Graduate School of Social Work Student Yeshaya Lieber’s Quest to Correct Treatment of Child Behavioral Disorders
While attending high school, Long Island native Yeshaya Lieber befriended an autistic classmate. As the years passed on, the two not only maintained a personal relationship, but Lieber assumed some of the duties an aide would normally oversee. Their multi-dimensional bond had a profound impact on Lieber (“That was a very unique experience to be able to do that and it changed the trajectory of my life,” he reflects). The eventual Lander Arts and Sciences grad would later work as a counselor at the Diamond Summer Program, the only behavior-modification program that exclusively serves Orthodox Jewish enrollees with ADHD, ODD, Asperger’s Syndrome and related disorders.
In May 2014, he’ll be receiving his Master’s in Social Work from Touro, but Lieber is already finding ways to reach more children with behavioral issues. In between classes at the Graduate School of Social Work, he helps mentor and guide middle-schoolers in Lawrence, Long Island at Hebrew Academy of the Five Towns & Rockaway (HAFTR). His position? Dean of Encouragement. As you may have guessed, that wasn’t the intended job title.
“Originally, it would have been Dean of Discipline,” he explains. “But I was talking to a mentor of mine, and he said, ‘You’re not the Dean of Discipline, you’re the Dean of Encouragement. Your goal is to encourage students to make better choices, and when they make poor choices, encourage them to work on fixing those choices.’”
Not every student he encounters at HAFTR is necessarily struggling with behavioral or social issues, but they are all young adolescents, which comes with its own set of challenges. “At this age, it’s really [important] to teach natural consequences when they make poor choices and guide them to handle the situation better in the future,” he says. “So in the case of a student who may have fooled around at lunch and threw a bunch of food around, what would be an appropriate consequence? It wouldn’t be just to sit in detention and write an assignment, but instead to miss some of his or her recess to assist the custodians in cleaning up the lunchroom. That would be a natural consequence.”
During his own youth and teenage years, Lieber—who’s also a drummer and son of a musician—was fortunate to have several figures from varying corners of life instill universally applicable wisdom and direction, whether a former principal or childhood percussion instructor. The latter, he recalls, “taught me you’re almost never playing the traditional role in a band. You’re constantly finding your way into the music. So I’m looking at situations maybe differently than the next person, because there may be a better approach…. People say they think out of the box—I am never in the box.”
So the question now for Yeshaya is how to best integrate his myriad passions—mentoring, music and faith—into a singular career methodology. Naturally, he’s not wasting any time. “I got a taste of it recently,” he says. “I was able to use my musical skills to work within the Diamond Summer Program with a camper who had behavioral and social-emotional difficulties. I worked with him on playing the beat in a structured way, and we were able to use the rhythm as a way to slow him down and center him, which allowed him to be part of the group. I was very intrigued by the results, and I look forward to really tying music in more as a real therapeutic tool.”
Above all, Lieber encourages others to be kind and generous with kids who are struggling through setbacks, and hopes to inspire others with that very philosophy. “The same way when a person has a serious illness such as diabetes or cancer and it’s crucial to treat them with the utmost respect and every component of medical attention, we need to teach children with behavioral, emotional-social problems seriously in order to maximize their success.”