All posts by ritaeichenstein

Do You Feel Sorry for Your Atypical Child? 


Feeling sorry for a child who struggles with a special need is a common, understandable reaction from a loving parent. But it’s not going to help your kid. Here’s how to adopt a new mindset that will.

Nine-year-old Amanda walked into my office, a worried frown on her freckled face. She heaved a heavy backpack off of her shoulders, dropping it with a thud and blurted out, “I’m exhausted!” Her mother agreed, noting, “I feel so bad for her all the time. She is under so much stress!”

As a parent, it’s hard not to feel sorry for your own child sometimes. It’s especially hard if your child has the extra burden of an atypical profile. Children with learning disabilities, physical disabilities, ADHD, autism, or developmental delays are additionally weighed down by the necessities of their diagnosis, whether extra tutoring, multiple therapies, socialization groups or intensive behavior training programs.

Parents may have to let go of typical fun activities, such as sports teams or school plays, in lieu of prescriptive interventions. It’s emotionally draining both for child and parent. No one wants their child to be different, and yet differences seem to drive the weekly calendar, continually reminding everyone of the “special needs” of the child.

A major reason it is so difficult to keep a positive attitude when your child is atypical is because, like all parents, you worry. You worry that your child will be bullied, have no friends, never go to college or get married. That he’ll suffer.
But yet, because children learn by watching their parents, it is critical to adopt a cheerful attitude. The way you see your child ultimately shapes her own self perspective. On top of everything you’re challenged to do, you have to cultivate optimism, resilience and confidence in your child’s outcome. Is that hard? You bet it is. But if you keep these Dont’s and Do’s in mind, it can be easier. 
 

DON’T

Confuse feeling sorry for your child with support. 
There’s a big difference between pity and empathy. Stay positive and help your child find resources to build resilience and confidence.
Always look through the disability lens
Your kid is a whole person with different gifts and great potential. The special need aspect is just one aspect of your child’s life.


Don’t Project forward

Sometimes, parents will worry about something that might happen – but it’s stemming from their own experiences or fears. Are you worried that he won’t be popular because you weren’t popular? Take some time to find out what your child is worried about; you might be surprised to find out that he is much more at ease than you thought.

Don’t Overindulge to “compensate”
Extra video games or unlimited treats, for example, do not have anything to do with your child’s disability. Stick to “typical” rules, while allowing for occasional leniency in circumstances that really do relate to her disability.

Don’t Be too tough



Tough love doesn’t work with atypical kids. Atypical kids are more fragile. Get to know your child and work with his strengths. 

 
DO: 

Step in when necessary
Some atypical kids are prone to social isolation and depression. Teachers, even if unintentionally, can exacerbate the problem. Keep an eye on your child and have open communication so he’ll feel comfortable confiding in you.
You are your child’s advocate, and your child will need assertive intervention at times. This is not “babying” your child. It’s part of your job as a pro-active parent of an atypical child.

Do Encourage participation
Don’t limit your child’s activity options based on what you think she can’t do. If she really wants to join that club or try that sport or take those lessons, chances are there is a way to make it happen.

DO Enjoy the present
Staying in the moment and noticing your amazing child as she unfolds is an important—and joyful—exercise. Take a short break from the everyday jostle to savor small moments of just being together.

DO Express gratitude daily
Before bed, perhaps at tuck-in time, encourage your child to think about what he’s thankful for. Chime in with a few ideas yourself.

A Time to Nurture, a Time to Heal 

It’s that time of year to turn inwards briefly to take stock of how to nurture yourself after the tumultuous election season, before plowing into the busy holiday activities. 

The following is an excerpt from my book “Not What I Expected” about taking care of yourself. It’s a timely reminder to take care of yourself to be the best parent you can be. 

It’s important for parents to give some conscious thought to create and assemble a customized “self-care menu.” 

The idea is that you brainstorm activities that appeal to you and give them a try in whatever amount you like. You may choose an “appetizer” portion in case you only have fifteen minutes, a “main course” that gives you a larger dose of relief or relaxation, or a “dessert” that you use as reward for a particularly rough day. If you are a full-time working parent, this applies to you as well. In addition to wearing two hats, the home hat and the office hat, you deserve to find some space you can call your own. 

What would it look like for you?

In putting together your personal self-care menu, you will want to think about your life before you became a parent. 

What got you out of bed each morning? What was your joy, your favorite hobby, your dream activity? What nourishes your soul, even momentarily? Everyone has interests that can be powerfully healing. Look back and recall the activities that were the most fun or meaningful. Was it laughter and wine with friends? Taking your dog to obedience class? Going to concerts? Cooking a great meal? Playing softball? Repairing bicycles? Playing your guitar? Zumba class? Reading a great novel? Or just having some solitude? 

Customize the items on your self-help menu so that even reading your list will give you a little lift. Here are the categories that the parents I work with have found to be most helpful.

Connect with Nature

The Japanese have a phrase for the healing effects of nature: shrinrin-yoku or “forest bathing.” Something as simple as taking a walk outside, breathing in the air, and appreciating the wind in the trees can be restorative.

Move Your Body

Look for a physical activity you really enjoy and might even come to crave – riding your bike, dancing, walking, hiking, playing volleyball, boxing. Many people find that it’s more fun if you do this activity with a friend or partner. A great many people practice yoga and there is research to support the treatment of depression with specific types of yoga, although you might find ballroom dancing to be more to your liking.

Master Just One Thing at a Time and Then Celebrate It!

If you learn to master just one thing – that has nothing to do with your child – it can restore your sense of power. It does not matter what this one thing is; it can be anything from learning to knit to running a marathon. A side benefit to mastering just one thing is that competence at one thing leads to great competence in other areas of your life. By mastering that one thing, you prove to yourself that you are still learning, growing, becoming.

Find a Special Place for Yourself Outside the Home

All parents should be able to get away from the house and the role of mom or dad, and have a place where they can feel a glimmer of their old selves. Maybe you need solitude and can locate a special meditative spot in a forest or park near your home. Maybe you enjoy your local health club, where you can work out and also connect with other people who aren’t necessarily parents. Being outside of your home at a place that is not work related, even for a short burst of time, is invigorating.

Join a Group – Support or Otherwise

Joining or forming a support group comprised of other parents of atypical kids is an excellent way to share experiences and reduce your feelings of isolation. Learning form others about what has helped them will show you that there are more paths toward hopefulness than you may have imagined. If you feel the need for a community of people who are not parents, where you can share other interests, that is every bit as legitimate as a support group.

Make Date Night a Top Priority (with Your Partner or Your Friends)

Before you became a parent, you had dates with your partner or your friends. It’s time to revive that enjoyable custom.

Help Someone Else

You might think you are burned out with helping, seeing as you are already a caretaker for your child. But I’ve found in talking to many families that the one thing they are most grateful for is the opportunity to give back. It may seem like a terrible thought to ask you to give even more than you are giving, but the funny thing is, seeing people (or animals) in terrible situations that are different from your own can trigger some positive, meaningful feelings inside of you.

AND HAPPY HOLIDAYS TO ALL! 

It’s ADHD Month: How Are You Doing? 

Parents who learn their child is atypical in some way often struggle with a sense of loss and disappointment, which can also drive a wedge in the relationship with their child.

 ADHD can be a particularly frustrating condition since it appears as if your child could do it if s/he wanted to. Remind yourself that ADHD is a very real condition and work on increasing your bond with your child. 
 Here are some activities that a parent can do to help reconnect with a child struggling with ADHD: 

Parents of ADHD children can get exasperated, if not downright frustrated with their child’s behavior. Children with ADHD process information differently, so cultivating a new way to view them is important. 

Here are a few suggestions:
1. “Special time”: create daily 20 minutes of time where you are alone with your child, where he or she gets to choose the activity, or just to hang out. Bonding without external distractions will help you rediscover what a wonderful kid you have.

2. Bonding activities that include – whatever your child likes! Cooking, art, or something active like playing ball in the yard or even having your kid teach you to play their favorite video game can help you both enjoy each other.

3. Create memories: do activities that you can talk about and reminisce in the future (“remember that time when…”) / Shared memories creates long -lasting bonds.

4. And finally, remember to laugh together -a lot. Sharing joy can be an important piece of the parent-child bond.

For more info on ADHD and parenting, here’s the link to the whole article:

Ask Our Experts: How to Parent a Child Struggling with ADHD

Is it a Learning Disorder or Disordered Learning? 


It’s that time of year when kids are starting to buckle down to some consistent learning and the homework load is increasing. It’s also about time for those first teacher conferences. Are you starting to have some concerns about your child’s progress? Do you wonder if your child might have a learning disorder? 

Struggling in school doesn’t always necessarily mean there’s a learning disorder. Here, are a few ways to tell the difference: 

It’s probably not an LD if your child . . .

Used to do fine in school. Divorce, death in the family or a pet, 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 could be a learning disorder if your child . . .

Has had trouble with classwork from day one. A kid with an LD struggles with the acquisition of basic academic skills, from reading decoding to spelling to figuring out math problems.

Can’t keep up with tutoring. Some  kids need frequent sessions with specially trained educational therapists and effective methods to stay on track.

Can’t get through a set of instructions. Kids who process information differently may 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. But you often have to to ask for testing. Among issues that may propel you into getting private independent testing include long delays for public school testing and cursory or superficial testing which end up denying your child services. 

These tips can get you started on the right path:

Gather information, such as your child’s work samples. 

Make copies of your child’s report cards and tests, along with teacher comments and your observations.

Make a written request to school for testing or get a referral from your pediatrician for a private assessment 

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.
If your child goes to a private school, it’s good to get accommodations formalized for future testing accommodations. 

Don’t give up on your quest to figure out how your little puzzle works best! Knowledge will help empower both you and your child to get the most out of his or her education! 

“Not What I Expected”Wins Again!

In an unexpected turn of events, I randomly checked my Twitter account last week. Having a very busy clinical psychology practice doesn’t allow me much time to keep up with social media. But somehow on an unexplained whim,  I checked my  Twitter feed and discovered this: 

Not What I Expected has won the silver medal in the “Living Now Book Awards” a division of Independent Publishers! To be more correct, it was tied for silver with Dr Laura Markham for her book “Peaceful Parent, Happy Siblings” for which I have no problem giving a big shout out to her wonderful book as well! 

Parents now have more and more resources to inspire them to be the best parents they can be! 

As I’ve said before, if it takes a village to raise a child, it takes an army to raise an atypical child. If you’re reading this, I am so honored to be part of your “army”. 

Best wishes until next time, Dr Rita