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Art opens the door for Austin

April 18, 2011

The first time Youth Villages Multisystemic Therapy Counselor Ulanda Davis met Austin, he wouldn’t speak. During the Pinehurst, N.C.-based counselor’s visits, Austin’s mom, Sandra, had to prompt him to answer questions.

“She tried to show him it was OK to trust me,” said Ulanda. “One day, I asked about his drawings on the kitchen table.”


At that moment, Austin decided to open up and began enthusiastically explaining his artwork, often involving sketches of video game characters. Before long, this initially shy 12-year-old turned out to be quite the opposite.

While opening up, Austin admitted that he regularly got into trouble at school for fighting with peers and disrespecting teachers.

“I get grumpy,” he said.

Austin said he didn’t like to be in trouble. Ulanda began to work with him on techniques to overcome his anger.

“She told me to count to 10,” Austin said.

At first, he didn’t think it would work. But Ulanda convinced him to try counting that evening when he felt upset. The next morning, Austin was excited to admit that it had helped calm him and he eventually began to implement this new method at school.

Ulanda met with Austin’s teachers and the school principal to make sure everyone was committed to helping with his new coping methods. Austin began to improve his behaviors and also learned how to avoid confrontations with other students.

“They would pay attention to his facial expressions and remind him to count to 10,” Ulanda said. “When kids were teasing one another, Austin would move to an empty desk to take himself out of the situation.”

Outside the classroom, Ulanda joined forces with Austin’s mom to form boundaries at home. Sandra was responsible for setting up a system of rewards and consequences. When

Austin broke the rules, he had punishments such as 10-minute time outs or grounding with no TV or computer.

“I’ve worked really hard on being consistent with it,” she said. “Having Ulanda come into the home encouraged me to be persistent, which helped a lot. It was great having someone to talk to.”

Now, Austin makes Bs and Cs instead of Ds and Fs. Math and science are his best subjects. At home, a daily routine has helped because Austin knows what is expected of him. Instead of arguing or fighting, he removes himself from the situation and goes to his room.

“Ulanda came in the home and talked with everyone,” Sandra said. “She was honest and explained how everything would work. It’s made such a difference.”

Learn more about Multisystemic Therapy (MST) at

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