“Not What I Expected: Help and Hope for Parents of Atypical Children”

Not What I Expected: Hope and Help for Parents of Atypical Children  

IMG_3485 Now available on Amazon for pre-order!

Not What I Expected: Hope and Help for Parents of Atypical Children  

Dr. Rita Eichenstein has written a new book specifically for parents of atypical kids, supporting their emotional journey as they meet parenting challenges with increased awareness, optimism and emotional support.  With foreword by Daniel J. Siegel, M.D.

Pub date:  April 7, 2015 Perigee/Penguin Press

“A superb book. Chock full of arresting insights as well as warmth and wisdom.”—Edward Hallowell, M.D., author of The Childhood Roots of Adult Happiness

“In this magnificent handbook for learning to become the best source of support for an atypical child, Rita Eichenstein, Ph.D., serves as an inspiring guide. This book will walk you step by step through the inner and outer challenges of this journey.” –Daniel J. Siegel, M.D., author of Brainstorm and Mindsight 

 “At last, a book that speaks directly to parents of children who are atypical, as well as to their teachers. Easily digestible and offering insight, support, warmth, and a touch of humor, Not What I Expected will enhance your parenting toolbox and enrich your parenting life.”
Betsy Brown Braun, MA,  Child Development and Behavior Specialist, and bestselling author of Just Tell Me What to Say andYou’re Not the Boss of Me

“Clear, practical and filled with hope, the ideas and practices in this book offer a science-based common sense approach that any parent or practitioner working with an atypical child will be benefit from. What better gift can we give these children!”
Elisha Goldstein, PhD, author of Uncovering Happiness: Overcoming depression with Mindfulness and Self-Compassion  

 Pre-order your copy today: available on both paperback and kindle: 

Not What I Expected: Hope and Help for Parents of Atypical Children  

Not What I Expected: Hope and Help for Parents of Atypical Children  

The Gift of the Mismatch: When You and Your Kid Don’t Match

17337007_sSometimes, parents do experience a subtle type of disappointment with their child: when they and their child are mismatched, either by temperament, ability or by passion.

Why should this matter? While you are ready to love your child – no matter what! – there is a part of you that feels just a little rejected, powerless or dismissed when your child does not embrace what is important to you, or cannot be the type of person you want them to  be, perhaps because of a disability or just temperament.  In fact,  sometimes your child can be exactly opposite of what you expected!

Surfer Parents, Meet Sensory Sensitive Sam:

Take Betty and Bob. Passionate surfers, they had their first date on the beach. Their baby shower for their little boy featured little blue surfboards on top of every cupcake. But Sam was born with too much sensory sensitivity that he couldn’t handle the beach. He hated getting ‘dirty’, the noise of the ocean scared him and he hated the water. Disappointed parents could not help a child like Sam become his own person; Betty and Bob had some emotional work to do.

Surprise! Kids Aren’t Clones of Their Parents 

Kids are not necessarily clones of their parents. They come with their own kitbag of passions and aversions, let alone disabilities and handicaps. It’s not being selfish or narcissistic for parents to feel disappointed and powerless, stumped by an unexpected impasse that seems so unexpected that you are stopped in your tracks. It’s important to recognize it and learn how to handle these prickly sensitive feelings of yours.

Keep a Gratitude Diary:

If this is you, you just might want to try it.  It might sound trite, but the research is sound.  The potential benefits of expressing gratitude: increased immunity, lower blood pressure, less anxiety and depression, increased happiness.  Keeping that gratitude diary may also help you take some of the pressure off of your expectations of your child, as you build on your gratitude skills, your view of your child expands as you grow to appreciate the differences that enrich your lives.

There are many well known people with this complicated parenting wrinkle. Famously, Beverly Sills, the notable opera singer, had a deaf daughter as well as an autistic son. British model Katie Price has openly discussed the special needs of her son. She keeps a set of printed cards in her purse so when she encounters people staring at Harvey, who has septo-optic dysplasia (which causes blindness and growth hormone deficiency), Prader-Willi syndrome (a genetic disorder causing him to eat to excess and prone to obesity and diabetes) and ADHD and autism – she can simply hand a card to them, which reads, “You’re obviously looking because you’re interested. This is his condition… Look up what’s wrong with him and if you want to donate to a charity that supports children like this, then do it.”

Irish actor Colin Farrell, says his son James, who has special needs is “nothing but a gift.” “I don’t know if I would be here if I hadn’t had him,” the Total Recall actor said. He was a huge part of me going in and making certain changes in my life.” Colin’s son James was diagnosed with Angelman Syndrome, a neuro-genetic disorder that affects speech and movement, when he was a year old.

“I look around and I see people who move perfectly, who walk with grace, who speak with great diction and clarity and a great use of the English language and we’re all miserable f**kers – including me, at times,” Colin said. “And then I see this fella who doesn’t move the way what’s perceived to be ‘normal’ is, and he’s as happy as can be.”

 Clearly, while parenting is always a challenge, a most important and unexpected challenge is adjusting your expectations. When you adjust your expectations to embrace your child for who they are, rather than for whom you expect them to be, you can open your heart to allow for unexpected pleasure, and surprise gifts.

May this season of gratitude, sharing joy and gifts allow us all to appreciate the blessings of all children.


Four Things You Might Not Know about Learning Disabilities

29269571_sIt’s about that time of year when the parent-teacher conferences start the first round.  Parents, don’t wait for teachers to confirm things that you suspect about your child.  Your child’s teacher has only known your child for a few short months, now is the time to check things out if you are worried.


Here is the link to an article I collaborated on about learning disabilities from Scholastic Magazine, By Stephanie Booth.

The first step to overcoming any learning struggle — whether it’s been diagnosed or not — is to get informed. We spoke to parents and specialists to get the facts everyone needs to know.


1. Early warning signs can be missed.

Usually, there’s nothing you can do to prevent a learning disorder. That’s because many experts think these conditions are present before birth, thanks to genetics (LDs tend to run in families) or because a baby was exposed to toxins like lead while in the womb.

Clues can crop up in preschool, but they’re easy to overlook, since children learn at their own pace and go through many phases. Still, many kids with LDs have difficulty rhyming words; pronouncing new words; or remembering everyday routines, like how to zip a jacket.
Parents need to trust their instincts. After all, we know our children better than anyone else does,” she says. As soon as you suspect an issue, she adds, bring it up to the school and get your child tested. The earlier the learning disorder can be identified, the sooner a child can get help from the school or from an outside specialist.

2. LDs have nothing to do with being smart.

Kids with learning disorders get unfairly labeled as stupid or lazy, but many are super-smart. It’s just that their brains work differently — and that gets in the way of their ability to learn

For example, brain scans have shown that dyslexic kids mainly use the right side of their brains to read rather than the left, which is the part that controls language and analysis. When kids decode words, the information has to travel farther (from right to left) before it can be understood. That’s partly why dyslexic kids are slower readers. For many people with dyslexia, words can blend together — or the spaces between them can disappear. Some dyslexic kids can whiz through big words but struggle with little ones like “at” or “for.”
Brain differences can affect another type of LD known as auditory processing disorder (APD). A child with APD hears perfectly well, but she cannot accurately interpret the sounds she hears: “I picked an apple from the tree,” for instance, may sound like “I picked an ample frog tree.” Even the simplest instructions are difficult to decipher for these kids, especially when the classroom turns noisy.
3. LDs affect life in — and out of — the classroom.

A learning disorder doesn’t magically disappear when the last bell rings. Kids who spend all day struggling in school may act out at home. If they have trouble staying organized in class, the same is true when they get off the bus.

Besides dyslexia, Luke Reilly also has executive function disorder, so he struggles when he has to shift activities. To shore up these skills, Reilly gives her son a “to-do” list for the next morning that includes things most kids do automatically, including “put on your shoes.” She breaks down tasks for him step by step, has Luke repeat each step back before he does it, and reinforces the list with a chart. “The structure will eventually help Luke learn to do these things by himself,” explains his mom.
Still, it’s equally important to let kids figure stuff out on their own, particularly in areas they already shine in. “Luke is pretty intuitive and empathetic,” Reilly says. “I would never step in to help him in social situations the same way that I help manage his time and work.”
Reilly’s advice to parents: Have realistic expectations when dealing with the areas that a kid finds challenging. But set high expectations where kids show strengths and can stand on their own two feet. That’s another way to help boost self-confidence.
4. Kids with LDs have bright futures.
It’s normal for parents to feel anxious, angry, or crushed when their child gets diagnosed. The stats can be dire: 20 percent of kids with an LD drop out of high school, compared to 8 percent of other students, according to the U.S. Department of Education. Almost half of all high-schoolers with an LD have fallen three grade levels behind in math and reading.
But experts urge parents to reframe the situation. While learning differences can’t be cured, with the right tools, kids can excel and be successful, says Dr. Eichenstein. “Kids with learning disorders have the potential to change the world because of their creative, out-of-the-box thinking. The challenge is keeping their self-esteem strong and helping them find their unique talents.”
Parents can do that in all sorts of ways. First, it’s crucial to find the right type of help. To aid her 9-year-old with dyslexia, Dawn Clarke, of Gig Harbor, WA, located a learning center through the International Dyslexia Association (Interdys.org). Their son Jones goes three times a week after school — and he’s gotten the encouragement and specialized program he needs to read well.
Clarke also gives her son plenty of opportunities to pursue other passions that come more easily. “I tell Jones his dyslexia gives him the ability to think visually, and that’s why drawing’s a natural for him.”
“Jones’s difficulties have really become an asset,” Clarke continues. “He’s a problem-solver and go-getter, and that comes from having to work so hard at things most of us take for granted, like reading. There are advantages to not being an average learner. Look at Steve Jobs!”
Is it a Learning Disorder — or Trouble Learning?
Struggling to master a subject doesn’t necessarily mean there’s a neurologically based delay. Here, a few ways to tell the difference, from Rita Eichenstein, Ph.D., a pediatric neuropsychologist:
It’s probably not an LD if your child . . .
  • Used to do fine in school. Divorce, death, family problems, dealing with bullies, or getting used to a new school can all cause setbacks or cause a good student to suddenly fall behind.
  • Benefits from short-term help. Extra attention from the teacher or weekly meetings with a tutor can get many kids over the hump.
  • Is able to follow through on complex instructions. Even if kids forget a step now and then, they mostly know what to do when parents or teachers tell or show them.
It probably is a learning disorder if your child . . .
  • Has had trouble with classwork from day one. A kid with an LD struggles with key academic skills, from reading comprehension to figuring out math problems.
  • Can’t keep up with tutoring. These kids need frequent sessions with specialized teachers and effective methods to stay on track.
  • Can’t get through a set of instructions. Kids find it difficult to remember all the steps they need to follow directions.
When Your Child Needs Help
All public schools must evaluate kids for free. These tips can get you started on the right path:
Gather info
Make copies of your child’s report cards and tests, along with teacher comments and your observations.
Make a written request
State the reason your child needs to be evaluated in a letter or e-mail and send it to school officials.
Get de-briefed
A team of education pros will interview you and your child, observe her in the classroom, review her history, and administer tests. Afterward, they should explain the results and diagnosis to you.
Figure out the options
Kids diagnosed with an LD are entitled to an individualized education plan (IEP) that spells out special services (say, speech therapy) provided by the school free of charge. If your child doesn’t get an IEP, ask for a 504 plan, which gives kids with learning issues special accommodations, like extra time to finish tests.
Don’t give up
Every district has different requirements for IEP and 504 plans. If you disagree with the evaluation results or services, you have the right to another screening. You can also pay out of pocket for a third-party expert. To find one, go to Parentcenternetwork.org.


The Day I Had To Tell My Son He Was Different

A common issue that many parents ask about is when  they should tell their children about their differences.  There is no single answer and each family may take a 7615524_s (1)different approach.  Particularly after having their child tested, parents want to know how to talk to their child about the results.  This article represents one parent’s version of how they handled this issue.

Reprinted from Kveller, October 14, 2014, written by Samantha Taylor:

When my very bright son’s grades started to plummet, we decided it was time to find out what was going on. In an attempt to help him, we subjected him to a sleep study, neurological exams, academic exams, and psychological testing. At the same time, Joey was struggling with skills for the standardized tests, so he was taking multiple practice exams and being pulled out of class to work with a reading specialist.

He was patient, and handled them all like a champ. Occasionally he’d ask about the testing. We’d give him a simple but truthful answer, and move the conversation along by talking about Minecraft.

After a few weeks, his questions started to change. Instead of asking what the tests were all about, he started to ask if there was something wrong with him, or if he was different than the other kids in his class. I noticed his self-esteem wasn’t doing so hot, and at homework time there were tears. He started to call himself stupid.

When my husband and I got the results of the testing, we were pretty surprised.His scores were off the charts high for memorization, spelling, and math. However, his scores for reading comprehension, specifically language processing, were extremely low. The team at school decided that he would benefit from 90 minutes per week of language therapy with a Speech and Language Pathologist.

On the way home in the car, it hit me. We need to tell him the results. His ego is deflated, and it shouldn’t be. He’s 9, and doesn’t need to know all of the specifics, but this kid has gifts. He needs to be reminded of that. He also needs to understand that he has a deficit, and he’s going to get help for it.

After consulting a mental health counselor (who had worked with us before) I was prepared to tell Joey all about the test results. My husband and I practiced the language we would use. This was a delicate situation; we wanted to handle it properly.

I wanted Joey to know that this conversation was special, so my parents came over to watch the other kids. My husband and I got in the car to take Joey to his favorite Italian ice place and have the talk. On the way there Joey asked if he was in trouble, what we were going to talk about, and why his brother and sister were staying at home. I didn’t want to have the conversation in the car. The way I had prepared was to talk to him face to face.

We got our desserts and sat down. The talk went something like this.

“Joey, the reason we are here is to explain all of the testing you’ve been going through. We want you to know that we got all the test results, and thought we’d share them with you. You have an amazing memory. Your math scores were at the 6th grade level. Your spelling scores were at the 9th grade level. You have an amazing brain. There’s one thing you need help with. When your brain reads something, sometimes it has a hard time understanding what you’ve read. That’s why you’ve been pulled out of class to work with the reading coach. Now you get to work with another teacher to help you get better at that skill. This is just like someone who needs glasses to help them see better. You are an amazing kid with an incredible brain, and we just wanted you to know that. Do you have any questions?”

“Nope,” he said, in between bites of cherry ice.

“Really? You don’t have anything to ask us?

“Nope, I’m good,” he said.

My husband gave me that “let it go” look. So I did. I let it go. The conversation quickly moved onto Minecraft.

That night as I was tucking Joey into bed, I just couldn’t help myself. I asked him again, “Did you have a chance to think about what we talked about this afternoon? Do you have any more questions?”

“No,” he said. “Thanks for telling me. Do I have to take anymore long tests?”

“No, Joey,” I said. “That’s all done.”

“Cool, goodnight Mom.”

Sometimes I forget that he’s on his way to becoming a young man. He’s turning 10 next month. We can no longer expect that he’s not going to be curious about anything out of the ordinary. From now on, I’ve learned to keep him in the loop from the beginning. The thought that he assumed he was dumber than the rest of his class because of the excessive testing breaks my heart.

There comes a time when you realize your kids aren’t babies anymore. I’m going to start talking to him like the little man that he is slowly becoming before my eyes. With parenting there’s always room for improvement, and there’s always room for Italian ice.

13 Ways To Beat Stress In 15 Minutes Or Less

This was published in Huffington Post (9/19/14).  As parents of atypical children need to monitor and manage their stress, these tips are good reminders.  Read on for stress busting recommendations.

By Yelena Shuster

Ever felt like you just can’t unwind after a demanding week? That’s because stress triggers your body’s fight or flight response: your adrenaline starts pumping, your heart beats faster, and your blood pressure rises, explains Ash Nadkarni, M.D., an associate psychiatrist at Brigham & Women’s Hospital. “Long-term overexposure to stress hormones can cause increased risk of health problems such as anxiety, depression, heart disease, weight gain, and memory and concentration problems,” Dr. Nadkarni adds.

That’s not exactly a relaxing thought. So what should you do when calming classics like downward-facing dog and chamomile tea don’t work? Check out these alternative ways to de-stress recommended by experts and recent studies.

Wake up early.
waking up

It may feel counterintuitive to deprive yourself of sleep, but giving yourself an extra 15 to 20 minutes before you head out the door will leave you feeling more refreshed — and less frazzled. “Take time in the morning to center yourself,” says San Francisco-based psychologist Leslie Carr, Psy.D. “A lot of people shoot out into their days like a rocket ship and it never gets better from there.”

Consider that caffeine takes 20 minutes to be metabolized for you to feel its effect. During that time, think about your goals for the day or read something inspirational. You might find that your normally crazy day goes a little smoother.

Create a soothing space.
Research suggests that warm colors like red excite you and cooler, muted colors like blue, green, or grey relax you, says Molly Roberts, M.D., president of the American Holistic Medical Association — but surrounding yourself in any color you find soothing can help bring on calm. “The theory behind the use of color therapy is that colors enter the eyes, which then send messages along the nerve pathways to the area of the brain that regulates emotion,” Roberts says. “There are a lot of ways to surround yourself with colors that can ease stress throughout the day.” Her suggestions: at home, paint an accent wall; and at the office, drape a soothing-colored scarf over the back of your chair and change your computer screensaver.

Clean out your junk drawers.
When you’re feeling emotionally drained, chances are whipping out your Swiffer is the last thing you want to do. But the truth is, tidying up your home can also tidy up your mind. “Having a mindset of de-cluttering helps to manage stress,” says Lauren Napolitano, Psy.D., a psychologist at Bryn Mawr Hospital in Pennsylvania. “Purging unused items gives a sense of order to your physical environment, which helps you feel calmer about your stressors.” She suggests starting with a small project, like your kitchen junk drawer. “Tangible or visible organization leads to emotional organization,” Napolitano says. If you’re ready to take it up a notch, schedule monthly donation pickups with Goodwill to keep yourself in the de-cluttering habit.

Visualize your stressful thoughts.

Your coworker just threw you under the bus. Your husband forgot to walk the dog. When it’s that kind of day, try thought diffusion, “a sort of visual mindfulness meditation, a way to sweep out whatever is buzzing around unhelpfully in your head,” says Erin Olivo, Ph.D., an assistant professor of medical psychology at Columbia University and author of Wise Mind Living: Master Your Emotions, Transform Your Life.

Here’s how it works: Imagine your thoughts are like clouds in the sky, and let them drift by above you. “When you begin to observe your thoughts as mental objects that simply come and go, they become less unpleasant, less threatening and less emotionally powerful,” Olivo says.

Watch cat videos.
There’s a reason Buzzfeed links are popping up all over your newsfeed. There’s nothing that will relieve some tension like watching a baby masterfully dancing to Beyonce or a cat riding a Roomba in a shark costume.

“After a stressful day, looking at these funny things actually activates the part of the brain that delivers tranquility and a calm physiological response,” says Rose Hanna, a relationship counselor and professor of psychology and women’s studies at California State University Long Beach. “This decreases anxiety and helps tremendously with reducing stress.”

Sing your heart out.
The next time you’re feeling strung out, start belting it out. As sound reverberates through the body, your mind relaxes, whether singing in a chorus or meditatively chanting om, says Rita Eichenstein, Ph.D., a neuropsychologist at Cedars-Sinai Medical Towers in Los Angeles.

Singing has even been found to reduce levels of cortisol (the stress hormone) in the body, and one case study revealed that singing prior to surgery reduced blood pressure (more research is needed). Not ready to unleash your inner Rihanna? Start by singing in the shower. “Singing tunes you love brings up positive memories and takes your mind off the stressors,” Eichenstein says.

Start a scrapbook.

We’ll admit it: stickers and colored construction paper seem so kindergarten. But getting in touch with your crafty side has mental health benefits. Think of it as your adult playtime. “Scrapbooking helps you focus, which diverts you away from stressful and difficult emotions, and also helps you feel connected to the people you’re scrapbooking about,” says Nina Savelle-Rocklin, Psy.D., a Los Angeles-based psychotherapist. And no, Pinterest boards don’t count. “There’s something about the tactile element of scrapbooking — cutting, pasting, positioning — that is probably more relaxing that posting online,” Savelle-Rocklin adds.

Pick up a physical hobby.
If scrapbooking isn’t your thing, try to find another activity to occupy your time. “What stress does to someone’s mind is flood it with thoughts,” explains Nadkami. “All of these thoughts knock about your head and they make you feel overwhelmed.” Sound familiar? The best way to stop the stress spiral is by refocusing your mind on one thought: Gardening focuses you on the physical feeling of the soil that you can hold in your hands. Knitting concentrates your thoughts on the predictability of loops of yarn. “The important thing is that you channel your energy into one thing and this, in turn, relaxes your mind by eliminating all of the distracting stresses,” says Nadkarni.

Clench your muscles (then release).
This technique was developed in the 1930’s and has been recommended ever since. “The idea behind progressive muscle relaxation is to first create muscle tension, then relaxation, to provide physical relief. A relaxed body often leads to a relaxed mind,” says Savelle-Rocklin.

Start by getting into a comfortable position, like lying down in loose clothing. Tense and relax each muscle group for five seconds at a time, starting with your forehead, then moving down to your eyes, lips, hands, forearms, shoulders, back, stomach, hips, thighs, feet and, finally, your toes. If any muscle remains tense after the sequence, tighten and relax it three or four times. Massage, shmassage.

Take deep breaths.
guy relaxed

No matter if you’re checking out in the supermarket or waiting to pick up your kids from school, take one minute to breathe deeply through your nose into your abdomen, says Roswell, Georgia-based physical therapist Samuel A. Mielcarski. He advises resting your hands over your lower ribcage or abdomen to help cue deeper breathing. “Breathing fully and deeply into the abdomen brings about a sense of calm because more oxygen is getting delivered to the body’s cells, which helps the body to relax,” explains Olivo. “This type of breathing also helps to increase what is known as the ‘relaxation response,’ which is connected to the parasympathetic nervous system involved with calming the body.”

Write mental thank you notes.
Change the course of your stressful thoughts with a form of cognitive behavioral therapy, suggests marriage and family therapist Alisa Ruby Bash, who practices in Beverly Hills, California. “Before stress gets worse, it’s so important to learn to harness your thoughts,” she says. “For example, when you notice the tension in your body, picture a big red stop sign. Immediately switch your thinking to start mentally focusing on all the things you are grateful for. Look around you to include anything you find beautiful or pleasant in your present moment.” Store a gratitude list on your smartphone so you can reference it any time things get hectic.

Feel your pressure points.
You’re stuck in traffic and feeling like you’re going to explode. Time to try pressure point therapy, a form of acupuncture you can practice on your own. “Pressure to certain points on the body can help to release muscular tension and promote blood circulation,” says Mielcarski. It’s easiest to start with the Third Eye Point, the space between your eyebrows where the bridge of your nose meets your forehead. Place your middle and index finger on it and hold the position for one to two minutes using gentle to firm pressure.

Smell the roses.

Research is mixed on scent therapy, but anyone who’s sniffed a bouquet of roses or breathed in the smell of the ocean knows that certain scents can be soothing. Brooklyn-based therapist and social worker La Shawn M. Paul recommends adding a few drops of your favorite scent to coconut oil after a relaxing bath so that the scent can linger longer. “It is believed that once inhaled, the scents alter the mood by stimulating various parts of the brain associated with emotion,” Paul says. Or try a scent that reminds you of nature, suggests Napolitano. “Smells like salt water or fresh rain are especially calming because they help you to think of life outside of your current stressor.”