Looking Forward

Still cleaning up the wrapping paper and tinsel? No time to plan ahead to New Year resolutions? That’s ok!

Sometimes the post holiday blues can take you by surprise- here are some easy tips.

1. Stay with it. Surprised? Trying to avoid your feelings doesn’t help them go away. Acknowledge that it’s ok to be a teeny bit blue after the flurry of holiday excitement – or the lack of it. Acknowledge that this is something that happens to you — and then — visualize the blues drifting away on that sailboat. Visualizing is an actual technique that can send the bad feelings out to sea.

2. Look forward. But not too far forward. Instead of the usual punishing thoughts (lose ten pounds, get in shape), Ask yourself what do I need FOR ME that would truly make me happy, inspire my week and re-set my engine. GO FOR SMALL- no it’s not “win the lottery” but “a nap and time for a good read by the fire”.

3. Gratitude Game: it’s not a cliche. Studies show that we can deliberately increase our sense of well being and happiness by thinking about what we are grateful for.

If all of the above results in a massive family hug- fest — all the better.

I am grateful for the opportunities to have interacted and learned from so many of you in 2017.



How to Avoid Un-Teachable Moments

Un-teachable Moments: those times when you wish your kid didn’t just see or hear that? Ever happen to you? 

How to Protect Kids from the Bad News: 

There is so much disaster, confusion and tragedy in the world right now. 

Exposure to a constant barrage of information about disasters and unstable political leaders flowing into our homes creates unintended consequences in terms of creating anxiety, uncertainty and stress. 

It’s all happening now, in real time, on our phones, on Alexa, in our cars – virtually anywhere. And it can be frightening for small children. 

Brain imprinting on developing brains:

What kind of imprint does all of this leave on children? 

All young children need to feel safe and secure, in order to grow their sense of well-being and their ability to courageously navigate their world. They do not yet have sufficient defenses to protect their innocent brains and imagination against a barrage of images and events. These horrific images create a primary imprint that becomes a future frame of reference for a young child. 

“I saw it and now I can’t un-see it,”

said a girl about a video she had inadvertently seen where somebody was shot and killed. 

Rresearch shows that chronic stress and fear is associated with significant brain changes, and possibly shows that toxic experiences actually re-form the architecture of developing brains. 
How do we protect the kids? It’s no longer 1960 when grown ups waited  until the kids are asleep for the grown ups to “catch up” on the news. 

It’s all around us. 

How to Protect and Convey Information to Young Kids: 

1. First, you can’t “un-teach” horrific images. Images become embedded in the young mind, with few defenses to protect it. Protect children from images that they aren’t equipped to handle. 

2. Limit discussing current events until YOU are emotionally regulated enough to share the information with your child at their level. 

Use my “SALT” method: 

S: SENSITIVE: be sensitive to the environment you want to create around your child. 

A: ATTUNED: become attuned to your child’s emotional state and your own emotional state when talking about issues

L: LOOK AND LISTEN: look at your child’s face carefully for reactions that they may not be able to express. Listen to their questions and reactions – answer their questions at their level. 

T:TRANSLATE: translate what you want to share in bite-size, kid-appropriate sound bites. News can be gruesome and scary.  They don’t need to know everything! 


REASSURE: reassure your child that they are safe and you will always take care of them. 

PROTECT: above all, Protect your child from images that they shouldn’t be seeing. Save your frustration and rants over with your friends instead of using your kid as an inadvertent sounding board. 

Hopefully, with added vigilance, there will be less moments that you wish you could “unteach” – 

With wishes for a calmer world in this new year! 


I’m Sorry!! 

I’m Sorry. 
Have you noticed? Girls apologize way more than boys. 

In my clinical neuropsychology practice, I see all types of children of all ages, shapes and gender blends. One thing that continues to stun me is the predominance of teenage girls who… apologize constantly. 

Beautiful girls. Smart girls. Talented girls. Girls from supportive families. Girls from educated homes. 
And yet. So many teenage girls enter my office and …. begin to apologize. 

“ACHOO! I’m sorry. ”

“Oh I drew that funny, I’m sorry. ”

“I’m so sorry, can you please repeat that again? ”

“I’m so sorry but do you think it’s ok if I go to the restroom?” 

What happened??? 

Both girls and boys who are little do not apologize for innocuous actions, they are learning to be comfortable in their bodies and learning to control their behaviors- we get it, and they know we get it. 

Knocked the water glass right off the desk? “Oops, ok let’s clean it up! ”

Need a wiggle or a stretch break? 

Sure, let’s do it! 

Not so for the teen age girl. Self conscious, fearful of making mistakes and practically holding their breath, teen age girls just might be the most insecure group on a this planet. 

What is going on? Hasn’t everyone seen Wonder Woman already? 

So in response, I’ve started a one woman doctor crusade to help teenage girls stop apologizing. 

I will usually say to them “do you think a boy your age would have apologized for (— fill in the blank- sneezing, drinking water, erasing math mistakes, drawing a picture that isn’t Picasso…..) ??? 
For some, they get it instantly and they straighten up and proceed a bit more confidently. 
For others it’s still hard. Do you want to know why? 
I suspect that for girls, the social expectations are just too high and overwhelming. Social media shows stunning models, their school expects straight As, and their friends…. well don’t get me started. 
One little girl I worked with was told on social media by a classmate “you f?! B€#¥, I hope you die” by a classmate. Talk about peer pressure?! 

What to do
Parents- please have The Conversation with your teen. The Conversation is about real expectations. Who we are as humans, flawed, imperfect but so wonderful all the same. 

Show them your stretch marks, show them the before and after photos of photoshopped models.

 Tell them to stand up straight. To march into a room and how to command attention. 

Here’s the message: 

All teen age girls are beautiful in their own imperfect skin. You are worthy and you’re good enough. Never apologize for not being enough. Ever. 

For more info, check out Dove’s self esteem campaign:


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.