Category Archives: Parenting Atypical Kids

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! 

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MYTH BUSTING FOR MOMS

1. THERE IS NO VILLAGE:

You know what I’m talking about. The village where everyone gets together on Main street in the evening. Where you can leave your baby next door with Grandma while you pop over to get your hair done. Where your neighbor down the block, who just happens to be your dear friend since elementary school, knows to send over a fresh baked quiche for dinner when you’ve just come home with your newborn. What? You don’t live in that village? That’s because it’s not 1954. And that village has evolved into a major metropolis where neighbors don’t speak to one another, your relatives live across the country, and even if they lived near you, you aren’t on speaking terms anyway. Moms, in case you were wondering why you often feel so alone and unsupported, it’s because (sorry, Hillary) the village that has been promised to help you raise your child does not exist. Instead, let’s update the concept. I prefer: “it takes an army.” Parents are the commanders-in-chief and they just might need to hire foot soldiers and other staff to help support everything that goes into raising a child these days.  If it sounds terrible, it’s not. It’s reality. Because if you are one of these ‘do it yourselfers’, you will find yourself stuck with an avalanche of drudgery that won’t let you be the cool, loving mom that you’d like to be: school meetings, cleaning soccer uniforms, trips to doctors, chauffeuring kids to all types of therapies with names that sound like something out of a science fiction movie, and the never-ending need for entertainment – otherwise they will be watching TV or playing video games all day long, or worse, whining that they are bored. If you are overwhelmed by all of these challenges, you are not alone. But if you try to do it alone, not only will you not be able to take care of all of the details that kids today need, you won’t be able to maintain your own personal life, either as a working adult, or as just a human being with your own needs. Remember to still be you. Build your army. It may not sound as warmly fuzzy as a ‘village’ but it’s the truth. Include your circle of friends and family if you can, but if you have to hire them, go for it!

2. IT’S NOT ALL ABOUT THE CHILD:

When a baby is born, all the attention turns to the adorable cupid-like infant. And who can resist? Nature in the form of neurotransmitters and hormones, such as oxytocin, prolactin, vasopressin, wires us, both mothers and fathers, to fall in love and be obsessed with the child. This is completely normal and ensures survival of the species in evolutionary terms. Although the hormones do taper off, the habit has been set: it’s “all eyes on baby” and then ‘all eyes on toddler’ and then……. It’s a habit. What happens to parents who ignore their needs, feelings and desires after a while? They aren’t at their best! Good parents take care of their own needs as well as those of their children. Nurture your own interests, take good care of yourself, continue to build your community of friends and people who nourish you. Don’t get too over-involved with your own child, they need to know that they are not the only focal point of your life. See point #1.

3. MOMS ARE NOT LIKE OTHER PEOPLE:

You already know that you aren’t like other people, at least like the women who are single or haven’t had children. But did you know that it’s not only your body that has changed? Through research, we know that the brains of mothers change as well. You are more empathic, courageous and have stronger memories for what your children need than non-moms. You also have more energy. These changes will stay with you and will become gifts to use in other ways once the immediate challenges of raising your kids become less demanding. All of those years of sleepless nights, chronic anxiety and massive hormonal changes, transforms you into a super-human being. Stringy hair and puffy eyes notwithstanding. Hang in there; these changes will be long lasting and will come in handy down the road. You can truly move mountains when you need to!

4. GENES ARE NOT DESTINY: CHANGE EM IF YOU DON’T LIKE EM:

Freud once said: “Biology is destiny”. Today, we know that not only isn’t that true, but you can actually alter your own genetic patterns by your thoughts and behaviors. It’s called neuroplasticity and it’s powerful. We can always work on ourselves. While some things are hard wired into our brains, other things such as our tendency to be pessimistic or our loathing of exercise, is soft wired. We can change our brains. Anxious? Try mindfulness based stress reduction (MBSR), a form of therapy that has been shown to be highly effective. Depressed? The world of positive psychology has developed numerous ways to actually change your natural mood setpoint. Practice gratitude as a beginning trial and see what happens.  Exercise, too, is a habit that can be built, just start with one step. It takes about 12 weeks for the exercise habit to get set. Go for it!

5. IT’S NOT ABOUT WHAT THE NEIGHBORS THINK

Much harm has been done to the psyches of moms by worrying about what others are thinking of you. Its as if moms imagine that other mothers keep imaginary scorecards analyzing your best and worst performance. The real scorecard is in your own brain. Keeping up with the Joneses is a very real phenomenon, we are wired to be competitive, it’s part of the survival gene. Their child is crawling before yours? It’s enough to send some new moms into a real panic! Everyone is better at Red Rover than your skinny little girl? Get a grip, and get her a set of boxing gloves! Or better yet, since she doesn’t likely care, get yourself a pair of pink boxing gloves and work it off! It doesn’t matter who does what first or better!! The road to success is paved from the inside out: for a child to feel happy, nurtured and secure comes from having a confident parent behind them, not a frazzled pushy mom whose kid needs to be the star of the show. Give it up, people! Look in your interior mirror, no not the one that shows your new gray hairs, but the inner mirror; ask yourself: what will make you today a more content and calm and confident mom? Close your eyes. Breath deeply and quietly for a few minutes. Put your hands on your heart and wish yourself well.   You know what it takes. Go for it. And have a happy and peaceful mothers day

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.

What To Do When You’re At the End of Your Rope

by Rita Eichenstein, Ph.D. Reprinted from NY Metro Magazine November 21, 2013

As parents, we all have meltdowns now and then. Dr. Rita Eichenstein suggests key ways to deal with stress and frustration that will help you avoid the “end of the rope” and help you and your family feel happier.

5857078_s   Parents of kids with special needs don’t often think about how to take care of themselves. Instead, they’re constantly planning: If I can just get my kid bathed, fed, and in bed, I’ll be okay…. If I can just get through the parent-teacher meeting…. If I can just get my kid to the tutor… This single-minded focus on their child’s needs is understandable, but they don’t take into account how the stress wears on them. Then suddenly they’re shouting at their spouse, yanking their howling child by the arm, or sitting on the bathroom floor weeping. They are at the end of their rope, and it is a sad and scary place to be.

The best way to deal with being at the end of your rope is not to get there in the first place—more on that later. For now, here are two strategies that will help you calm down and refocuswhen you feel yourself nearing the edge.

1. Call for backup. They say it takes a village to raise a child. With a child who has special needs, it takes an army. Have a code word you can use with your partner that automatically buys you 15 minutes of alone time to cool down. If you’re a single parent, have a close neighbor or two agree to take your child for 15 minutes. Everyone needs a backup buddy—if you don’t have one, now is the time to compile your designated buddy list.

2. Use the S.T.O.P. technique. Elisha Goldstein, Ph.D., author of The Now Effect, popularized this technique of mindful awareness. I’ve found that it helps overwrought parents pause their spiraling behavior and reset it.

Stop what you are doing or about to do, and just take a moment to breathe and reflect.

Take a deep breath. Breathe in and out; use your breath as an anchor and become mindful of trying to slow it all down.

Observe your body, emotions, and thoughts. Scan your body and notice any sensations. Don’t judge them. Just notice them. Next, how are you feeling emotionally? Frustrated? Irritated? Let it be okay.

Proceed. Ask yourself what is the most important thing to pay attention to right now. Mindfully proceed with a prioritized and calm action.

 How to Avoid the End of the Rope

All parents occasionally lose control of their emotions—that’s normal. The goal, then, is to limit the number of times it happens. That’s tricky, because the very things that make a person resistant to meltdowns are scarce in the lives of parents: nutritious meals, exercise, and enough sleep. Parents tend to see these as luxuries from a bygone era, like those lovely Sunday mornings with the newspaper. Not so—healthy food, exercise, and sleep are absolute necessities. They are the fuel that enables you to be a tolerant and loving parent. Reaching the end of your rope is a psychological reaction to physiological stress. To avoid it, you must give your body what it needs to function better.

Even if your days of working out at the gym are on hold and fine restaurant meals are a distant memory, there are changes you can make that will instantly improve your mood and resilience.

Eat a high-protein breakfast. No sugar-packed smoothies or coffee and a granola bar. The old standard still works best: eggs, whole-wheat toast, fruit such as apple or banana, and bacon or sausage if you’re so inclined.See 4 other quick and balanced breakfast ideas

Notice how caffeine affects you. I’m not telling you to give up coffee, but do notice how it makes you feel. If you’re too caffeinated, it can jettison all your good intentions and push you to a massive emotional overreaction.

Love the body you’re in, but keep it moving. You probably do a good deal of walking every day. You can walk in a tense, hunched-up way, thinking about what you need to do next, or you can be in the moment—swing your arms and breathe in the air, and use it to get in a few moments of exhilarating movement.

See a sleep specialist if your child’s sleep problems are keeping you awake. Specialists can provide personalized plans for infants or even older children.

If your own insomnia is ruining your nights, turn off the screens (computer, cell, TV) an hour before bedtime. Cuddle with your kid or your partner instead. Physical touch (it doesn’t have to be sex) releases the feel-good chemical oxytocin, which will relax you.

Don’t hate yourself for melting down now and then. We’ve all been there! But if you can change the way you deal with your meltdowns and fortify yourself against them, everyone in your family will be happier for it—especially you.

 

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.