by Wayne Munchel, LCSW   0 Comments

TAY Living Skills

Programs for Transition Age Youth (TAY) seek to teach living skills to youth and young adults enrolled in their programs. Whether budgeting, interviewing, or social skills, successful transitions to adulthood roles are thought to greatly depend on mastery of these (and many other) key developmental competencies. How do youth with emotional and behavioral difficulties best acquire these “independent living” skill sets? Through their families? In classrooms or groups? By watching role models, peer supporters or YouTube? Trial and error practice and rehearsal? All of the above?

Think about the last skill you remember learning how to perform. Maybe you wanted to know how to use a new computer program or fix a leaky faucet. Did you read about it (visual/linguistic)? Listen to an explanation (aural)? Do it yourself and learn by trial and error (physical)? Were you by yourself or with others? Clearly no one size or teaching method fits all youth; there’s a mix of preferred learning styles. When attempting to coach effectively, it can be important to assess learning styles and be able to utilize a mix of teaching methods.

The Transition to Independence Process (TIP) Model emphasizes “in-vivo” (in life) coaching as a preferred method. No one ever learned how to swim without getting wet, nor learned how to interview well without having the opportunity to practice and get feedback on interviewing. The in-vivo approach enables staff (Transition Facilitators) to individualize based on a youth’s learning preferences ‐ but focuses on real life situations (or at least simulated role-plays) as preferable to classroom or group curriculum instruction that may not generalize well. The TIP Model identifies three distinct in-vivo methods of skill development — for youth, with youth and by youth.

For youth

This approach employs modeling (watch me do it!) as a primary means of teaching. (It does not mean doing a task for the youth, if they are not present and paying attention.) Setting up role-plays or watching demonstrations on YouTube present additional options. These should be followed shortly with, “Now you try it”.

With youth

Side-by-side learning is frequently a preferred learning style of many youth. “Let’s both fill out this job application and discuss how each of us would respond”. This flexible style requires the wisdom of knowing when to back off and allow youth to struggle and when to step forward to support optimum chances of success.

By youth

Ultimately the success of teaching is determined by whether the youth is able to “transfer” the skill to real life situations when Transition Facilitators/staff are not around. Encouraging the youth to try this at home, with friends, or at new job or school is the critical challenge. Following up with youth to discuss and celebrate their trials and inevitable errors is crucial.


There are many methods, curriculums and techniques to teach youth skills. What are yours?



by Wayne Munchel, LCSW   4 Comments

What makes some youth and young adults more susceptible to developing substance abuse problems and addictions? To what extent do drugs and alcohol “cause” addictions, versus the role of toxic stressors such as adverse childhood events (ACE’s), poverty and loneliness? Some studies suggest it has more to do with their zip codes than their genetic codes. Many TAY habitually use substances to cope with overwhelming distress. It may be the only tool they’ve discovered so far that provides them relief (however temporary).

Many people may recall seeing compelling video of caged rats in their Psych 101 classes. In these gruesome experiments, isolated rats can be seen guzzling the drug-laced water instead of the regular H2O, until they collapsed and died. A persuasive testimonial to the powerful addictive qualities of drugs. Some argue that it is this “demon drug” view that perpetuates the War on Drugs, which many see as futile and destructive as it ensnares so many of our youth in the criminal justice system.

But what if it’s the cage more than the drugs and “predisposed” rats that drives this destructive dependency on substances? Bruce Alexander, a Canadian Psychology Professor, conducted a series of experiments to test this hypothesis. Instead of keeping the rats in barren, isolated cages, Alexander created “rat heavens” for his lucky subjects to inhabit. An enclosure was created, chock-full of colorful balls, wheels, places to hide and plenty of rat play-mates to have sex with. These fortunate rodents ignored the drug-water. Even the rats that Alexander purposely addicted to drugs and alcohol avoided the intoxicants when later introduced to Rat Park.

Let me be clear, youth and young adults are not rats in a cage (although some of them would argue the point). In his excellent TED talk (“Everything You Think You Know About Addiction is Wrong”, Johann Hari makes a thought-provoking statement: “The opposite of addiction is not sobriety, the opposite of addiction is connection”. As TAY Service Providers, what can we do help build and sustain this sense of connection, this sense of belonging and community? What are we doing that develops resiliency and hopeful futures for our youth? These studies suggest it won’t be enough to focus only on changing vulnerable young people.


No more T.A.U for T.A.Y.

December 10, 2015

UnCon Update!

August 13, 2015