Isaac is an 8-year-old boy who lives in the Pacific Northwest of the US with his mom, dad, twin sister, and older brother. Isaac’s mother, Carrie, describes him as hardworking and determined, and he is a skilled builder with Legos and magnatiles. Isaac’s journey with Mightier began with a search for tools to help with social anxiety at a point when Carrie says that she was desperate to help her son and to give him ways to help himself.
Carrie was first concerned for Isaac around age 2 when she noticed he was rather non-verbal. After being diagnosed with speech delay, Isaac started a “long haul” with speech therapy, which included hours of work at home and with the therapist each week. “For all of his challenges, when he really wants something, when he can see the value in something, he can hunker down and do it.” It took years of hard work, but Isaac’s speech drastically improved. Once he entered school, however, his self esteem “took a hit.” As is common for children with social anxiety, he compared himself to other students, which led to anxiety and self-doubt. It took him 3 months to work up the confidence to talk in Kindergarten.
Anxiety came into Isaac’s life in full force in first grade when he struggled to make friends and communicate. Carrie says that Isaac’s internal narrative to difficult challenges at school was “No, it’s too hard…I can’t do it.” When he was triggered, he would “melt,” tipping his head back and wailing, a deep cry that to Carrie said “I am scared, I don’t get it, I can’t do this.” At other times, he would tense up and go absolutely silent. Always on the lookout for tools to help her children, Carrie brought Isaac to the city children’s hospital, where he was referred to a class for social anxiety. There he made a few friends who had similar challenges, and he showed some improvement.
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Over the years Issac’s speech continued to improve, but his melting episodes were interfering with school. In 3rd grade he was having episodes of anxiety at least twice a week, so Carrie stepped in to work with the school psychologist, teachers and staff to put more tools in place for him. In her research to find resources, she found Mightier. Carrie had worked with biofeedback professionally and was intrigued by the benefits.
She talked with Isaac ahead of time and let him know that this is a tool that could help him work on his anxiety. Carrie set expectations for play prior to purchasing Mightier and had him promise that he would do his best for a couple months, and he was on board. Carrie made a deal with Isaac that he could play as much as he wanted in the start and then they would move to 15-20 minutes per day. Isaac agreed. Carrie thinks that he did not want to “melt” at school and hated losing control. “He felt powerless.” Carrie told him that Mightier could help, but he had to practice and it was going to take time.
When Mightier came, Isaac’s older brother helped him get set up, with Carrie nearby, offering suggestions around deep breathing. Carrie recalls that she realized she needed to step back and let him “do his thing” because at first he did not respond well to her prompts. Isaac explored more independently on Mightier and came up with a fun “giggly, snorting, deep breathing medley of a technique” and realized he could get his heart rate down quickly.
Glimpses of progress came in the first few months. Carrie remembers observing Isaac start to tense up as usual in response to something challenging, but instead of melting, she would see him use the “special breathing technique” that he learned with Mightier. Issac would use the technique to get through school assignments. In the beginning, it wouldn’t always work when he tried his new skills, and they would have to help him calm down. One of the biggest shifts that started to happen is when Carrie would encourage Isaac to use his skills in the moment. He would sometimes look at her and say “Okay, I’ll try.” The subtle boost in confidence in his own ability had started.
Early on in their Mightier journey, Isaac had a “relapse of sorts” at school, and Carrie was getting calls from the school to come help him. Isaac’s anxiety was getting triggered by writing activities in class, leading to panicked crying or being completely frozen and overwhelmed. After a few of these calls, Carrie brought Mightier into school with her. Isaac found that he was able to use Mightier at school to help him recover from the anxiety episodes he was having.
Carrie showed the behaviorist at Isaac’s school how Mightier works, and they set up a plan to leave the tablet at the school so that he could use it in times of distress. They made a special pass that Isaac could show his teacher when he needed to use Mightier with the behaviorist. Over time, he needed Mightier less during the school day, and they transitioned to having Isaac use Mightier in the classroom when he needed help managing his anxiety. Carrie says “this was amazing, because before he did not want other kids to see him use it.” Now they keep a tablet and heart rate monitor at school. Most weeks it does not get used, but if he needs it it is there.
Carrie says the real progress happened after 5 to 6 months of playing Mightier. Isaac had a period where he was playing Mightier less and “he started to slide.” Carrie got him back on, and he stopped sliding and she pointed that out to him. It was “like the lightbulb went off and he realized this really helps.” From then on it has been a different relationship with Mightier. Now, Carrie encourages Isaac to play every day. She sees him making intentional decisions around which days he most needs to play, depending on how he is feeling.
“It was like the lightbulb went off and he realized this really helps.”
Carrie thinks that in the beginning, it is hardest on the parent because “you have to encourage that it is used.” She recommends setting up a routine for Mightier. For their family, the expectation was that Isaac would play Mightier after school and before other video games. She says “it is a learning curve for us [parents] too…when to step in and when to not.” Carrie learned to provide the structure of encouraging playtime, while also maintaining flexibility to know that learning emotional regulation takes time and can involve both successes and challenges. “We had to be really diligent, and it is a commitment.”
Today, Isaac “can get through things most of the time.” Carrie gets notes from Isaac’s teacher about breakthroughs rather than troubles. Carrie sees Isaac using the calming skills he learned using Mightier to get through anxiety-provoking school assignments. He has confidence in himself, and he can take breaks to get back in control both on his own or with help. When he has moments where anxiety still tells him he can’t do it, Carrie points out all of the ways he has succeeded and reminds Isaac that he can do it, and he can go from saying “I can’t” to “I don’t know” to “I can try, by myself or with Mightier.” Even when anxiety does creep in, his recovery takes “a matter of minutes now, not hours or more like it was before.” Isaac loves when new games launch, especially Zombiefall, and continues to Mightier as a tool to work on his anxiety. With that innate hard work paired with Mightier and other tools he has collected over the years, he has achieved a level of confidence in his own ability to manage anxiety, and he is determined to keep going.