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Hall-Mercer Center for Children and Adolescents

Education is key to treatment at Hall-Mercer

At the newly opened Hall-Mercer Center for Children and Adolescents at McLean Hospital, education and treatment go hand-in-hand. On any given day, teachers and clinicians are hard at work, helping children and adolescents transform their lives.

"Children with psychiatric problems often struggle academically, even if they are very bright, unless they are given a great deal of help," says Joseph Gold, MD, clinical director of McLean's Child and Adolescent Psychiatry Program.

"That is why McLean is committed to creating special schools that integrate academics, social skills and clinical approaches."

Joseph Gold

Joseph Gold, MD
Clinical Director of the Child and Adolescent Psychiatry Outpatient Program

"McLean is committed to creating special schools that integrate academics, social skills and clinical approaches."

Pathways Academy, located on the first floor of the Hall-Mercer Center, is the country's only year-round day school for children and young adults, ages six to 22, with a high functioning form of autism, called Asperger's Disorder, and other related disorders.

Pathways emphasizes social pragmatics, language skills and sensory motor integration, along with a full academic program.

"The curriculum is designed and implemented collaboratively with the student, the family, the family's community-based treatment team and the referring public school program to emphasize individual strengths and to accommodate learning needs," says Helen Murgida, the head of Pathways.

The school recently received full approval from the Massachusetts Department of Education, making it possible for the state's public schools to refer children to the program.

Housed one floor above Pathways Academy are the Transitional Care Unit and the Adolescent Residential Treatment (ART) Program for teens whose emotional problems require either intensive short- or long-term care. These youngsters take daily lessons either in classroom-based models on the unit or at the Academic Center, in a nearby building. Because many typically stay at McLean between three and six months while awaiting beds in less-restrictive settings outside of the hospital, ensuring their stability and continued education is important.

Such was the case with 17-year-old Joe.

"Joe was in state custody and had an explosive temper when he arrived at McLean," says Michael Rater, MD, psychiatrist in charge of the ART program.

With the help of Dr. Rater and other staff, Joe was able to stabilize his behavior and settle into a routine of attending class and daily therapy sessions.

"Being here has made a big difference," says Joe, who, after three months, was beaming on his last day at McLean. "I'm a totally different person."

Pathways Academy has similar positive effects on its students and their families.

Dean Ballard

Dean Ballard takes a break from his studies at Pathways Academy.

Lynda Ballard says her 15 year-old son Dean has never been happier. Like many with Asperger's, he had few social skills and no real friends, but attending Pathways has changed that-right along with his mother's hopes.

"He talks about going to college and thanks to Pathways, now it's really in the cards for him."

A 'miracle camp' for kids with Asperger's

Camp New Connections is true to its name. Many children who attend this unique six-week summer program at McLean Hospital connect with other children, often for the first time in their young lives.

Camp Director Liana Pea Morgens, PhD, developed the program for children and teens with Asperger's Disorder. Asperger's can lead to an isolating existence, according to Wanda Larosiliere, mother of 12-year-old Toussaint, who traveled from Ohio to attend the 2002 camp. Toussaint had always avoided other children, especially boys, so "spending the summer with a group of boys-playing, interacting, hanging out, that was a very big step for him," says Wanda.

The camp, going on its fourth year, focuses on social and language pragmatics, teaching youngsters how to interact, with lessons on everything from how to read body language to respecting personal space.

"My son fell in love with the camp," says Maria Fernandez of Puerto Rico, whose son Joe attended the camp twice. "They helped him so much. It's been a miracle."