Category Archives: Child’s Diagnosis

Talking about Those Winter Blues

Does your child's mood affect everyone in the home?
Does your child’s mood affect everyone in the home?

It is the season of the blues. Whether it is caused by lack of sunlight, too little outdoor time or post-holiday season let-down, many people are starting to feel down in the dumps – right about now. It’s not just adults, but kids too. In fact, kids can begin to feel particularly edgy as winter progresses. There may be lots of reasons for that, but I want to look at how a child’s mood can affect your mood as a parent.
Parents are like most other adults: they are subject to bouts of happiness or sadness, euphoria or depression, optimism or despondency. However unlike adults without children, parents are more likely to feel these emotions based on how their children are feeling.

As the expression goes, ‘you are only as happy as your least happy child.’

When your child is struggling, it’s hard to not let it get you down.  It’s only natural to be upset by seeing the challenges that your atypical child encounters daily.  But if you let it affect your mood, then you can’t help your child regulate his or her moods, right? Grouchy kid, grouchy mom? Not a good combination.  You have to be at your best,  so that you can help your child learn how to regulate their moods and their mental outlook.  We naturally help children self regulate; one way is by  modeling encouraging self talk:  “you can do it!” or “it’s going to be ok, just relax”, or “it will only hurt for a minute, you can handle it”, these are important prompts to help encourage kids to model appropriate reactions.

But what happens when your mood becomes so submerged with your child’s mood   that you can’t distinguish your bad mood from their bad mood? Does this mean that your own mood regulator is broken or simply you have lost the divider between what is your own mood and your child’s mood?

Separating your mood state from that of your child is important. Adults often submerge their individual identities as they raise children, they become “a family 24/7” rather than an individual in a family. This is partially a normal response but it can go too far.

Here is an example: you are on a double date with another couple and you haven’t  been out with adult company for months.  You want to enjoy yourself but you can’t because you keep remembering your child’s morose face when you left and you keep ruminating on how much homework he has and wondering if he is able to do it without you and if she was able to eat dinner without you monitoring and if they are going to get to bed, it’s a school night and they can’t be tired tomorrow morning…….and on your brain runs, unable to enjoy your adult company and special time away from your kids.

Because what happens next is that when your kid has a bad day, your mood plummets like a stone down the well. When your mood becomes dependent on whether or not Timmy has had a good day or bad day, you lose the ability to be the anchor to the family instead of a reactor. And atypical children often have moods that need to be managed, not reacted to.

Parents, work on your mood tune-up!

It is important that parents find their emotional set-point apart from how their children are doing. That way, you remember that you are still YOU, and not just your kid’s mother or father.  This will come in handy both in helping your child self regulate as well as keeping you with one foot firmly planted in your individual life as a grown up person.

5 Quick and Easy Mood Tune-Up Tips

1. Listen to a happy tune:  Research has shown that people who listen to cheerful music can improve their mood.  Listening to music actually improves people’s moods  so turn that radio dial to a happy music station!

2. Smile:  the physical act of smiling has also been shown to improve mood.  Even fake smiles reduce stress. Studies by Paul Eckman and other researchers has shown that smilers exhibited lower heart rate levels after a stressful activity than non-smilers. So even if you aren’t feelin it, paste that smile on your face!

3. Do good:  do something good for someone else. Even a small gesture, such as giving a coin to a homeless person has been shown to lift a person’s mood.  Try it for yourself and see.

4. Do good for yourself: when is the last time you took a moment to treat yourself?  No, I don’t mean that bag of chocolate chip cookies. Maybe invite a friend out for coffee or excuse yourself after dinner to go for a long walk. Alone.

 5. Shake it up: exercise raises your natural endorphin levels.  The link between exercise and mood is well researched. Studies show that within five minutes after moderate moving produce a better mood.  Too cold to go outside? Turn up the radio and dance! Even for a few minutes will raise the mood barometer.

Learn How to Play with Your Child: Support for Surviving Winter Break

Keep play simple!
Keep play simple!

Everyone deserves a break from their daily routine. That includes both parents as well as children.  For atypical kids, it’s especially refreshing to be released – if only for a few weeks – from the regimen of school, tutors, therapies and commitments.  It is also a time for parents to refresh their relationship with their children.  Too often, parents end up feeling like drill sergeants, marching their kids from one activity to the next, day after day of the unforgiving lineup of  daily activities.  Winter break is a time to replenish your bond with your child, to change hats from drill sergeant to an attuned parent who can actually engage, have fun  and  creating lasting memories.

“I HAVE NO CLUE HOW TO HAVE FUN WITH THIS CHILD”

How to play with your child  can be tricky. How does a parent suddenly switch hats, and rebound from their own sense of burnout in order to have a few great weeks of bonding time?  The simple release from daily activities is insufficient, in fact, some  kids can feel rudderless without their daily routine and don’t know what to do with themselves.  Parents, too, have often lost the art of play as they have slid into adulthood with its myriad of responsibilities, deadlines and managing little one’s temper tantrums.  Atypical kids are notorious for having difficulty with ‘typical’ fun activities, either from sensory overload, a preference for their own comfort zone or fear of the unknown.  If you are a parent of an atypical child, you know all too well the disappointment from previous attempts as ‘having fun’.

DON’T FAKE IT 

Here is an article in the Christian Science Monitor in which I and other professionals and parents discuss the options available to rediscover your sense of play.  In short, you can’t fake it.  Your child knows you well enough to know if you feel awkward playing catch or find a video game monotonous.  Finding an activity that both you and your child mutually enjoy together can become a cherished memory. It doesn’t have to be Disneyland or a trip around the world to click.  Sometimes, a mindful walk through the park picking leaves can be bonding, nourishing and…. fun!

KEEP IT FUN, KEEP IT SIMPLE, AND GET IN TOUCH WITH YOUR INNER PLAYFULNESS

Read on for more tips on learning how to play with your child and how to keep it fun and simple:

http://www.csmonitor.com/The-Culture/Family/2013/1216/Parents-and-play-re-learning-to-play-with-your-kids

Having “The Talk” With Your Child: It’s Not The One You Think

22338339_sFor many families, talking to your child about the birds and the bees is not the hardest conversation you will have.  For parents of atypical kids, the hard conversation will be the one that answers the question: “What is wrong with me?” “Why am I so stupid?” “Why don’t I have any friends?” or “Why am I so different?”

How do we help our children understand their issues and teach them to advocate for themselves? When and how do we start the process and when can we begin to expect more self reliance? This is a cluster of questions that I wish more parents asked.

Over the years, children have come to my office exhibiting a wide range of coping skills. The range of understanding their own strengths and struggles is wide and is not necessarily connected with their cognitive abilities or emotional intelligence.  I’ve listened to remarkably eloquent 10-year-olds speak about their dyslexia and how difficult it is for them to read. And I have witnessed hyperactive and restless teens who have no real insight into how they tick. It’s not that they are not interested in learning about themselves.  They have never had “the talk” with their parents or a therapist:  they still have no clue as to what their diagnosis really means and are often still dependent on others to help them pave their way without having a real understanding of who they are and why they need the help that they are receiving.

Sooner or later, though, all children will have to go out into the world and fend for themselves.  Kids of all ages are more confident when they have a good understanding of their own needs and have done the hard work to learn to accept their differences.

Demystifying a child’s condition—that is, telling children what their issues are and helping them come to grips with it—is an important and often overlooked part of parenting an atypical child. It can be difficult to approach this subject; layers of defensiveness and avoidance build up over years of struggling so that many children can be unapproachable.   Just as some parents have difficulty accepting that their child is different, it is even harder to help a child come to terms with his or her difference.  Kids do not want to be different.  And yet, almost all children with a difference, be it a learning disability, ADHD or autism spectrum, among other issues, understand or sense that they are uniquely challenged.  Having “the talk” can help your child get to the next level.

Sometimes, though we hold back from talking to them about it, hoping they will ‘straighten out’ or become more ‘typical’ so we won’t have to have the conversation. But if your child is going from therapy to therapy on a weekly basis, he deserves the benefit of a good solid talk to explain what is going on in his brain and what are some techniques to help him.

In reality, for many families, “The Talk” happens in stages, as the child grows and is more able to understand the information and adapt him- or herself to the demands of the larger world.

What Does Your Child Need to Know?

Here are the steps that kids need to go through in order to become fully active in their own care:

  • Stage 1 – Awareness:

Knowing and accepting that everyone learns differently and has different needs.  No one has it all.  Learning that each person has unique needs and everyone needs help in becoming the best person they can be. Talking to your child about different talents and pointing out the ways that they are uniquely talented (as opposed to a sibling or neighbor who excels in another area) is a good way to make the concept resonate.

  • Stage 2 – Getting information:

Finding the name for what they have and learning about it (if a name exists).  This is an important step as learning what Dyslexia or ADHD or Autism Spectrum are can elicit different reactions in children.  Some children may feel relieved that there is a name for what they have. Other children may be frightened or annoyed and scared that there is something ‘wrong’ with their brain.  Finding the best way to deliver the information is important.  Some parents can read their child a book, for others, a trip to an informed therapist can help pave the road.  Many parents are more comfortable in reading the child a book that help describes a child that struggles in similar ways.  Children take comfort in hearing that they are not the only ones with this type of difference.

  • Stage 3 – Monitoring:

Learning the best interventions, accommodations, and what works best for them.  For many children, this is where a solid neuropsychological assessment can make the difference.  A good assessment should have a list of optimal interventions, discussions about a child’s learning style and a roadmap of accommodations that will work best for your child.  In older children, it is advised that the child be part of the debriefing plan, to learn more about themselves from a professional who has just tested them.

  • Stage 4 – Self Advocacy:

Knowing how to talk about it with others becomes important as a child grows up.  This is a critical transitional step that helps a child move from dependence to self reliance.  This should begin to happen in high school, if not sooner.  Children may need to practice how to speak to teachers, coaches or other adults about their particular conditions.  For sure by the time teens are preparing for college, this information should be clear, crisp and effective.  I often coach my older teens in scripts to use when speaking to high school teachers or college professors.  Don’t hesitate to use a script and to role model how to discuss their differences with others.

These stages may not happen in a neat, orderly sequence. In fact, a child may take until his 20’s to get all the way through all four stages. Ideally, we’d like our kids to have all four stages in their toolkit as they navigate through life.

Nancy Bly, former Dean of Students at Park Century School in Culver City, CA, http://www.parkcenturyschool.org/  said, in an interview, “the best time to discuss a child’s disabilities and how they learn is as soon as they perceive a problem and it is identified. The most important thing is that kids get enough information and awareness about their own learning style and learning needs to be able to advocate for themselves. Even the youngest child needs to feel comfortable in asking for help, the first step in self advocacy.”

Even if your child isn’t lucky enough to be in a special needs school that builds their self advocacy skills, having “the talk” with them on an ongoing basis in a supportive manner will go a long way to build a self reliant and confident young adult.

Doing some research and helping come up with a prioritized action plan can help you cope with your child's diagnosis.

Chin Up – Diagnosis is Not the End Game!

Doing some research and helping come up with a prioritized action plan can help you cope with your child's diagnosis.
Doing some research and helping come up with a prioritized action plan can help you cope with your child’s diagnosis.

Hearing your child’s diagnosis for the first time is an experience that will stay with you forever. Even if you have long suspected that something isn’t right, knowing it for sure can throw you into a state of paralysis.

It’s a neurobiological response: the enormity of the news temporarily overrides your ability to act or make decisions. Your mind is swamped with frightening questions: What does this mean for my child, for our family, for me?

More families are going to have to confront diagnoses such as ADHD, autism spectrum, and learning disorders such as dyslexia. This is partly because the DSM-5 has broadened the definitions of some disorders, as I mentioned in my last post.

But parents should know that any diagnosis is only a reflection of their child’s developmental process at one point in time. With appropriate interventions, a child who displays a certain set of behaviors at age 5 can be very different at age 15. Or age 25. Children can and do grow and develop.  Keep that in mind as you are absorbing your child’s diagnosis.

3 Steps to Accepting Your Child’s Diagnosis

1. Be aware of your feelings.  Your reactions to your child’s diagnosis are hard-wired, based in the same evolutionary part of the brain that triggers fear when an animal is threatened. If you are initially feeling paralyzed or in denial, it’s a normal response.

Your emotional reactions to your child’s condition will have a big impact on the child’s well-being, so from now on try to be mindful of how you are feeling and how it is affecting your behavior in the presence of your son or daughter.

2. Ask yourself, “Does this diagnosis fit with the child I know?” If what the doctor is saying is not consistent with what you know about your child, something may be off. No one knows your child better than you do.

It’s true that most parents go through a phase of disbelief and denial about a diagnosis, but underneath the denial there is usually a feeling of, Yes, that’s him. He always struggled with language. Or, Yes, his frustration level has always seemed unusual to me . . . He has always seemed like he doesn’t really know how to make friends. . . He isn’t reading and all his friends are. . . .Yes, there is something wrong.

If the diagnosis feels accurate on a gut level, it probably is.

Occasionally, however, the doctors don’t get it right. But most often, they do get it right, but it makes you angry and your instinct is to push back and say “That’s not my kid!”  I will discuss anger as a reaction to having an atypical kid in a future post. But, for now, take a mental note of your feelings and keep alert.

Maybe you wonder if you should  get a second opinion? If you don’t trust your own instincts, seek the opinion of someone else who is frequently around your child—a spouse, grandparent, sister, aunt, neighbor, or best friend. But also please remember that professionals who are trained in diagnosis and treatment have your child’s best interests in mind and don’t give out diagnoses randomly.

3. Take action: Work with your diagnostician to prioritize an action plan. Many children are diagnosed with more than one condition. The parents will receive a list of recommendations that can be 5 or 10 items long and include things like a psychiatrist for medications, an educational therapist, speech therapist, occupational therapist, soccer coach, and family therapy. And you will get books and articles to read as well as recommendations for several ‘cutting edge’ therapies. It’s a lot to take in!

Obviously, parents cannot do all these things at once, and they end up feeling horribly overwhelmed.

So go back to the person who diagnosed your child and ask for a prioritized action plan and a timeline. What is most important? What needs to happen when? For instance, many people recommend tackling intensive remediation during the summer, but you know  that this won’t work for your child. She needs to be outside playing.

Ask the diagnostician to consider the needs of the whole child rather than just writing prescriptions. If the diagnostician cannot do so, you may want to take your results to another therapist or doctor and ask that person to prioritize your plan.

In this blog I’ll continue to give you advice on managing your child’s treatment and —just as important—keeping yourself calm, focused and cared-for during the months ahead.

So, chin up, chest out, right foot forward, you can do this!


Has your son or daughter recently been diagnosed with one of these conditions? How did you react? Tell me your story in the comments — and don’t forget to sign up for blog updates in the sidebar!