How to Use Brain Building 101

Welcome practitioners! Here are some tips and guidance for using Brain Building 101 with the adolescents you work with. Please feel free to reach out with any questions!

Table of Contents:

  1. Basic Tips
  2. Session Breakdown
  3. Page by Page Instructions

1. Basic Tips for Using Brain Building 101

Here are a few tips to get you started!

Review Before You StartAs with any new tool, there is a learning curve.  Look through the book before you use it the first time and think about how you might introduce each piece given your personal style.
Multiple SessionsLearning about your differences or disability can be overwhelming.  Brain Building 101 helps with overwhelm by introducing information about learning and the brain over multiple sessions.  Referencing the pages over the course of multiple testing sessions will set the child up for an empowering – and consumable – feedback session.

If you use the book after testing is complete or in a therapeutic context, it may be helpful to split it over 2-3 sessions.
Choose Your Own OrderYou do not have to go through the pages in order – in fact, I often find I’m going back and forth between pages depending on where the conversation goes.

Some pages will be more relevant to one child than another, so spend only the time that you need.
Write in it! This book is designed with a general, open structure so that it is easy to personalize for the specific child you are working with, as well as your own personal style.

Draw, write, add, illustrate, and annotate the book as you discover new information about the child throughout testing.  Encourage the child to write and draw in the book, too.
Prepare the BookBefore the feedback session, you may wish to write a few notes on the pages. I like to use small sticky notes to emphasize that these are ideas only – and can be changed.

You can also use the Assessment Summary Handout.  This way, you have everything written down, but you can pick and choose during your session based on what the child is ready for or where the conversation leads.

(This Assessment Summary Handout turns into a great additional take-home for parents as a child-friendly summary of the most important findings.)
Less is MoreOften it is not helpful to tell a young person everything we learned.  Choose 1-3 items for each page.

Remember, this tool is meant to start the conversation and give adults some tools to continue talking about the child’s profile over time.  Understanding is not a single event – it is a journey!

For comorbid conditions, it can be helpful to choose one diagnosis or concept as the primary focus.

If parents would like to add more later, the Assessment Summary Handout can help give them the language to do so.
Send it Home!After the feedback session(s), give the child the book to take home.  If your feedback was virtual, mail it to them.
Additional MaterialsThe following materials may be helpful when using this book:
– Different colored markers
– Plush neurons from Giant Microbes
– Squishy brain stress ball or brain model
“How to Explain” Blog Series

2. Session Breakdown

This is how I use the book across testing sessions.  Your setup may be different, but hopefully, this gives you ideas.  Please let me know how you use the book, and I’ll add it to the manual for others to learn from!

Testing Session 1Testing Sessions 2-3Feedback Session
ThemeAll About You and Your BrainHighways & Construction ProjectsSpecial Terms & Tools
Pages4-1112-1314-17
Objectives












Explain why we are doing the assessment

Learn what they like to do

Introduce parts of the brain and how they work together to do those things they like to do

Establish a growth-mindset approach

Develop assessment questions (often these will evolve over time)
Identify strengths (highways) from the child’s experience or testing observations

Help them talk about current challenges (construction projects)

Compare strengths and challenges to help develop additional assessment questions

Keep returning to previous pages as needed to help integrate information
Review what you and the child have discovered during testing

Introduce specific terms that will help them understand and explain their brain (diagnosis or other terms)

List the tools and strategies that can help


3. Page by Page

Below you will find guidance for how to use each page of the book. These are meant as suggestions and examples, so use them as a jumping-off place to figure out what works best for you.

Pages 4-5: Introducing the Book

Goals:

  • Introduce assessment as a discovery process
  • Introduce the book as a way to document what you discover

Things to Say:

We are here to learn about your brain.  Brains are amazing – they all have parts that are pretty similar, but everyone’s brain does things a little differently. 

We’re going to be doing a bunch of different things that will help us discover how your unique brain works, and what’s going to be most helpful to you to do things that you want to do. First, tell me some things you like to do. Then we’ll see how your brain does these things.

What to Write:

List different activities the child likes to do. This can be in or out of school.

Additional Notes:

There are no wrong answers here.  What the child says will help you understand their attitude towards and understanding of the testing process.  


Pages 6-7: The Parts of the Brain

Goals:

  • Introduce brain-based vocabulary
  • Show the child that there are many parts of the brain that work together to do what they like to do
  • Show the child that they use their whole brain to do the things they love  

Things to Say:

The brain has different parts, all working together to help you do the things you want to do.  There are parts in charge of understanding what you hear, what you see, where you are, coordinating movement, and keeping you organized and on top of things.  

Pick one of the things you listed on the last page. How do the different parts of your brain help you do that thing?

What to Write:

  • Write an activity the child likes to do at the top of the page, then talk about how the different parts of their brain help them do that thing.  
  • For example, to play video games, you need to see the images, know where things are, hear sounds or comments from teammates, coordinate your movements, and make some quick decisions.
  • These pages include very general labels.  Depending on the child, you may wish to:
    • Write in additional information about each part
    • Label other areas of the brain (e.g., sensory and motor strip)
    • Draw in specific circuits or pathways relevant to the child

Additional Notes:

I often revisit this page throughout testing as we discover new things, if a particular test is easy or hard, or if the child asks a question about the brain.


Pages 8-9: The Emotional Brain

Goals:

  • Explain how our emotional brain and our “thinking brain” interact
  • Normalize how hard it is to think when we’re feeling intense emotions or overwhelmed by sensory information
  • Encourage kids to talk about times that big feelings or sensory overwhelm made it hard to think
  • Introduce the idea that “the CEO” can get stronger and build skills to help when we get overwhelmed

Things to Say:

Our emotional brain is important for our survival. It is constantly scanning our environment to figure out if we are “safe” or not. For the most part, our brains are really good at figuring out what’s important to pay attention to and what’s not. Our thalamus helps us filter important (and unimportant) sensory information, our amygdala helps activate us if there is danger with our fight/flight/freeze/fawn response, and our hippocampus connects what’s going on now to what we already know.

These parts work closely with the Executive Lobe (the decision-maker) to help us respond wisely to what’s happening. However, sometimes this system gets overwhelmed, especially if it’s taking in a lot of information at once or has a negative memory associated with it. In these cases, your amygdala may take over and you may experience some very big feelings. This can make it hard to think!

Can you think of a time when your emotions have taken over? Are there any sights, sounds, smells, or other sensations that make it hard for you to concentrate or think?

What to Write:

Write in the ways that the emotional brain helps the child do the thing they chose for page 7. You may also wish to draw in the connection between the amygdala and the frontal lobe, to show that they are constantly communicating with each other.

Additional Notes:

  • Many young people with sensory processing challenges are not aware that sensory overwhelm can cause anxiety or anger. Introducing this idea early on helps them start to understand the connection so it is easier to explain at feedback.
  • For kids who struggle with emotional regulation, you may find this a helpful page to return to during testing, especially if they “shut down” during a specific test to help them talk about what happened.

Page 10: Neurons Connecting Like Roads

Goals:

  • Introduce the “roads under construction” metaphor
  • Introduce the idea that everyone is always making new connections, and the brain is always changing

Things to Say:

All these different parts talk to each other by sending messages using special cells called neurons.  Neurons connect to each other, making pathways in your brain like billions of tiny roads.  

When you have a thought or want to do something, you can think of these messages as cars bringing information from one place to the next.  

What to Write:

I do not typically write on this page; however, you are welcome to do so!


Page 11: Assessment Questions

Goals:

  • Help the child identify what would be helpful to know about their brain, how they learn, or why certain situations are challenging
  • Introduce the concept of an “assessment question” to return to throughout testing

Things to Say:

Your parents/teachers have some specific questions we’ll be exploring through our work together, like [share one question adults have asked.] Our job will be to come up with some questions that you’d like to answer. These may be about how your brain works best, why certain things are hard, or how you can get better at something. Your questions may be about school, home, friendships, siblings, or anything else!

Do you have any questions you can think of right now? If not, we’ll keep returning to this page as we come up with them.

What to Write:

Write in the child’s questions using their words. Continue to add questions as they come up over the course of testing.

Additional Notes

Coming up with an assessment question is really hard for many kids. Don’t be surprised if they don’t have one right away. Throughout testing, keep your ears open for possible questions. For example, if the child mentions they don’t like History class, this may turn into “Why is History always my hardest class?”


Page 12: Highways

Goals:

  • Talk about the child’s strengths
  • Document strengths discovered during testing

Things to Say:

There are some things our brains make easy for us to do.  These are your brain’s highways. A highway may be something that came naturally, or something you’ve practiced a lot.  What are some of the things that come easily to you?

What to Write:

  • What the child identifies as a strength or comes easily
  • What you’ve heard from parents or teachers about their strengths
  • Strengths you discover during testing

Additional Notes:

  • During testing, you can continue to add things to this “strengths” page as they come up in conversation.
  • At the feedback session, use this page to add specific strengths found in the testing in kid-friendly language.

Pages 13: New Construction

Goals:

  • Establish that the brain is constantly growing, learning, and changing
  • Find out what “construction” has gone smoothly and what has been more difficult
  • Talk about current challenges

Things to Say:

When you come across something challenging, it means the roads are still under construction.  Some construction goes smoothly – and that feels great! Can you think of something that used to be hard but isn’t anymore – a skill you’ve built?

Now, what are some things your brain is working on now? What are your current construction projects?

What to Write:

  • Write in, or ask the child to write in, anything they are working on
  • If appropriate, you may introduce some of the areas adults are concerned about. For example, “Your parents said you were working on your writing skills. Does that feel true to you?”

Additional Notes:

  • Continue to add to this page throughout testing as different challenges come up in conversation.
  • Often a great assessment question will emerge from comparing highways and construction projects. For example, “Why is X easy but Y so hard?”

Pages 14-15: Helpful Terms

Goals:

  • Identify some helpful terms or words the child can use to describe their strengths and challenges – these may be diagnostic words, processing terms, or simply the word “neurodiversity”
  • Define these words in a child-friendly way
  • Demystify and destigmatize the diagnosis 

Things to Say:

In our work together, we discovered your strengths and challenges. It turns out, you’re not alone! This pattern is common, and we have some terms to help us understand why certain things are challenging and others are easier.

What to Write:

  • Helpful words the child can use to explain their strengths and challenges and advocate for what they need (these may be diagnostic terms or more general words)
  • A definition of those terms, using the child’s words as much as possible

For example:

  • ADHD: Your brain is built in a way that gives you a lot of creativity, energy, and passion.  It may also make it harder to sit still and remember boring things.
  • Emotional intensity: Your brain is built in a way that takes in a lot of information and feels things intensely, like your passion for Legos since you were little, and how much you care about others.  This intensity and passion may also mean it’s easy to get frustrated or angry about something – especially when it’s important to you.

For ideas for special words and definitions of common diagnoses, click here to see my blog series on this topic.

Additional Notes:

You might think of this page as giving kids the answer to “What did you learn about yourself?”  The child should be able to open to this page and say, “I learned this – I have an ADHD brain, which means it’s built with a lot of creativity but can make it hard to focus.” 


Pages 16-17: Tools

Goals:

  • Make a list of strategies and tools the child finds most helpful
  • Introduce any new supports, interventions, or strategies that will be helpful moving forward
  • Connect these tools to what we learned about the child’s brain
  • Get feedback from the child about what sounds helpful and promising, and why they might be resistant to some supports

Things to Say:

You mentioned that X really helps you so I wrote it down to start our list. What other strategies or tools have been most helpful to you so far?  

Here are a few other things that I was thinking might be helpful.  Let me know on a scale of 1-5 how helpful you think they might be.

What to Write:

  • Strategies or tools the child identifies as helpful
  • Ways to use their strengths to help get through tough tasks
  • New strategies or tools the child agrees could be helpful (even a little) – this may include technology, accommodations, or things the teacher, parent, or child can do
  • You may wish to include some basic “brain health” strategies here such as:
    • Sleep
    • Exercise
    • Diet
    • Connecting to community
    • Meditation

Additional Notes:

I encourage adults to continue to add to this page over time. The child may wish to share this page with their teacher, tutor, or therapist to let them know what works best, and to see if there is anything else to add.

If the child will have an IEP or 504 Plan, parents or educators can add to this page after the meeting as a way to share any information with their child.

If the child attends their IEP or 504 meeting, this page will help them advocate for what is most helpful to them.


Page 18: Finalizing the Book and Sending it Home!

At the end of your feedback session, the child gets to take their book home!  Encourage them to share it with family members, educators, and other providers.  

Remember that this conversation is on-going.  Adolescents will be at different stages when you get to the feedback session.  For some, you will write in a lot of information.  For others, it may be one small piece.

My hope is that this book makes it easy to start and stop, so that you can go at the pace the child needs, or pass it along to the next professional to continue the conversation building on your words.  

Many parents report that the book has been a great reference to return to for the language to reinforce the messages shared at the feedback session.  

Every time the child shares the book, it gives them a chance to revisit the conversation.  By sharing, explaining, and revisiting the information, they begin to process it more deeply.


I hope you enjoy using this feedback book!  Let me know how it goes by sending me an email, making a short video response (www.Loom.com), or filling out this short survey: bit.ly/BrainBookSurvey.  After all, much like our brains, these tools are constantly under construction!

Thank you for all you do to help kids build their amazing brains!

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