond is critical. It is suggested that you acknowledge your child's complaints, then immediately contact us to learn our perception of events. I will typically email or ask my staff if they observed anything that could have set the occasion for this type of reaction. But, most importantly, please encourage your child to bring this concern up with us. I promise you we will respond positively, regardless of the type of complaint, whether it is valid or not. What we want to avoid is developing a sense in the child that such complaining will immediately end their participation in the program. If we are not the right fit, I will work with you to help you find an alternate program, but that usually is not why they have complained; they just don't wish to attend any program and do not see how their behavior might be creating social problems. Once they learn that such complaining ("everyone got a prize but me" -- nearly impossible unless it was used as a behavioral technique (see "extinction on steroids")), does not gain them power or control over the situation, one of two things will typically occur. 1) It temporarily worsens because they are trying even harder to be in charge, or 2) it diminishes once they learn this is not an effective way to get parents to do what they want.