Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Automatic Negative Thoughts (ANTs)

I wanted to write about this topic of negative thoughts because we all seem to have these types of thoughts. These types of thoughts can be devastating to anyone. I often see this pattern of thinking with students I work with on a daily basis. By the time they come to me for help in strengthening their ability to learn, they have lost all faith in themselves. They will easily give up and state they cannot do a task because they are stupid. Part of my job is to educate the student about negative thought patterns and how they can turn them around into positive statements. The following information is taken from Dr. Daniel Amen and his explanations around negative thought patterns. I summarize what Dr. Amen goes into great depth about in his many books.

Did you know that every thought we have releases chemicals in our brain? If we have a happy positive thought, we literally feel good because of the chemical released. Just the same, if we think bad thoughts, we will be impacted on a physical level to some degree. That is why we here students who are anxious or depressed complain about feeling ill. Their head hurts or their stomach aches. Most of the time, this painful cycle of physical symptoms are initiated by the very thoughts in their own minds.

Monitoring our thoughts is often recommended by doctors who tell us we have too much stress in our lives. Watch how you talk to yourself. Catch those bad thoughts they are not good for you. So, what do you do with these thoughts once you catch them running endlessly in a never ending loop inside your head? Dr. Amen came up with the idea of the acronym ANTs and made an analogy of our negative thoughts being like ants that invade a persons picnic area. If you do not "stomp" them out when one or two are present then the entire ant population comes to feast on your picnic.

Dr. Amen goes into detail on categorizing the different types of negative thoughts one can have according to types of ants. The following is a listing of the types of ANTs from Dr. Amen taken from Healing Anxiety and Depression Books.

ANT #1: All or Nothing Thinking. This is the black/white thinking of extremes. It is either yes or no and nothing in between. If I cannot answer this one question than I am stupid. End of story!

ANT #2: Always Thinking. I participate in this thinking quite often myself. :-0 So, if you use words like always, never, everyone, every time, no one and everything, these are examples of statements that shape the always thinking negative thoughts. For example, my favorite saying is "This (whatever the situation) always happens." Husbands might catch themselves stating “My wife is always yelling at me" or Wives might catch themselves saying “You never listen to me.” If you reshape this statement and talk back to it as Dr. Amen suggests, you can write down the statement and then rewrite or just verbally talk back to it. State instead of You never listen to me to "I understand things are a bit crazy right now for, (whomever the person you claim never listens) so they have a lot on their mind. They really are trying." Something to this type of talk back will help you to calm down and lessen the negative thinking cycle.

ANT #3: (RED ANT) Here is an example of categorizing the ANTs by types. Focusing only on the negative. A lot of students that I work with end up in this type of thought process. Until I intervene and help them see concretely that they are capable of learning, the student only focuses on their weak skills and how they cannot learn. A good technique is using the POLLYANNA approach. Dr. Amen points out that if we can find the good in anything negative we will overcome the negative thought. So, where you find yourself in distress because - lets say - a shopping cart just smashed up the paint job on your car ... you say ... well it could have been worse ... I could have been in a car accident, etc. Then you recognize you are not so bad off after all. The release of the positive chemicals overpowers the negative thoughts.

ANT #4: (RED ANT) Another Red Ant is called Fortune-telling. This is where we believe we are predicting the outcome of our fate and the outcome is always the worst possible situation. For example, a person believes without a doubt if they do a certain action the result will be disastrous. They just know it - they can see it and sense it. For this type of thinking an adult can challenge the prediction through logically reasoning and requesting proof. Talking back to the thought and requiring a fact to state the outcome will play out as predicted. For children, usually taking them through what they predict they will not succeed in completing is the best solution. The children I work with often refuse to work through exercises because they predict failure. By helping them understand and observe themselves being successful, their confidence builds and they start believing in their own ability. The will begin to doubt the negative prediction next time it surfaces.

ANT #5: (RED ANT) This next type of Red Ant is called Mind Reading. I often see this with students when they are trying to communicate with others. They often "mind read" what the other person is thinking and how the other persons thoughts will impact the outcome. When I point out that I did not know they were psychics and eagerly ask for a reading they start to giggle. Usually, I will the student understand what they are trying to ask of the other person. If they are so sure about the other person, I ask why is that the case? They will explain to me their "perception" of the other person. Then, together we shape the request in a way that allows for flexibility and options. The student asking feels less negative and more positive going into the conversation with the other person. So, a little social skills training and communication strategies can help in this area. We do not know what other people are thinking and 9 times out of 10 they are not thinking what we assume.

ANT #6: Thinking with your feelings. This type of negative pattern is a tough one, in my opinion. I state this because in this type of ANT we think only with our feelings. Therefore, if one is depressed, anxious, stressed, or in any other less than positive state, the impact can be an endless loop of physical symptoms from all the negative chemicals released in the brain. Here, again, as Dr. Amen points out, a great strategy for overcoming these thoughts are to write them down and talk back to them. If a person is feeling bad and needs to feel better than perhaps a good meditation or a journal entry on what the person is grateful for that day is in order. :-)

ANT #7: Guilt Beatings. Guilt is a useful feeling if you use it like a foghorn, to keep yourself off the sandbar or rocky shoreline – it is a navigator emotion. When guilt becomes the primary feeling it is not useful or helpful. One needs to explore what is behind the feeling of guilt and not get stuck at guilty feelings. When you hear the words ‘should’, ‘must,’ ‘ought to,’ or “have to’ one can recognize they are at a point of guilt and they need to move forward. Rephrasing what is in the negative guilt mode into a positive is a helpful quick remedy. “It’s in my own best interest to do my homework and make it the best work I can do.”

ANT #8: Labeling. In this case a person places a label on another person or even on themselves and begins to believe in the label. This is why labeling, relative to special needs, is always a debatable topic. Students will label one another when they do not know how to proceed in a situation. For example, instead of agreeing to disagree, you can hear children calling each other names because one or both are not getting their way. Here, I usually have the children write out the difficulty through the use of charting their options. Seriously. I will have children who cannot figure out what they want to do create charts with what they individually want to do. This way the inability to communicate using language is taken care of through the charts. Then, they need to "negotiate" to merge the charts into one agreeing on which activities will be done and when. Usually this helps solve the problem.

For adults, labeling can be dangerous if you tend to label yourself or worse your child. If we hear a negative label long enough, we begin to believe that we truly consist of the deficits represented by the labeling. Remember, if we think the negative thoughts we are releasing chemicals that do not make us feel good. We begin a downward spiral with physical symptoms and eventually we give up on ourselves. Take step back ask yourself why you, the adult, is even assigning said label to yourself or the child. Begin to understand what weaknesses you believe exist that are bothering you. Prioritize the weakness and begin to work the weakness into a strength. Instead of avoiding issues and assigning a label, take action and do something about the situation.

ANT #9: (THE MOST POISONOUS RED ANT) Blame. Dr. Amen states this as the most poisonous of the red ants because once you neglect to take responsibility or your actions, you are now powerless. If you did something and then blamed someone else, you are powerless to the overall outcome of the situation now. You, ironically, not the person you blame, become the true victim.

The next time ANTs start invading your picnic, remember to STOMP them out before the whole ANT hill arrives. Maybe you might want to rent POLLYANNA and watch it one night for some tips! The best takeaway from this article is that you have control over your thoughts. We can literally make ourselves feel good as every thought we have releases chemicals in our brain which then impact our physical well being. Think positive my friends!

Here is a link to .pdf from Dr. Daniel Amen detailing ANTs


The Amen Clinic - Day 3

The last day of our visit to the Amen Clinic was pretty emotional for me. My sister stayed by my side through the whole consultation. The child psychiatrist that met with us was wonderful. He took us through the basics of the brain, the specifics of the brain, Shannon's overall report findings and of course the brain SPECTs.

The good news is that Shannon's findings are all manageable and no psychiatric issues prevail. We left the clinic feeling satisfied because we could concretely view the functionality within Shannon's Brain. We were also able to zone in on her cerebellum and determine that this area did not have huge blood flow rather lower blood flow. This for us, based on research, indicates Shannon's recent bout of OMS was not a new "active" case rather her ongoing battle. In other words the same bad antibodies are what we are dealing with and not that the body produced brandy new teams of bad antibodies that need to be put to rest.

Presently, we are in the beginning stages of implementing Shannon's overall care program. We are working on changing her diet, adding exercise and supplements and much more. So far, we believe we are heading down a good path.

I hope this series of articles on the Amen Clinic was found to be interesting, helpful and insightful. For more details and questions feel free to contact me at

The Amen Clinic - Day 2

On day two we came into the clinic to take pictures of Shannon's brain "at rest." Required for this to be successful was an other IV contrast and calm. Hmm? Yes, Shannon was required to sit in a calm, quiet room with sunlight as the major light source and a sound machine providing cricket ambiance. That's it. Do not talk, lay down, walk, or anything. Just sit on the couch quiet and rest. Okay, sure. Once the clinician left, within 5 seconds Shannon grabbed several stress balls and began juggling them. Then she tried to bounce them. Then she started bouncing her own leg so hard and fast I thought she was going to drill her leg straight through the floor. This was going to be very tough and uncomfortable for Shannon. In fact, the whole exercise proved to be painful. She wanted - almost needed - to jump up, open the office door and engage with another person. I was there with her through this but we were not supposed to talk or engage - just rest.

After a good 20 minutes or so, the clinician came back and was still in "quiet" mode. No talking just quietly follow her to begin taking the brain SPECTs. Shannon's body was twitching even more now because of all the pent up energy. I knew we were in for a difficult SPECT session. After several retries, we final got what we needed. We were then released (I think the clinician was happy to see us go) until tomorrow.

Obviously, laying still on a SPECT table that is very thin is difficult for folks with movement issues. However, the Amen Clinic offers sedation options out of the California location. We chose to get through this SPECT the best we could without sedation because that's another beast on its own for Shannon's issues. But I digress ...

We ended day 2 peacefully frustrated (oxymoron?) and on our way back to the local shopping areas. I treated Shannon to a new book each day she successfully completed the task presented. She purchased a new book and then we went home. I began to mental prepare for the final consult the next day. I don't think I slept very much this night. I was very apprehensive about the results.

For more on Dr. Amen and his clinics visit

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

The Amen Clinic - Day 1

The first day at the clinic was surreal. On one hand, I was so thankful we were there to finally get a glimpse into Shannon's brain. The MRI's and CT's that we had done were more structurally based where the Amen Clinic provided a more functional base of activity levels based off of blood flow amounts into areas of the brain. We really needed the SPECTs because of OMS coming out of remission. We needed to see if blood flow was high or low in cerebellum. I was very happy to finally be getting an answer. On the other hand, I was a bit nervous to hear the results. I was not sure what to expect and was past the denial stage at this point. I wanted to finally see something concrete but then I knew hearing bad news would still send shivers down my spine.

When we were finally called, the first test Shannon had to perform was a concentration test. Now, Shannon has been off all medications that help her focus and concentrate so this was not going to be an easy task. Shannon basically focused on everything but where she was supposed to be paying attention. Poor kid.

Next, we had our IV contrast ready and were off to get our Brain SPECT pictures done in our "concentration state". I have to say, getting the pictures done was a bit of a challenge for Shannon because part of her issue is movement. She twitches here and there and rarely is she ever still even during sleep. Her body is on the move all the time. We had to do our best to get through the SPECT without sedation. Shannon was a real trooper and did manage to complete the task.

After we did these two things, we were then called into another office to meet their "Historian." This person took all the information from my head and files of documentation about Shannon's history. She then compiled this into a nice manageable file for the child psychiatrist to review for our final consultation in two days.

Once we completed these three things, we were free to go home and we only needed to confirm our appointment at the clinic for the next day.

I would recommend bringing someone with you if you plan to take your child to the clinic. If for anything else, to have a backup and a support person to get you through the appointments. A lot of information is exchanged, discussed and created. Having another person can help prompt information that you may have otherwise neglected to bring out to the staff. I even had my husband dial in for a conference call set up when I walked into the Historian's office. Together, myself, my husband, Shannon and my sister gave input and support to the overall process. The staff at the VA Amen Clinic was extremely supportive, patient, understanding and friendly.

For more info on the Amen Clinic ...

Saturday, December 6, 2008

The Amen Clinic - My Personal Experience and Opinion

If you have not read about Dr. Daniel Amen and the Amen Clinics then this article will be an eye opener for you. If you have heard about the clinic, it most likely has been controversial. The type of science behind the Amen Clinics is considered by some to be futuristic. Yet others think the science behind the clinics is not necessary in the medical world at all. This article is my opinion of our overall experience. There are subsequent articles depicting the daily visits and what we experienced as we sought to obtain a targeted intervention for my daughter's struggles.

My 11 y/o daughter, Shannon, went through the Amen Clinic, as a patient to receive a Brain Single Photon Emission Computed Tomography (SPECT) and treatment plan for help with her Opsoclonus Myoclonus Syndrome (OMS). The OMS had caused brain injury at age 11 mos. but now at age 11 y/o we were once facing this monster straight between the eyes. We wanted to know if the OMS we were seeing now was active or chronic. We needed to know if there was any inflammation of the cerebellum. If there was inflammation, increased blood flow, we would know her recent OMS was an new active OMS attack that could lead to further brain injury. If we did not find swelling, rather decreased blood flow, we would know the OMS was flaring up in a chronic state. The brain injury from her OMS had also left her brain very unbalanced and not in a healthy state. We were looking for a targeted intervention.

We decided to travel to the Reston, VA. clinic location because my sister lives in Maryland. We stayed in MD and drove to VA each of the three days we had appointments at the clinic. The preparation time for the overall visit was tremendous for us. We took no shortcuts with the requested paperwork and medical trails from Shannon's long history. Coordinating medical files from every department a child is seen through relative to a neurological disorder and also Cancer can be a bit overwhelming. We managed to get all the information we needed down to every last name of medicine Shannon had to use over her 11 year journey thus far. Considering there is not much known on OMS, that means Shannon went through a lot of different medical trials. We also had to gather up the recent documentation from visits just completed.

Since Shannon was coming out of remission from her OMS, we were off to the big city of Philadelphia again to visit her docs at Children's Hospital. We usually see them once a year or as needed but now we were back in full force begging for help for Shannon. So, all of these visits, including MRI, blood work, etc. needed to be gathered and sent to the clinic as well. We were given approximately 2 months to data gather and prepare our documentation for the visit. However, with Shannon having a relapse, that meant I was basically putting this all together within 2 days of the visit.

The clinic staff was friendly and accommodating. They listened patiently to any questions or comments. They were supportive and respectful. The appointments were basically on-time and ran smoothly. The final consultation was very informative and helpful for us. They provided us with nutritional, physical and supplementation recommendations based on Shannon's results. We felt the trip was worthwhile and helped us to concretely see under the hood, if you will, of my daughter's brain. The results enabled us to understand and plan for the psychiatrist's targeted intervention of treatment for Shannon. The clinic presents you with a very nice, informative, organized binder of output information relative to your appointment and consultation findings and plan.

You can find out more about the Amen Clinic by visiting