Category Archives: Support for Parents of Children with Special Needs

About Slow Processing Speed 

My son is in third grade and was tested this year. The testing confirmed that he’s a smart kid who has very slow processing speed. Can processing speed ever improve?

This is an informative post from Dr. Ellen Braaten, from Understood.com 

Nearly every child will be faster at age 12 than at age 7—and faster yet at age 16. But processing speed is measured by comparing a child to his peers. And since nearly all kids get faster as they get older, a grade-schooler with slow processing speed will be faster in middle school. But he will likely still have slower processing speed than his peers.

For a small number of kids, their processing speed may “catch up” with their peers. This isn’t very likely, but it happens in some cases. As traits go, processing speed is a bit like height. A child who for many years is shorter than most of his peers isn’t likely to have a big growth spurt in his teens that catches him up with his peers. But some kids do have these kinds of growth spurts.

So what can parents do other than wait and let nature takes its course? Here are a few ways you can help your child increase processing speed:

Practice a specific skill. Practice can help improve your child’s speed at that skill. Research shows that repeating a task makes it become more automatic—and thus quicker to process.
This applies to everything from brushing your teeth to learning multiplication tables. The more you do a task, the faster you get at it.

Help your child be more efficient
. Look for strategies that can make your child become more efficient. You can do this with nearly any task.
For example, here’s a way to help your child cut down the time it takes to do a homework assignment. Help him make a list of what is required for the assignment and what isn’t required. Your child can then feel confident that he is spending time on the right goals. Keep the list of requirements handy so he can review it.

Work on planning and organization skills. Planning can be tough for some kids with slow processing speed, especially if they have no idea how long it takes them to do a certain task. Keeping a log of start and stop times can help with this. So can estimating how long a project will take and then tracking whether enough time was allotted.
Putting more emphasis on planning and organization can also help your child be more efficient at routine tasks. You can also help by keeping things consistent and predictable. Sticking to routines means there will be less new information for your child to process.

Talk to your child’s school. See if he qualifies for classroom accommodations for slow processing speed. Getting extra time to do things like take a test can help kids feel less stressed as they’re doing tasks.

Consider ADHD medication. If your child also has ADHD, you may want to look into ADHD medication. It may not improve his processing speed directly. But helping your child focus could make him more efficient at homework and other tasks. Talk with your child’s doctor if you want to explore this option.

Stay positive
. It’s easy to lose sight of the big picture when you’re focusing on day-to-day tasks. But try to keep in mind that processing speed may become less of an issue when your child grows up.
That’s because we tend to choose jobs and hobbies that are well suited to us. For example, a child with slower processing speed may not gravitate toward being an ER doctor, but he might be a wonderful radiologist.

Ultimately, you want to maximize your child’s potential. And this involves keeping expectations realistic. You had your child evaluated, and that is a wonderful first step. Knowing what to expect will make it easier to know how to accommodate your child’s needs or advocate for him.

About the Author of this article: 

Ellen Braaten is the director of the Learning and Emotional Assessment Program at Massachusetts General Hospital.

Bonding with your Child on the Spectrum

Since it’s “Autism Month” I am re-printing this article that originally appeared in New York Metro Magazine.  

 

Your child with autism wants to form a secure bond with you, even if it doesn’t always seem that way. Part of the challenge is learning to understand signals: developing insight into how your child’s mind works, trying to see the world as he or she sees it, and not comparing your parenting skills with those of a parent of typical children.

 

The most fundamental bond between humans is the bond between child and parent. Psychologists have a name for the process that occurs as a child develops a secure bond with his or her parent: attachment. Whether or not you are familiar with the term, you have been affected by it, and so has your child. It’s part of our culture. But how does the theory of attachment apply to your relationship with your child who is on the autism spectrum?

Attachment theory has been a bedrock concept of child development, and yet for children on the autism spectrum, the milestones of secure attachment may not look at all like what we expect. All atypical children need to feel safe and securely attached as much as typical children, yet they may behave differently or even seem to reject parents’ attempts to create a safe and secure relationship. It’s a fact that children on the autism spectrum are impaired in their ability to navigate social relationships, so of course they will react to their parents differently—not because parents are not sufficiently responsive or sensitive, but because of the way their brains are wired. In other words, parents: It’s not your fault!

And keep in mind that the quality of your bond with your child is certainly not the only factor that affects your child’s development. Genetics, natural temperament, and environment are a few of the other important influences. In children with autism, attachment theory as a predictor of future mental health is not such a great barometer; in fact, it can be downright discouraging.

Atypical Attachment

For children with autism, the signposts of secure attachment may not be obvious. Your child may anxiously expect you to be there for him or her, but may not be able to demonstrate reciprocity like a typical child, such as giving you a hug. Part of the challenge is learning to understand your child’s signals: developing insight into how your child’s mind works, trying to see the world as he or she sees it, and not comparing your parenting skills with those of a parent of typical children. Let’s face it: There is no real comparison. Atypical children need atypical parenting.

All children on the autism spectrum require much more supervision and assistance than typical kids. As the child matures but the daily demands on the parent do not diminish—and if the child does not respond to the parent’s love and care in gratifying ways—it’s only natural that the parent’s nerves begin to fray. Having to be available and supportive 24/7 can leave even the most devoted parent overwhelmed and depressed. Over time, a parent’s judgment about how much care to provide can become distorted by stress, doubt about the child’s ability to function on his or her own, setbacks, and conflicting input from spouse and family. Add exhaustion, and it is easy for a parent to lose perspective and become over-involved. Feeling guilty about not having created a securely attached child will often have parents going overboard into the ‘helicopter’ department. Caring for your child, loving your child, supporting your child—nothing is more important than that, right?

By being a consistent and responsive parent for your child with autism, you are creating the steady presence that your child needs, but your own emotional well-being is every bit as important. Reclaiming your own self is essential to nurturing your child. Here are a few options I suggest to parents:

1. Practice self-compassion.

Acknowledge the challenges in your life and stop criticizing yourself for not being a “good-enough” parent as evidenced by your child’s behaviors. As you mentally embrace yourself when you are feeling most challenged, you are modeling a compassionate way of being in the world that imprints on your child. Research has shown that self-compassion is strongly linked to mental well-being, happiness, life satisfaction, and better relationships. Can you imagine how increasing your self-compassion could help your relationship with your child?

2. Develop interests outside the home and your child.

Learning taikwondo, taking a pottery class, or joining the adult swim team are just a few examples of what you might do. It will infuse your family life with extra energy as you come home with a glow and show off your new moves. Helping to widen your child’s narrow window of interests is a healthy side effect of widening your own scope of activities.

3. Spend quality time with your child apart from chores and homework.

Sit down on the floor together and really join in your child’s activity. Learn to notice small signals, try to see the world from his or her perspective. Sideways activities are a great way for children on the spectrum to include their parents in their passions. So take the time to learn all about the hummingbird’s pollination behavior or whatever interests your child. It may seem like your child prefers to be alone, but the truth is that children with autism get lonely too. They need you to help them build that bridge to connecting with others.

4. Above all, don’t mistake your child’s lack of social responsiveness with a lack of connection to you.

Your child’s attachment needs are just as strong as typical kids. It is just harder for kids with autism to communicate their needs and emotional feelings. Have faith in your efforts as a parent, and try to treasure the small moments that make your family a place of safety and comfort not only for your child but for yourself as well.

ALL ABOUT ACCOMMODATIONS: Who, How and Why


Accommodations for students in schools and on standardized testing is growing rapidly. It may come as a surprise to parents that among the most coveted “award” in the most highly ranking private prep schools and colleges these days is not necessarily “phi beta Kappa” but the “label” of “learning disability”. Otherwise known in public school lingo as “LD” or as “OHI” (other health impairment, meaning ADHD) or even ASD (autism spectrum disorder).

Over the years, the label of “learning disability” has evolved from a stigma to becoming an upfront and center characterization of bright but struggling students who perform below their potential and are looking for an explanation.

The good news:

Labels provide services and accommodations which serve to level the playing field for students with challenges. Far from being a “crutch” it opens the door to educational opportunities for all types of students.

In banishing stigmas from all mental illness, learning disability and pervasive developmental disorders, we, as a society have become more inclusive, more tolerant, and provide more opportunities for those who are slightly different.  With open recognition, we can help children grow up to be powerful, efficacious and rightfully compete amongst the most educated groups in our population. This is so positive for our children and a step in the right direction for an evolved, tolerant society.

The not so good news:
It’s not so easy to obtain a label. Unfortunately, parents who know their children best, can initiate the process but can’t create the labels for their kids. It takes a good professional evaluation to highlight a child’s challenge areas as well as their strengths and to demonstrate the need for specific accommodations.

Testing can be through the school or an independent evaluation. A neuropsychological assessment will cover all areas of development and highlight key areas to target for remediation, accommodation or enrichment. This assessment will allow these accommodations to be considered for school, standardized testing as well as college and beyond into grad school.

The New News:
The College Board had recently decided that students do not need new evaluations in order to apply for accommodations for standardized testing. They now say that if a student is receiving certain accommodations, such as extended time, in high school, that will suffice to allow them to receive accommodations on the ACT or SAT. However, most schools will still require testing in order to make sure that kids do qualify at the school level. 

BE AWARE! Colleges are becoming more strict about granting accommodations – even more than the College Board which provides SAT/ACT accommodations. 

if a student has received accommodations on their previous standardized testing, this is no guarantee that they will receive the same accommodations in college without a recent test report.

BOTTOM LINE:
if you suspect that your child is struggling or not meeting their potential in school, a neuropsychological/educational assessment is the best method of determining your child’s overall profile. You may not need to renew the testing every three years as in the past, but testing every five years is still recommended.  Your child’s brain continues to grow and change over time so their profile and subsequent accommodations need to be re-examined periodically.

For more information on this issue, please go to my website:
www.drritaeichenstein.com

Best wishes and remember to hug your kid today!

Dr. Rita Eichenstein

For more information on accommodations for testing on College Board exams – the SAT, SAT Subject tests, PSAT or AP tests – go to https://www.collegeboard.org/students-with-disabilities/eligibility

Happy Presidents Day!

Happy Presidents’ Day! 

Today is a great day for our country. But how do we inspire our children? Clearly, no child has been unaware of the recent political turmoil. Without education, We risk creating cynicism in the tenderest minds. We happen to live in still the greatest country and yet so many children are not taught very much about patriotism in general. 

Yes, Presidents’ Day is also a wonderful vacation day and if you are hitting the slopes or relaxing on the beach, it’s wonderful family time and I’m sure much deserved. 

But parents, please take a moment to also talk about the wonders of living in a thriving democracy. 

Most kids that I test are woefully unaware of basic touch points of American history. 

For example, very few know who Christopher Columbus really is; their answers often range from hilarious to blank stares. (“Did he cut down a cherry tree? Didn’t he discover gravity? I think he ran for president a long time ago”) 

Many many older kids don’t know what an amendment is, who was the president during the civil war or what a unanimous vote is. 

And speaking of president Lincoln, here are some quotes to share and discuss with your kids. Read them aloud and discuss what they mean and define the words. Try to inspire. They will remember it, I promise. 
Quotes about President Lincoln: 

He showed that fame may be won and what services be rendered by a plain son of the people unaided by any gifts of fortune.  ~James Bryce

In him was vindicated the greatness of real goodness and the goodness of real greatness.  ~Phillips Brooks

Humble birth did not retard his genius, nor high place corrupt his soul.  ~Cass Gilbert

A Fresh Start

Happy New Year! 

Maybe it’s just me but I always feel a burst of optimism at the start of a new year. It’s a time to create the possibility of change, a rebirth of expectations for yourself and hope to change some of our less desirable habits. 

For parents, it’s an opportunity to explore just how much they are willing to improve. It’s tricky to set a realistic goal without trying to go overboard. In setting a goal, it’s important to take that goal seriously enough but not to not set the bar so high that you set yourself up for disappointment and feel less effective as a parent. 

Here are some “sure to fail” goals and how to re-adjust them into winning possibilities: 

1. “Lose weight”: of all the New Years resolutions, this one is the most popular. 

Instead of setting yourself up for too much pressure on yourself (after all, if you’re reading this as a parent of an Atypical child, you’ve already got your hands full)! How about:

“Plan healthy menus for the entire family. ” 

Now that’s a goal that is a win-win. Healthy food= good habits for you and for the kids! 

2. “Stop yelling”: here’s another “sure to fail” goal. Sure, no one wants to be a “yeller” but is it impossible to say “stop yelling” and have it work? Not likely. 

How about this: I will give myself permission to be upset but remember to stop, breath, reframe what I was about to say or do into a more communicative conversation.  I like the STOP method:

Stop

Take a breath

Observe what is going on

Proceed mindfully 

3. “Be More Organized”: another sure to fail goal if it isn’t properly structured. Let’s try this: let each family member choose one area of organization responsibility so it’s not just on you. For kids:  Put backpacks by the front door the night before and for parents: make those lunches the night before. 

4.  And here is the goal I wish every parent would work on: self compassion. 

Parents of Atypical kids struggle with an already overloaded burden. Acknowledging that struggle and giving yourself a hug often (that massage can help too!) will go a long way to make you a better parent! 

Here’s to a great 2017!