DAVIE, FL, February 22, 2018 -- "None of us should really be surprised by the actions of the 19-year old Mass Shooter in South Florida. As devastating as his actions were, he gave strong hints that he was troubled and troubled people cause trouble," shares Dr. Julia Harper, PhD, MS, OTR/L, parenting expert, neuroplasticity expert for over 20 years and founder of TheraPeeds Family Center, a center that re-wires the brain of children with learning disabilities, autism, ADHD, OCD and other brain dysfunctions.

Nikolas Cruz had a chronic battle with mental illness and depression, which didn’t start recently and often never does. Physiological limitations in the brains of our children can often be present and go on as undiagnosed Processing Disorders.

Processing disorders are identified by breakdowns in brain functioning and/or behavioral abilities that cannot be attributed to brain structural damage or abnormalities. In other words, with these disorders, the brain LOOKS like it is intact and SHOULD be functioning intact, but IT IS NOT. Rather, poor wiring and connections in the brain can cause disruptions in everything from motor, communication, learning, social, emotional and behavioral function.

These unseen and unrecognized Processing Disorders can be highly correlated with later diagnosis of mental disorders such as anxiety and depression. When these disorders go unidentified or undetected AND untreated, they can lead to emotional and mental breakdown. This is why early detection and treatment is critical.

 “The shooter's brain was not working for him, which was combined with an environment that did not recognize it and more importantly did not know how to handle it. It was a cocktail for disaster,” states Dr. Julia Harper. Cruz showed early signs of a possible processing disorder, but nothing in his history suggested that this was ever identified or addressed.

We look at situations like these and after the fact we say, what could we have done? We must begin to open our eyes to SEE these early signs in our children and get them the right help early.


It is our DUTY to see what is happening with our children. Sometimes we don’t SEE because we don’t want to and other times it because we don’t know what to look for. Below may be signs of a Processing Disorder that can affect emotional regulation and stability. See if your child exhibits any of these behaviors:

  • Is inflexible
  • Has trouble making friends and prefers to be alone
  • Has difficulty with change in routines and activities
  • Has trouble controlling their emotions or have emotional outbursts
  • Seems obsessive about specific activities
  • Has difficulty respecting authority or consistently challenges authority
  • Appears impulsive
  • Has difficulty identifying or solving their problems/turns to you to solve problems for them
  • Is a problem teller rather than a problem solver
  • Blames everyone and everything else for their problems
  • Is often the victim...everything happens 'to' them
  • Struggles academically
  • Has difficulty with social communication
  • Demonstrates challenge in motor skills and coordination
  • Gets frustrated easily
  • Has difficulty with persisting to task
  • Is having emotional and behavioral challenges at home or school
  • Isolating themselves
  • Is not adapting to the social demands
  • Wants to control situations
  • Always needing to know what is happening

It isn't any ONE of these things that indicate the possibility of a Processing Disorder, it is a cluster of these behaviors. In addition there is other testing that can be performed to confirm or rule-out the presence of these disorders. This is a place to start. 

Dr. Harper furthers this discussion explaining, "untreated processing disorders in young children, can sometimes lead to mental illness later in life. Those dealing with processing disorders typically exhibit early signs of their emotional distress via lack of problem solving and behavior dysfunction indicating that they are struggling with adapting to their environment and the demands of life." Are we willing to SEE the early signs?

An ounce of prevention is better than a pound of cure. If you notice any of these types of disorders while raising your children don’t be an expert. Stop, get help! As heartbreaking as it is to hear your child may have a processing disorder, it is far better than receiving the call that your child is one of the nation's mass murderers. It's not only your child's life you are saving, but your community's too."

Dr Harper stresses: “I’m NOT saying that ALL processing disorders lead to mental illness and mass shootings. I am NOT here to be an alarmist. I am saying that there can be a correlation AND it is important enough for us to take a look!” I am urging us all to SEE what we are missing. CHANGE how we think about and handle these situations and DO- act by getting information and help when necessary.


Instead of feeling hopeless and helpless in the face of all of this; instead of just calling this “an act of evil” which leaves us praying and hoping. Let’s DO something different.

Dr. Harper is eager to share what we all CAN DO…parents and teachers alike.

  1. Identify if there are possible early signs
  2. Prioritize your child above all else and get testing to rule out or determine if your child and your family needs help. You are not an expert in this. GET the help of an expert to give you answers. Not knowing is NO excuse. FIND OUT!
  3. Get the right intervention... it is possible to rewire the brain and move it from a broken brain that could possibly lead to these broken children that then break society!

Dr. Harper suggests that "parents, teachers and health professionals need to look at these problems from the beginning, when they start in early childhood. They need to SEE these problems, which can begin to show themselves through social, behavioral, learning, motor and communication problems. These deficits can start in early childhood, from the beginning. Let’s not wait to start looking for them in middle school, high school or worse after a tragedy. There are signs!

We welcome the opportunity to arrange a mutually beneficial time to interview Dr. Julia Harper, PhD, OTL/R to discuss the state of our children and ways to support parents to help recognize the signs of possible processing disorders shared above.

Let’s stop talking about this after each tragedy and work to address the brains of the children who need help before it becomes catastrophic for our society. Let’s create a new environment for these types of disorders.

Let’s start a conversation around changing the minds and brains of all children and supporting their parents with tools on how to deal with these types of issues. Dr. Harper can share what to look for in your own child. She also trains educators on how to identify these disorders so that we can intervene early and prevent potential tragedy.


About Julia Harper

Julia Harper, PhD, MS, OTR/L is a wife, mother, occupational therapist, business owner, psychologist, life coach mentor, speaker and writer. She brings all of these roles together to serve her mission of helping people-all people to live their lives beyond limitations.

For over 20 years, Julia has worked as a pediatric occupational therapist focusing on creating brain-based therapeutic programs that tap into neural-plasticity, the brain’s ability to adapt and change. Her world-renowned therapy center offers a WAY to HOPE which merges her two models: HOPE (Harper’s Optimal Protocols for Enrichment), which focuses on re-wiring the brain of those with physiological, learning and limitations in attention and WAY (What About You), which retrains the brain to move beyond emotional and thought limitations.

Creating change is at the center of her work, as she knows that to best serve the world, she needs to be an agent of change. This begins with the work she has done to change her own life, from becoming a Martha Beck certified life coach, certified Daring WAY facilitator with Brené Brown and studying with Wayne Dyer, Deepak Chopra, Byron Katie and others to the way she works to change the lives of her clients. She hopes that these changes have the ripple effect of changing the world. She is a firm believer that all change begins with her. Daily she lives this change to be the change.