If Dr. Geoffrey Putt had it his way, school would be taught a lot differently than it is now. Kids would have dry erase boards, wiggle seats and sensory fidget toys to help them stay focused.
“A lot of kids struggle with anxiety, attention and impulse control issues in school and they need tools to help them cope with ways to stay on task,” he said.
A self-described “jack of all trades,” Dr. Putt joined Akron Children’s in 2009 as director of outpatient therapy services in a role that is as unique as he is.
“I feel like you need to feed your soul with things you’re passionate about,” he said. “I like to build and grow programs. I love to teach. I picked the areas of psychology that I’m passionate about and am lucky enough to have a position that caters to that.”
Healthy weight clinic
Helping kids who struggle with childhood obesity is another one of Dr. Putt’s interests. He’s part of a 7-member multidisciplinary team that includes physicians, nurse practitioners, dietitians, psychologists and an exercise physiologist who work in Akron Children’s healthy weight clinic.
The clinic treats kids ages 5 to 18 with a BMI greater than the 95th percentile.
Putt usually spends 4 days a month in the clinic assessing a patient’s motivation and readiness to make the diet and lifestyle changes needed to be successful.
“I always assess my patients for trauma and risk behaviors,” he said. “Once I know the patient is safe, I can work on increasing motivation and figure out how to help facilitate it.”
In addition to practical tips like eating slowly, making good choices, portion control and exercise, Dr. Putt counsels kids and parents on the not-so-obvious issues, such as the negative effects of excessive screen time and poor sleep habits.
“I’m all about finding a solution that works,” Dr. Putt said. “If a patient tells me he is never going to give up pop then I have to find a way to work with that. I’ll ask if he would be willing to drink a glass of water for every glass of pop he consumes. I want to encourage the behaviors that will get them to their goal.”
On Tuesdays Dr. Putt typically does ADHD testing, intakes and feedback appointments.
On this particular evening, he met with a mom to go over her son’s test results. Her 7-year-old son was referred to Akron Children’s attention clinic for lack of focus at school and home.
The previous week the boy spent 3 hours with Dr. Putt and mental health therapist Kendra Crookston undergoing a litany of objective-based tests designed to assess his IQ, cognitive and executive functioning, academic achievement, auditory attention, visual attention, impulsivity, processing speed, working memory and capacity to hold onto information by following multi-step directions.
The boy’s teachers and mom also filled out assessments.
“The good news is even his worst score is within normal range,” Dr. Putt reassured mom. “I like this test because it’s objective – it’s not just my opinion.”
Dr. Putt explained that the boy’s struggles with reading comprehension and anxiety suggest he has attention problems. He gave mom some ideas for how to help her son.
“I like to start with the least stigmatizing and intrusive strategies,” Dr. Putt said.
Some of his suggestions included a progressive muscle relaxation protocol, using a cognitive behavioral therapy workbook that teaches coping and anxiety management skills, and a program to help kids with reading problems catch up.
Although stimulant medications help with ADHD, for this child, Dr. Putt advised against them for now.
“I think we need to deal with the anxiety issues first and see how getting that under control impacts his impulsivity,” he said.
Dr. Putt also gave her information on wiggle seats and fidgets that have been proven to help kids who have trouble staying focused.
“A wiggle seat can be an exercise ball, swivel seat or cushion that allows for just enough movement to help kids concentrate,” he said. “Fidgets are small objects with sensory appeal that kids can use to stay focused – items like Velcro or a golf stroke counter that can attach to a belt loop.”
Dr. Putt’s last appointment started at 6:30 p.m. An 11-year old girl and her parents came in for their intake session.
Dr. Putt’s easygoing, approachable manner and wit put the family immediately at ease.
Mom and dad brought their daughter here because they’ve become increasingly frustrated with her lack of ability to manage time and follow instructions. They’ve tried things like task lists and chore charts to no avail. The issue is causing a lot of tension at home and in their relationship.
Dr. Putt and Kendra asked questions about sleep, appetite, hygiene, emotions, friends, school, and feelings of sadness, hopelessness and self-worth.
“Intake is a time for everyone to be honest and say what their concerns are so we can target those behaviors and teach them strategies for how to deal with them,” Dr. Putt said.
“Sometimes we need multiple plans that give them different resources for different scenarios,” he added. “I always ask my patients if anything bad, sad or scary has happened to them. Pain and trauma can be triggers for certain behaviors.”
On days like this one when he’s been going nonstop since 8:30 a.m., it’s clear that Dr. Putt’s job is more than just what he does for a living – it’s a labor of love.
“I’ve known since middle school that I wanted to be a psychologist,” he said. “It’s a fascinating field. It’s gathering data, answering questions and providing services. We tailor our programs to what evidence says is most important and try to do them well. We don’t try to be all things to all people.”
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