Bright & Quirky Child Summit

Help bright kids thrive, even with learning, social and/or emotional challenges

Session 2: Playing Detective to Find the Root Cause of Quirky Behaviors

Mona Delahooke, PhD

Ready for a mindshift about how to reframe and respond to a child's challenging behavior? Dr. Mona Delahooke believes that when we see a child's behavior not as "good" or "bad," but as useful information about a child's underlying physiological state, effective and compassionate interventions emerge. Dr. Mona explains how to decode the signals our child's behavior is sending, how to play detective, build an individualized toolkit, and communicate information to schools and IEP teams. Dr. Mona provides valuable ideas for problem solving, uncovering root causes of behavior, and helping kids get to calm. Dr. Mona also talks about resources to share with schools about harmful behavior interventions, as well as how parents can increase their capacity for healthy co-regulation. In this talk, Debbie and Dr. Mona discuss self-care in a new light that is brain-based and imperative, transcending our current attitudes.

[accessally_has_any_tag tag_id='662974,1303794' comment='IdeaLab_Has_Access,Summit_2020_Has_Access']



Now we'd love to hear from you. What's bubbling up for you after hearing the talk? Let us know in the comments section below.

[accessally_missing_all_tag tag_id='1303794,662974' comment='Summit_2020_Has_Access,IdeaLab_Has_Access']

Would you like downloadable audio, video and transcripts for this talk? Upgrade to the summit access pass to get 24/7 permanent access to all 22 talks, over 10 hours of streaming content, downloadable audio and video to watch on the go, and printable transcripts. Also get 4 amazing bonus talks and a very special invitation to join the renowned IdeaLab parent learning and support community.



(If you are a Summit 2020 Access Pass holder or Idealab member, sign in here for access to downloads, transcripts, and bonus talks)



  1. Joy on March 17, 2020 at 9:06 am

    I understand the enormous work I need to do to advocate for my child at school. But I am a single mom working full-time and barely making ends meet. Taking time off for meetings at school comes at great financial cost. I see no way to advocate except through polite emails and gentle requests to school. There is a need to ensure that such summits reach the teaching community and school administrations.

  2. 2e me on March 14, 2020 at 9:49 am

    p.s. (to my earlier reply to Jenny). Two more thoughts:
    (1) This problem of teachers misinterpreting clarification as insubordination, arrogance, refusal, etc., is a real and pervasive one. We 2e/gifted folks do tend to recognize distinctions/complexity in our world, and the clarification that’s crucial and meaningful for us isn’t always appreciated by those who may not experience distinctions so saliently, and/or who are highly focused on the hierarchical structure of the interaction. We have tried to address this problem directly with teachers at start of year (one thing that helped: an introductory letter from student about his positive intentions and the frustrations of being misinterpreted) and also in IEP speech goals (so speech teachers can help analyze interactions that go awry and consider ways student can conversationally mark a clarification). This helps somewhat, at least for teachers who feel secure in their authority and are open to input.
    (2) From Dr. Delahooke’s wonderful talk, I am wondering if somehow there is a relevant distinction here between using the language of emotion and using the language of the body? If someone asks me if I am feeling scared, that is different from someone asking me if I feel like running out the door. I think it might be easier to respond to the latter than the former. Emotion terms are very weighted in our society, and even if they are intended neutrally, it’s hard to interpret what they mean and whether it precisely corresponds with what one experiences; even if we give these dictionary definitions that we don’t consider loaded, a kid picks up how they are actually used. These terms also seem to perhaps imply something willful: if one yelled because one was angry, that may seem to imply intentionality, as if one made the choice to yell as a way to express the anger one felt. I am guessing Dr. Delahooke might be able to reframe this somehow (better than I can!) in relation to the body’s state/response. In any case, perhaps that direction of thought might provide a helpful lead.
    Finally, I think it’s wonderful, Jenny, that you can “intuitively feel this out at home.” Give yourself credit for that! Your lament that it’s not reproducible, and that the time isn’t always there, yeah, that really resonated. But you and your son clearly have found some ways to work together. You will build on that. Hang in there! (And yes, Dr. Delahooke’s point about individual, not generic, safety seems key. Also, wouldn’t it be great if we could all coach our students’ teachers on how they, too, could use the tools we’ve discovered at home? This transfer of insight from home to school has proved to be a very delicate matter. Perhaps Bright & Quirky may wish to address a whole session to that!)
    I hope some small piece of the above was helpful to someone, somewhere. Apologies for length.

    • Mona on March 15, 2020 at 9:19 am

      2e me, great comments! Yes so much to unpack, but it is possible to do so based on an understanding of the nervous system. I”ll be doing this in the months ahead! 🙂 And in the book I’m now writing. 🙂

      • 2e me on March 17, 2020 at 9:28 am

        Thanks, Mona, for reading and responding! You gave us much food for thought!
        Since we now have access again (thanks, B&Q), I’ll add my son’s further insight that came after this day’s talks shut down: He said that the problem with emotion terms for him is not just that they all have connotations (they are societally “loaded” terms, as I noted) but that those connotations, for him as a person on the spectrum, have only a tenuous connection (if any) to his own experience, so they seem askew (and somewhat belittling of his experience and his character) when applied to him. For example, “anger,” as the term is used, brings along societal connotations of malice or aggression or vengefulness toward another, which are rarely if ever a part of what he would experience that he would call anger (which may be closer to what some might term “outrage,” or, if played down, annoyance). A lot of the connotations of emotion words relate to social-status consciousness, hierarchical relations toward others, and other motivations that may seem alien to a person on the spectrum, who may on the other hand feel very strongly about something not being precise, truthful, or right. Back to Jenny’s description of teachers reacting negatively to her son’s attempts to be precise and clarify, we have found that while we don’t seem to experience the (strangely neurotypical?) “revenge instinct” or desire for status, we do very much experience the “clarification instinct”! Others often seem to not expect this motivation, and misinterpret it. (Of course we can only speak from our own experience, but perhaps this observation can be useful to some other family.) We have also, by the way, encountered the double-edged sword of “if he is so smart (and in our case verbal), he must be able to communicate his needs” (denying the very real challenges of that) and/or the assumption that he is trying to one-up the teacher, etc. I expect this is a frequent 2e experience.
        OK, enough! I’ll stop now. Good luck, everyone.

  3. Mona on March 14, 2020 at 6:48 am

    Hi Jenny, First of all I”m thrilled that you resonated with my message and that it makes sense with your child in mind. Your question is an excellent one, and actually requires a whole book to answer. What makes my approach different is that it allows you to tailor it to your child’s levels. It’s likely that the verbal is hitting too “high” and that bridge needs to be built first. Let me know if you have any questions after (and if) you can read Beyond Behaviors. Wishing you the best!!

  4. Sharyn on March 14, 2020 at 5:06 am

    Some things I do to calm down :
    Go to a different room
    Walk outside
    Go get the mail and call my friends answering machine ( she’s usually working) to talk out my feeling/vent
    And the absolutely most challenging is to recognize that I am trying to stop/fix/change the upset/anxieties/extreme behaviors and disengage myself so she ( and I) can calm down.
    Mostly when she is in fire I reactivatively blow on it .
    This summit is surely helping me with this

    • Mona on March 14, 2020 at 10:44 am

      Such great ideas Sharyn!

  5. Sharyn on March 14, 2020 at 4:56 am

    Wonderful – truly enjoyed this talk and I have come to so many of these realization through my own experience with my child who is now 14 and the struggles are real.
    I have spoken to the school at every intervention/ IEP meeting, and given them info ( simple clear hand outs) on what executive functioning challenges and what it look like, I have offered the most important info that once she is upset ( fighting or flighting ) that it too late to “reprimand” to try and help teach skills and coping tools, although once the meetings are over its back to the same old wYs and I simply get emails and progress reports on what she did not do and how she misbehaved, and mostly there is a huge discrepancy on her view of what happened and what the teacher/ ESE counselors experience was.
    She will say exactly what they say although from a place of some one with lagging skills and they basically blame shame and punish.
    I will admit that I do this sometimes too and working diligently on this.
    This talk was so incredibly helpful.
    Thank you again Mona and B and Q of course for putting this together

  6. Katarzyna on March 14, 2020 at 2:36 am

    Wow, all of the interview is pure gold, but one thing did strike me so much that I felt tears in my eyes. That was the one about children who looks scared on the surface are the lucky ones, getting cared of by adults, whilst the kids with difficult behaviors being just as much scared, but treated badly… That point of view really has helped me to look at my son in a different light. Thank you for all your great work!

    • Mona on March 14, 2020 at 6:39 am

      HI Katazyna, I’m happy to hear that it resonated with you..Wishing you and your son all the best!

    • Sherlynn on March 14, 2020 at 9:04 am

      What do you recommend for children who are either suspended from school, or placed on a gradual return based on behaviours?

      • Mona on March 14, 2020 at 10:45 am

        I can’t recommend based on unique situations, but my book Beyond Behaviours helps you make a decision tree to support each student. Best to you!

  7. Gloria Gallardo-Walker on March 13, 2020 at 11:41 pm

    Thanks to Mona for enlightening me to first have a joyful interaction to get us all in the green and then to tackle problem solving. Also to regulate ourselves first for 5-30 minutes so that we are more able to help our children.

    • Mona on March 14, 2020 at 6:40 am

      Wishing you much Joy Gloria!! Thanks for listening!

  8. Patti on March 13, 2020 at 6:01 pm

    This talk was PURE GOLD! Dr. Delahooke provided so many great take-aways…how to talk with your child about possible triggers…when to have those conversations (and when to wait)…that taking care of ourselves, so we can co-regulate, is “a loving prescription” to us and our children…and so much more. And Debbie, I loved your idea for a Get to Green list. Thank you for this information-packed interview!

    • Lauren on March 14, 2020 at 12:38 am

      So glad the talk resonated for you, Patti. I agree, there were so many great takeaways!
      -Lauren with the B&Q Team

    • Mona on March 14, 2020 at 6:40 am

      Thanks Patti! I loved Debbie’s suggestion as well!

  9. Kat Wolfe on March 13, 2020 at 5:36 pm

    I think Mona’s view of an iceberg, as well as the other panelists, sees behavior with taboo vocabulary in their forefront brain: energy, somatic, visceral, and intuitive. Behaviorists have a fixed mindset that incentives are motivating.

    • Mona on March 14, 2020 at 6:41 am

      Thanks so much Kat..

  10. Lea on March 13, 2020 at 4:30 pm

    Wow. This was so powerful and helpful! Thank you!!! The biggest takeaway for me was the switch from an evaluative mindset to a neutral one, and the need to connect through joyful interactions before jumping into problem-solving mode. Thank you, Dr. Delahooke and Debbie!

  11. Denise Horley on March 13, 2020 at 1:42 pm

    Wow! Just Wow. I was totally engrossed in this and even had to go back and replay it. I love the iceberg analogy and the two platforms. I really think that we need to look at the expectations of teacher training programmes. I know when I started teacher training college Child development, special needs and multicultural education were all compulsory elements of my degree which I had to have a basic understanding in to get my qualified teacher status. We have neuro diversity so can we look at bringing some level of neuro science into the teacher training programme because after almost 30 years of teaching I see huge gaps in understanding of child development and a basic understanding of the brain.

    I loved the ‘joyful interactions’ phrase and it will certainly be a phrase I talk to my teachers about.

    Thank you so much for a fully engaging and inspiring session. So mant things to take away and run with.

    • Patti on March 13, 2020 at 6:04 pm

      I forgot about the ‘joyful interactions’ suggestion in the comment I just made. Yes, that was awesome tip, too. 🙂

    • Lauren on March 14, 2020 at 12:32 am

      Yes, please share this info with fellow teachers! This information is relatively new in the past 20 years and many teachers haven’t been taught the brain science behind these ideas. Schools will bring Mona in for talks, so maybe see if your district can plan ahead for a large scale sharing of this valuable information. Thanks for all of your great comments!
      -Lauren with the B&Q Team

    • Mona on March 14, 2020 at 6:43 am

      Thank you Denise, so encouraging to read your comments! I”m glad the iceberg and platforms resonate. Wishing you and your teachers the best!

  12. Kate Bailey on March 13, 2020 at 10:50 am

    Thank you Mona for bringing to the fore the language of COMPASSION – so valuable.
    – Reduce judgement
    – Acknowledge vulnerability
    – Look at underlying reasons
    – Neutral attitude to behaviour
    – Exploring specifics of triggers … Individual differences
    – co-regulation… It begins with us
    – Connect and have fun

    • Sheryl on March 13, 2020 at 11:57 am

      Great summary of your take aways, Kate! Thank you for sharing these!
      – Sheryl Stoller with BQ Team

    • Mona on March 13, 2020 at 12:09 pm

      Hi Kate!

      YES!! Wow, this is a better summary than I could have written! Thank you so much for sharing with us! 🙂

    • Rose on March 13, 2020 at 6:39 pm

      Yes! Thank you for listing your takeaways.

  13. Diane on March 13, 2020 at 9:56 am

    Thank you! Great session! Some of what Dr. Delahooke said was directly supportive of issues we are having with my son. We are currently having issues with school system. It seems they still have a defect model related to “disability” and assumed need to lower expectations. They assume if he says something is “too hard” that it actually is too hard. I know it’s his strong reaction/thinking error/anxiety that causes his brain to function less. I have now started to have him rate a worksheet on a scale of 1-10 before he starts it, have him do the work (with support if needed), then have him rate it again. I make him physically write the number, then cross out and the-record if it changes. I read about this idea in publications from two different professionals in this field (Jessica Minihan, BCBA has Jerome Schultz, PhD) and decided to try it out. So far one task was a 10!!! that changed to an 8 and then ultimately when done a 4. So now he knows that was a 4 and maybe this will help shape the reactive brain.

    Long story short, I wholeheartedly agree with Dr . Delahooke that school personnel need to see that neurological vulnerability and that children need to be supported individually.

    Thank you Dr. Delahooke! I am a parent trying to support my son and change the system!

    • Mona on March 13, 2020 at 10:53 am

      Thank you Diane! I”m so glad you found the session helpful!

      • Sara on March 13, 2020 at 5:58 pm

        This was my fav talk to date. Thank you.

        • Mona on March 14, 2020 at 6:45 am

          Honored, thank you Sara!

    • Sheryl on March 13, 2020 at 12:01 pm

      Diane, Thank you for sharing all of this! All that Dr. Delahooke shared and the pre/during/post rating tool will be helpful to others, too. Thanks again, Diane!
      – Sheryl with BQ Team

      • Jenny on March 13, 2020 at 8:46 pm

        Dr. Delahooke, I loved this interview. You gave me words to describe phenomenons I intuitively have figured out with my boys, but haven’t had the language to explain it well to teachers or grandparents. I’m going to have to get your book so that I can use actionable and measurable words to help advocate better for my boys at their next IEP meetings! Right now I have a question though. I am dealing with similar situations at school as described in this interview. My son who is 11 years old, has ASD and ADHD combined type and has an IQ of 143, often gets into arguments with well intentioned, but inflexible thinking teachers. Usually it is over what they precieve to be purposeful non compliant behaviors or disrespectful ways of speaking. Thus, they don’t treat him with compassion, and assume that since he is “so smart” he must be acting like a disrespectful, egotistical child when usually he is perseverating on an exact detail in a given situation that he doesn’t feel they are describing accurately. Or he is unable to communicate clearly what he wants/needs and is asking for. Sometimes these type of disagreements/ misunderstandings happen at home too. When I respond with compassion and curiosity, as you said in this interview, they often go better. However, in my nurturing state I almost always begin using feeling language to try and figure out how I can help him feel safe, or what he might need. Since he has very low self awareness when it comes to emotions being connected to behaviors he often begins to argue with me more. Stating that he is “fine” and that he’s not scared, and that I just don’t understand him. My question is how can I learn (and then eventually coach teachers) to help him feel safe on an individual scale, not just generically, as you mentioned, when he is adamitly against emotion even being a component in the interaction? I can intuitively feel this out at home and try many different tactics, but this often takes a lot of time that we don’t always have, and it’s not reproducible. It would be wonderful if I had some go-to tools that I knew would help him get back to the receptive platform and off of the vulnerable one. How can I know what helps him feel individually safe or better if he can’t even admit that he feels uncomfortable? I’m sorry this is long. I hope this makes sense and that you might have some advice for me! Thank you.

        • 2e Me on March 14, 2020 at 8:24 am

          For Jenny re her son’s response about emotions (we couldn’t get the reply button to work), my son (who could be described in some ways similarly to hers, and who also experiences similar reactions from teachers) asked to share the following, in case it may be helpful or clarifying. He doesn’t find standard “emotion” language to be particularly apt, so perhaps Jenny’s son may feel similarly, and the following explanation may resonate. Just offering this in case anything is valuable. Each individual is … an individual!

          “Something definitely seems wrong to me with the way people talk about emotion as if it’s something completely separate from rational thought. For me and probably many others on the Spectrum, there’s just Thought, which includes what neurotypicals call emotion. Therefore, standard ’emotional’ language has always seemed to miss the point to me because it inherently belittles an experience as ‘irrational,’ whether or not it is intended that way. I could imagine that seeming offensive, unhelpful, or just plain wrong, depending on how one has reconciled (or not) one’s own mind with how our language faultily describes it.”

Leave a Comment