Kids are Like Pancakes

Mother with kids at the kitchenLast weekend, I decided to follow a new gluten free pancake recipe.  I was careful to follow the ingredients written on the recipe, since I had never done this before.  The directions said to use a nonstick skillet with cooking spray. I spooned the batter into 4 lovely circles on the sizzling pan.  I almost felt tender towards the promising little circles of yum – until it was time to flip them over and  I discovered that the nonstick spray wasn’t working. These little circles of yum became mush – see photo below for a reality check.

For my next attempt, I decided to go a bit rogue and use my common sense.  I generously buttered the pan, poured the batter and watched circles emerge – looking good! until my phone beeped and I  got distracted, responding to a text.  Pancakes? Burnt.  -see photo for reality check#2.

Was the third time the charm? By now, I knew what to do:

  1. butter the pan.
  2. Pour one perfect circle at a time.
  3. WATCH it carefully,
  4. flip when bubbly.
  5. Voila! not perfectly round but still pretty and delicious!

p.s.  JUST KIDDING! I couldn’t make that plate above! That photo above is actually from the recipe card, BUT all three of my batches were actually delish, they just didn’t look anything like the photo led me to expect!

What’s the parable here? There are several.

  1. Good Enough:  As my kids would love to tell you, I’m not the world’s best cook.  At times, I have produced a few startling successes, but most of the time, it’s just good enough to fill the belly without winning any awards.
    Good enough” parenting was a term coined by a child development specialist, Donald Winnicot, when he said that kids don’t need superstar perfection in order to become perfectly great people. Follow the link for more on that!
  2. When to go off recipe: Following the standard rules does not apply to every kid. As with my first pancake batch, the nonstick spray wasn’t effective.  These pancakes needed … ACCOMMODATIONS. In this case, the accommodations was a good stick of butter.  In your child’s case, it may be an IEP or 504 plan. Or medical interventions. Get your child tested if you KNOW they need something, but just aren’t sure what.
  3. Pay attention. Kids don’t grow on their own.  Just as my pancakes got burnt when I took that text, kids can get neglected.  Put down your cell phone long enough to watch your kids grow up.
  4. Specific Accommodations: Like many children, my final pancakes needed me to go beyond the expectations described in the recipe.  For my unique pancakes,  success was a pancake that required:  non-standard administration of the protocol, careful attention and it’s own plan, I mean, pan.  Some kids need us to go above and beyond the standard “recipe”:  pay attention and make sure that your child gets what they need, both from you, from their school and their environment.  Don’t hesitate to make the call if they need more than is “typically acceptable”.
  5. And finally, kids are not, just like pancakes, meant to be picture perfect. But all of them are delicious and no two are exactly alike.

For those who are curious about accommodations, IEP plans, why you should put down your cell phones and the pancake recipe, follow the links. For more about Neuropsychological testing go to my website:

For those who need a more specific “recipe” check out my brilliant colleagues book “Just Tell Me What to Do” by Betsy Brown Braun

For more inroads into atypical children, go to my Not What I Expected – Help and Hope for Atypical Children


Under the Sea

Woman dives underwater.Parents! Do you sometimes feel “under it”? Like everyone else is happily swimming and frolicking at the surface while you are down below?

Overwhelmed with life? The scheduling, driving to therapies, your pediatrician has your phone on speed dial, difficulty catching a break with your sweet atypical? Stressed out beyond belief? Feeling like you’re under water?

Study the photo carefully, for your inspiration. There is deep beauty under the sea, even at the very bottom. Take time to study your environment. Open your eyes. Breathe. Yes, even dance.  There is no crime against dancing! Even while caring for your atypical.

Make a resolution: today I resolve to notice all the beauty that surrounds me and all the possibilities around me.

Tomorrow will be better.

Sending much love, Dr. Rita

Parents of Special Needs Kids – Yes, You Are the Best Employee; Here’s Why

Two years ago, I was six months pregnant with identical twins and working at a job in health communications that I loved. Then my daughters were born three months early via emergency Caesarean section. I spent the next 14 months at the children’s hospital while my daughters underwent multiple surgeries and learned how to breathe independently.

My career aspirations? Forget the back burner. They were consigned to another stratosphere.

Nearly 1 in 5 U.S. children has a special health-care need, and that percentage continues to increase. This reality can force parents like me into an impossible conundrum: Should I prioritize my career or my kid?

Roughly 40 percent of American parents of children with disabilities will leave the workforce to become a full-time caregiver. The other 60 percent will make workplace accommodations — such as taking more days off — to bring their child to appointments or to attend individualized education program (IEP) meetings.

I left the full-time workforce to be our daughters’ primary caregiver, becoming a part-time consultant to keep my resume fresh for when I would be able to return to a 9-to-5 job. And I resigned myself to the idea that my professional development would stall at the ripe old age of 32.

Then I discovered something unexpected: All of the advocacy work I was doing in the children’s hospital and doctor’s offices was transforming me into a more capable professional.

The twice-daily hospital rounds with a team of doctors? Here I honed my relationship-building abilities. Managing caregiving schedules for twins in different locations? This helped me learn how to delegate effectively. All of those calls with my insurance company battling medical bills? An FBI hostage negotiator could not have imagined a better training exercise. And my crash course in neonatology gave me confidence I could handle anything that fell into my lap.

This got me thinking. What if we challenged the prevailing cultural narrative that having a special-needs child was incompatible with our career growth? What if we reframed caregiving as excellent leadership training in disguise? So I asked around and discovered other parents who have found the advocacy they did every day for their children helped sharpen their professional skills.

Judy Welage, of New York City, says having a daughter, now 13, with a rare endocrine disorder improved her ability to get things accomplished.

“You know that adage ‘if you want something done, ask a busy person?’” Welage says. “That was me when my daughter was little.”

According to Dr Rita Eichenstein, a pediatric neuropsychologist in Los Angeles and author of “Not What I Expected: Help and Hope for Parents of Atypical Children,” an increase in productivity is not uncommon among parents.

When people become parents, they become more goal-directed and better able to prioritize,” Eichenstein says. “They become more conscientious employees, more focused and get more done in less time.”

Persistence is another skill parents of special needs children hone advocating for their child at school or the specialist’s office.

“Being a mom of a special-needs child means that you sometimes face overwhelming challenges,” says Jodi Gallaer, of Farmingdale, N.Y., mom of a 10-year-old with a nonverbal form of autism. “You get knocked down and told no a million times. After that, running a business seems a bit easier. Your skin is thicker, and you have a better perspective.”

Parents of atypical children also must be willing to engage in difficult conversations, another hallmark of workplace leadership.

“Before having kids, I usually would avoid arguments and wouldn’t stand up for myself if it meant any possible contention,” says Holly Anderson, a mom of three children with special needs in Provo, Utah. “But now that I have needed to stand up for my kids in many situations, I have completely changed that mind-set.”

Other parents experience an improved ability to manage the many competing tasks in their lives that can involve delegating to their child’s caregiving team.

“I’ve learned the value of having a strong support network and realizing that I cannot support my child on my own,” says April Lisbon, a school psychologist and mom of a 13-year-old boy with autism in Fredericksburg, Va. Developing project management skills has allowed her to meet her son’s needs while continuing to grow her family life coach practice.

Special needs parents are discriminated against at work very subtly. No one thinks of it as discrimination,” Eichenstein says. “But it is.”

To read the full article, click here:

It Took Her 23 Years To Get Diagnosed With ADHD. It Takes Many Women Even Longer.

Girls with ADHD are typically not the “squeaky wheel” that boys with ADHD can be. Their symptoms are more subtle but no less problematic.

READ Kelsey’s personal essay about the difficulty of receiving an ADHD diagnosis as a girl or woman. She interviewed me for her article.
— Read on

Declining Connectivity in our Digital Age

So — how was your Thanksgiving?

Was it full of lots of warm family time, sharing family jokes, looking at old family photos and making new memories?

What, no? That wasn’t what happened?

Let me guess.

Did you decide to skip the cooking and go out to a very noisy restaurant where you plopped iPads in front of your kids to keep them happy between courses?

Or — maybe you slaved over the stove all day and — while everyone watched the football game – you plopped your kids in front of iPads so you could cook and serve?

Or — just maybe your family did manage that iconic game of outside family football – and then— all return to check your iPhones in the bathroom?

No judgment here, just an awareness of how the world is changing. Despite the increased sense of virtual connectivity that we all enjoy from our use of internet, smart phones, iPads, etc (trust me, I couldn’t live without it either) we are increasingly feeling isolated and empty. And physically restless.

In a brilliant piece written by Diane Ackerman, one of my favorite authors, she discusses how the digital world is seriously having an impact on evolving brains as well as our relationships to one another.

In case you don’t have time for article reading ( Article here )the gist of it all is:

To stay emotionally connected, make sure your child isn’t learning about their world through only pixelated images. Sensory impoverishment accompanies the digital world which changes the way we relate to each other, our world and our internal sense of belonging.

Here’s how to re-connect:

GO outside on adventures with your kids.

FEEL the sand, the rocks, the wind.

MAKE time for actual interconnectedness – strong hugs, hand holding, wrestling and stroking those soft little heads.

SNIFF the scent of those babes and let them breathe you in too.

LAY in the grass or the snow and look at the sky together.

ROLL down a grassy knoll or roll in the snow.

LAUGH a lot together, make time to be silly.

Here’s hoping your holidays are joyous!