Tag Archives: ADHD

Put On Your Oxygen Mask First

      Which way is your compass pointing?
Which way is your compass pointing?

“I have to admit that I’m suffering from a severe case of battle fatigue . . . If you work with families, please try to minimize the soul shattering disappointments you hand out . . . At least let me believe you’re trying to figure it out.”

That was the final blog post of Kelli Stapleton, who on September 3 attempted to kill herself and her autistic teenage daughter by filling their van with carbon monoxide.

Kelli Stapleton called her blog “The Status Woe,” and in it she described the despondency, frustration, and sense of hopelessness she and her husband experienced raising their daughter, who was frequently violent.

Most of us, thankfully, will never be in Kelli Stapleton’s situation, no matter how difficult the challenge of raising our kids. However, the relentless day in-day out demands of raising atypical children can be devastating to many parents’ lives.

Until recently, the emotional health of Moms or Dads has rarely been noticed, much less explored as a critical factor that affects the child’s well being. Both inside and outside of families, the attention is typically focused on the needs of the child. That’s understandable, but it is also a big mistake.

THE STRESS OF CARING FOR YOUR ATYPICAL CHILD ADDS UP

Parents tend to forget to take care of themselves; that is a fact of parenthood – but they may not notice that they are not the only ones who suffer when their emotional needs are ignored. Their children suffer too.

When parents first discover that their child is atypical, either receiving a diagnosis or a realization that their kid is ‘beyond quirky’ and will need more interventions, their instinct is to buy books about the disorder and search the Internet for everything they can find on the topic, be it ADHD, a behavior disorder, autism spectrum or a learning difference.  It doesn’t immediately occur to parents that they also need to take care of themselves and reflect on how this new information is going to affect their well being, equilibrium, outlook on life or emotional resources.  A parent’s sustained focus on the child’s well being is hardwired. We are pre-programmed to nurture and protect our offspring. The sense of self-sacrifice is built into our DNA. It is the normal, anticipated reaction, but this nurture instinct is also taken for granted.  Until parents start to burn out. And let’s face it, raising atypical children is often exhausting, discouraging and isolating.

Doctors, pediatricians, teachers, and all types of therapists all depend on parents to be the primary managers of their children’s treatment.  Like the parents themselves, these professionals seldom wonder how is the parent doing.  Often, the parent is handed a laundry list of therapies, interventions, medications or schools to try.  It’s overwhelming.

6 QUESTIONS YOU PROBABLY WON’T HEAR FROM YOUR CHILD’S  DOCTORS:
How are you doing?
How is your family holding up?
Do you need more respite care?
What resources do you have when things get too tough?
Who do you call upon for help?
How can I be of more help to you?

THE BIG IDEAS THAT NOT ENOUGH PEOPLE ARE THINKING ABOUT:

“How is this parent coping? What are the emotional ramifications of having this atypical child? Is this parent receiving enough respite care? Can I depend on this parent, or is he or she cracking under the strain? How can I help support this parent?”

Since these are the questions you probably will not hear,  parents, you must ask them yourself, and you must find the support for yourselves. It sounds like yet another job but it’s critically important.

IS IT SELFISH TO WORRY ABOUT YOUR OWN WELL BEING?

It isn’t selfish, narcissistic, or a waste of time. Your child needs to see a model of happy, competent, and optimistic parents. If they don’t see this attitude at home, where will they learn it?  It takes an enormous amount of mental resiliance to see your children through their day; it’s important to get your own needs taken care of, too!

YOUR CHILD DEPENDS ON HAVING A WELL FUNCTIONING PARENT AT THE HELM

It is entirely possible for your child to succeed in this world with ADHD, or a learning disability, or high-functioning autism, or a myriad of other disabilities!!
It is much less possible for your child to succeed with an outlook that is sad, defeated, and hopeless. We owe it to our children to work on our own mental health not only so we can be stronger people but also so we can be better parents. As they say on airplanes, “If the oxygen masks drop, put on your mask first, then help your child.” That is how you both survive.

YOUR NEW SELF CARE MENU

I believe that all parents of atypical kids need to examine their lives and start creating a self-care menu. This will be your oxygen mask, guaranteeing that you get enough air to breathe and to think clearly. Ask yourself right now, What are a few things that could make me feel more in control or make my life more tolerable? Am I making time for these things?

  • Is it the comfort of friends?
  • Is it having a night out with your girlfriends?
  • Is it getting a weekly massage?
  • Is it Saturday date night with your partner, where neither of you talk about your child?
  • Is it taking a class that has nothing to do with your child’s condition?
  • Is it talking to a sympathetic therapist or counselor on a weekly basis?
  • Is it hiring the housecleaner more often?
  • Is it a refreshing walk in nature?

Your self-care menu should include appetizers (a ten-minute walk around the block) and main courses (like the list above). These are not treats, they are sustenance!

One thing you will instantly realize is that in order to get your soul nourished on a regular basis, you will need to expand your circle of support. Seek the help of your friends, extended family, a faith-based group, or a group of parents like you. It does take a village to raise a child. In the case of atypical kids, it takes an army.

On Kelli Stapleton’s website, her friends have taken over the blog while Kelli is being held in jail without bond. (Kelli’s daughter is recovering at home with her father.) The “Friends of Kelli Stapleton” write:

We do believe Kelli deserves a fair chance to share her story—which most of [you] know has been difficult and faced with adversity from so many different angles. We hope that by bringing attention to this difficult issue, we will help those families who are in similar situations.”

Kelli Stapleton’s actions were horrific—but they were not unimaginable. The most loving and devoted parents in the world are only human. And humans need air.

Positively Atypical! is dedicated to helping parents stay positive and loving toward their children, themselves and those around them. Please forward this to any parents who might benefit.

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!

Special Needs Kids: Seven Attitude Adjustments Smart Parents Can Make

Parents of children with learning differences know that their kids need an adult champion—someone to support them when they are discouraged, research the best teaching methods for their learning style, and help them navigate the school system.

It is estimated that there are approximately between 10-20% of students with learning differences, either a learning disorder, attention disorder, autism spectrum or a mood disorder. Standing behind each of these students is a loving and concerned parent who is trying hard to make the right choices. Right?

Nurtured kids become successful adults

Children with learning differences can and do grow up to become successful, productive adults. The primary challenge for parents is to keep their child’s self esteem strong while maintaining a realistic assessment of his or her strengths and struggles.

A child with dyslexia may have difficulty reading but may be unusually creative—she may be a dancer, an artist, a filmmaker, or a storyteller. A boy with ADHD may be hyperactive and impatient with classroom rules, but he could grow up to be highly successful on his own terms, like so many well-known innovators, celebrities, and athletes.

The potential is there—how do parents foster it during the school years?

After working with atypical children and their parents for more than two decades, I have seen that the parent’s attitude has a tremendous impact on how their child experiences school.

Six parental attitude adjustments that can make all the difference in your child’s life

1. Be aware of your own emotional process.

Parents of special needs kids have legitimate emotional struggles. If you are going to be an effective advocate for your child, you must understand your own emotional journey through feelings such as denial, anger, depression, and isolation, until you reach optimism, positive nurturing, and acceptance of your son or daughter.

A therapist who specializes in parents of atypical children or a support group that focuses on the needs of such parents (as opposed to focusing on the kids) may help you adjust to the inevitable ups, downs, and frustrations that come with your role. It’s normal to feel these emotions—you just need to be aware of them so that they don’t control you.

2. Remember to cheer!

Maintain a positive attitude toward your child, realizing that success is measured in small steps. Be on the lookout for little triumphs that may seem modest to you but are a big event to your child.

3. Deal with your disappointments on your own time.

Your child needs a positive, encouraging guide through childhood and the teenage years. If you are feeling disappointed, embarrassed, or frustrated, try not to display these emotions to your child or become angry at him.

Parents need support from a group, an individual therapist, or just a close friend with whom they can openly vent. I also strongly urge my clients to develop self-care routines. These could involve yoga, exercise or dance classes, or meditation such as mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR).

Don’t isolate yourself. You are not alone! At the very least, join a support group. You may be surprised at how much it helps.

4. Be there.

What your child needs most is your presence, so try to give her quality time every day. Children with learning disabilities particularly need support in the hour or so after school and during homework.

It’s best if all of the homework duty does not fall on one person, so try setting up a schedule with your partner. An older sibling or another relative might be able to step in one day a week.

Apart from homework time, you can boost your child’s mood and self-confidence by devoting a few minutes each day exclusively to chatting, laughing, and listening to her take on the world.

5. It’s not fair to compare.

Never compare your child to another child. It isn’t fair or motivating, it is painful and disheartening. We all have differences. Embrace your unique child and nurture his talents! Most of all, enjoy him for who he is.

6. Trust your instincts.

Parents have a sixth sense about their children, and you should honor yours. When parents confess a worry to a pediatrician or a teacher, the common response is, “Give your child more time.”

Regardless of what they say, if you feel that something is amiss, get your child evaluated. Early assessment and intervention can be critical factors in helping special needs children.

7. Do your homework.

In addition to fine-tuning your own emotional report card, you will need to maintain and update your child’s paperwork: make sure your child’s IEP is up to date, find out if his or her needs are being adequately met by your school’s interventions, schedule parent-teacher meetings when you sense there is cause.

The summer is time to get some remediation boot-camp in weaker areas of need.

Together, you and your child can be a unified force for success in school and beyond.

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Hi Parents, This Blog is About YOU

A Positively Atypical Welcome

Atypical kids can be a challenge.... And your reactions and feelings matter!
Atypical kids can be a challenge…. And your reactions and feelings matter!

Hello, parents of children diagnosed with ADHD, learning disorders, or autism spectrum! If you’ve had a rocky road with your child, you’re in the right place.

Parents have different concerns at different stages of their child’s development and condition. You may still be in the early days, thinking something’s not quite right with your child but unable to put a finger on what it may be.

Or maybe your child has already been identified as needing help, but you’re still fuzzy on the details of what’s wrong and what to expect. Maybe you’ve already received the diagnosis and an intervention action plan and are overwhelmed by the sheer size of the mountain you’re about to climb.

Or, you might be an old pro at this, and have been fighting the good fight for years now. You’re frayed, worried, and stressed out by the whole process.

Take Care of Yourself to Take Care of Your Child

First things first: Take a deep breath. And then consider this vital piece of information: YOUR emotional response to your child’s condition is just as crucial as any therapy or treatment your child receives.

After the diagnosis, all of your attention and energy, and all of the attention and energy of those close to you and your family, will be focused on your child. And, to a point, that’s as it should be — nothing’s more important than helping your child get the very best care you can find.

But learning to manage your own feelings about your child’s condition is the key to remaining a strong, enthusiastic champion for him or her, even when things are at their most challenging.

I’m Dr. Rita, and I’m Here to Help

I’ll keep this part short, since we’re here for you, not me. But I also know that you want to be reassured that you’re getting the best advice you can. With that in mind, here are a few facts about me:

  • I’ve worked with families for over 20 years as a pediatric neuropsychologist, helping them understand their diagnosis and put together a treatment plan.
  • I evaluate children for learning disabilities, attention deficit disorders, autism spectrum, and high intelligence and aptitude (or gifted children). I also help demystify those unusual kids who don’t have an obvious learning condition but who seem quirky or different and I help parents learn more about their unique child.
  • I’ve watched countless parents ride the emotional roller coaster from denial to anger to guilt to isolation, depression, and fear — all before (hopefully) arriving at a place of acceptance of who their child is and what they need to work on.
  • I’ve learned through my clinical experience that the parents’ reaction to their child is the best predictor of that child’s future wellbeing. And if you know what intense emotions to expect, you’ll be able to reach acceptance — for both yourself and your child — much faster.

How Positively Atypical Can Help You in Your Journey

Many parents over the years have told me that, in retrospect, their child’s disorder has been an invisible gift. Because of that feedback, I feel confident encouraging you to have optimism and faith.

And that’s why I started this blog: To provide parents just like you with information to help you take charge of your child’s treatment plan and to help guide you toward that place of acceptance.

Here, you’ll find some of the leading research into brain-based emotions, learned optimism, and self-care techniques including meditation and mindfulness-based exercises.

I’ll also help you create a customized self-care menu full of actions you can perform to maintain calm and balance, whether you have ten minutes free or a whole weekend. You’ll find tips on communicating better with teachers, relatives, therapists, and others in your child’s life.

I’ll also talk about how you can reset the “normal” button in your own mind and learn to accept your child for who he or she is — and accept yourself as the parent of a child who is a little, or a lot, different.

Remember: The emotional responses you may be feeling about your child’s diagnosis, behaviors, or unique needs don’t make you a bad parent. They’re hard-wired, neurobiological reactions — just like the fight-or-flight response to fear.

But if you’re aware of this hard-wiring and know what to expect, you can identify where you are on the roller coaster. That will help you channel your feelings and separate them from the challenges of your child.  And that will make you much better at supporting him or her.

So pull up your favorite comfy chair, grab a cup of joe (or tea), and let’s talk. I look forward to your comments and suggestions, and to answering your questions about you and your wonderful, crazy-making, difficult, astonishing, one-of-a-kind child.

Like this post? Please, feel free to join the conversation in the comments below! And don’t forget to sign up to receive new posts via email (you can also click the form in the sidebar) so you don’t miss anything!