Tag Archives: Atypical Children

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.

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13 Ways To Beat Stress In 15 Minutes Or Less

This was published in Huffington Post (9/19/14).  As parents of atypical children need to monitor and manage their stress, these tips are good reminders.  Read on for stress busting recommendations.


By Yelena Shuster

Ever felt like you just can’t unwind after a demanding week? That’s because stress triggers your body’s fight or flight response: your adrenaline starts pumping, your heart beats faster, and your blood pressure rises, explains Ash Nadkarni, M.D., an associate psychiatrist at Brigham & Women’s Hospital. “Long-term overexposure to stress hormones can cause increased risk of health problems such as anxiety, depression, heart disease, weight gain, and memory and concentration problems,” Dr. Nadkarni adds.

That’s not exactly a relaxing thought. So what should you do when calming classics like downward-facing dog and chamomile tea don’t work? Check out these alternative ways to de-stress recommended by experts and recent studies.

Wake up early.
waking up

It may feel counterintuitive to deprive yourself of sleep, but giving yourself an extra 15 to 20 minutes before you head out the door will leave you feeling more refreshed — and less frazzled. “Take time in the morning to center yourself,” says San Francisco-based psychologist Leslie Carr, Psy.D. “A lot of people shoot out into their days like a rocket ship and it never gets better from there.”

Consider that caffeine takes 20 minutes to be metabolized for you to feel its effect. During that time, think about your goals for the day or read something inspirational. You might find that your normally crazy day goes a little smoother.

Create a soothing space.
Research suggests that warm colors like red excite you and cooler, muted colors like blue, green, or grey relax you, says Molly Roberts, M.D., president of the American Holistic Medical Association — but surrounding yourself in any color you find soothing can help bring on calm. “The theory behind the use of color therapy is that colors enter the eyes, which then send messages along the nerve pathways to the area of the brain that regulates emotion,” Roberts says. “There are a lot of ways to surround yourself with colors that can ease stress throughout the day.” Her suggestions: at home, paint an accent wall; and at the office, drape a soothing-colored scarf over the back of your chair and change your computer screensaver.

Clean out your junk drawers.
When you’re feeling emotionally drained, chances are whipping out your Swiffer is the last thing you want to do. But the truth is, tidying up your home can also tidy up your mind. “Having a mindset of de-cluttering helps to manage stress,” says Lauren Napolitano, Psy.D., a psychologist at Bryn Mawr Hospital in Pennsylvania. “Purging unused items gives a sense of order to your physical environment, which helps you feel calmer about your stressors.” She suggests starting with a small project, like your kitchen junk drawer. “Tangible or visible organization leads to emotional organization,” Napolitano says. If you’re ready to take it up a notch, schedule monthly donation pickups with Goodwill to keep yourself in the de-cluttering habit.

Visualize your stressful thoughts.
mindfulness

Your coworker just threw you under the bus. Your husband forgot to walk the dog. When it’s that kind of day, try thought diffusion, “a sort of visual mindfulness meditation, a way to sweep out whatever is buzzing around unhelpfully in your head,” says Erin Olivo, Ph.D., an assistant professor of medical psychology at Columbia University and author of Wise Mind Living: Master Your Emotions, Transform Your Life.

Here’s how it works: Imagine your thoughts are like clouds in the sky, and let them drift by above you. “When you begin to observe your thoughts as mental objects that simply come and go, they become less unpleasant, less threatening and less emotionally powerful,” Olivo says.

Watch cat videos.
There’s a reason Buzzfeed links are popping up all over your newsfeed. There’s nothing that will relieve some tension like watching a baby masterfully dancing to Beyonce or a cat riding a Roomba in a shark costume.

“After a stressful day, looking at these funny things actually activates the part of the brain that delivers tranquility and a calm physiological response,” says Rose Hanna, a relationship counselor and professor of psychology and women’s studies at California State University Long Beach. “This decreases anxiety and helps tremendously with reducing stress.”

Sing your heart out.
The next time you’re feeling strung out, start belting it out. As sound reverberates through the body, your mind relaxes, whether singing in a chorus or meditatively chanting om, says Rita Eichenstein, Ph.D., a neuropsychologist at Cedars-Sinai Medical Towers in Los Angeles.

Singing has even been found to reduce levels of cortisol (the stress hormone) in the body, and one case study revealed that singing prior to surgery reduced blood pressure (more research is needed). Not ready to unleash your inner Rihanna? Start by singing in the shower. “Singing tunes you love brings up positive memories and takes your mind off the stressors,” Eichenstein says.

Start a scrapbook.
organize

We’ll admit it: stickers and colored construction paper seem so kindergarten. But getting in touch with your crafty side has mental health benefits. Think of it as your adult playtime. “Scrapbooking helps you focus, which diverts you away from stressful and difficult emotions, and also helps you feel connected to the people you’re scrapbooking about,” says Nina Savelle-Rocklin, Psy.D., a Los Angeles-based psychotherapist. And no, Pinterest boards don’t count. “There’s something about the tactile element of scrapbooking — cutting, pasting, positioning — that is probably more relaxing that posting online,” Savelle-Rocklin adds.

Pick up a physical hobby.
If scrapbooking isn’t your thing, try to find another activity to occupy your time. “What stress does to someone’s mind is flood it with thoughts,” explains Nadkami. “All of these thoughts knock about your head and they make you feel overwhelmed.” Sound familiar? The best way to stop the stress spiral is by refocusing your mind on one thought: Gardening focuses you on the physical feeling of the soil that you can hold in your hands. Knitting concentrates your thoughts on the predictability of loops of yarn. “The important thing is that you channel your energy into one thing and this, in turn, relaxes your mind by eliminating all of the distracting stresses,” says Nadkarni.

Clench your muscles (then release).
This technique was developed in the 1930’s and has been recommended ever since. “The idea behind progressive muscle relaxation is to first create muscle tension, then relaxation, to provide physical relief. A relaxed body often leads to a relaxed mind,” says Savelle-Rocklin.

Start by getting into a comfortable position, like lying down in loose clothing. Tense and relax each muscle group for five seconds at a time, starting with your forehead, then moving down to your eyes, lips, hands, forearms, shoulders, back, stomach, hips, thighs, feet and, finally, your toes. If any muscle remains tense after the sequence, tighten and relax it three or four times. Massage, shmassage.

Take deep breaths.
guy relaxed

No matter if you’re checking out in the supermarket or waiting to pick up your kids from school, take one minute to breathe deeply through your nose into your abdomen, says Roswell, Georgia-based physical therapist Samuel A. Mielcarski. He advises resting your hands over your lower ribcage or abdomen to help cue deeper breathing. “Breathing fully and deeply into the abdomen brings about a sense of calm because more oxygen is getting delivered to the body’s cells, which helps the body to relax,” explains Olivo. “This type of breathing also helps to increase what is known as the ‘relaxation response,’ which is connected to the parasympathetic nervous system involved with calming the body.”

Write mental thank you notes.
Change the course of your stressful thoughts with a form of cognitive behavioral therapy, suggests marriage and family therapist Alisa Ruby Bash, who practices in Beverly Hills, California. “Before stress gets worse, it’s so important to learn to harness your thoughts,” she says. “For example, when you notice the tension in your body, picture a big red stop sign. Immediately switch your thinking to start mentally focusing on all the things you are grateful for. Look around you to include anything you find beautiful or pleasant in your present moment.” Store a gratitude list on your smartphone so you can reference it any time things get hectic.

Feel your pressure points.
You’re stuck in traffic and feeling like you’re going to explode. Time to try pressure point therapy, a form of acupuncture you can practice on your own. “Pressure to certain points on the body can help to release muscular tension and promote blood circulation,” says Mielcarski. It’s easiest to start with the Third Eye Point, the space between your eyebrows where the bridge of your nose meets your forehead. Place your middle and index finger on it and hold the position for one to two minutes using gentle to firm pressure.

Smell the roses.
roses

Research is mixed on scent therapy, but anyone who’s sniffed a bouquet of roses or breathed in the smell of the ocean knows that certain scents can be soothing. Brooklyn-based therapist and social worker La Shawn M. Paul recommends adding a few drops of your favorite scent to coconut oil after a relaxing bath so that the scent can linger longer. “It is believed that once inhaled, the scents alter the mood by stimulating various parts of the brain associated with emotion,” Paul says. Or try a scent that reminds you of nature, suggests Napolitano. “Smells like salt water or fresh rain are especially calming because they help you to think of life outside of your current stressor.”

Parents: Don’t Let Your Disappointment Defeat You

Screen Shot 2013-09-22 at 6.06.00 PMIt’s a taboo feeling you don’t dare discuss: you’re disappointed by your child.

If you are like most parents of atypical kids, you may believe you’re supposed to take your child’s atypical development in stride and be grateful for your uniquely wonderful son or daughter—regardless of the behavioral, learning, or medical challenges you have to deal with every day.

You may think you’re not allowed to feel angry, resentful, or sad.

You may try to suppress your disappointment and condemn yourself because you believe it means you’re selfish and unkind. And you may never, ever talk about your “shameful” feelings with your friends or even your partner.

But denying your feelings can be bad for your mental health and could be dangerous for your child.

A recent study found that children with disabilities are at almost double the average risk for child abuse. How is this horrible statistic possible? One reason could be that parents who do not face their own feelings about their special needs kids are more likely to take out their resentment and disappointment on the children themselves. This doesn’t always mean physical abuse. There are other more subtle ways your buried disappointment may be harming your child.

How Disappointed Parents Take It Out on Their Kids

In my practice as a neuropsychologist, I’ve witnessed lots of parents with myriads of unpleasant feelings that they aren’t ready to deal with yet. Parents may love their children and work hard to get them the best care but often, their unacknowledged feelings get in the way. Here are a few common parental emotional responses to three types of special-needs kids.

Dyslexic child and ‘fix-it’ parent. This is the parent who is accustomed to solving difficult problems at work. He comes home every evening increasingly fed up by his child, who is experiencing repeated failures at school and whose self-esteem is falling. Dad decides to fix it by reading with his child every night, thereby “teaching him how to read.” Before bed. Every night. Dyslexia requires very specific teaching methods provided by trained professionals, but Dad either doesn’t know this or refuses to believe it. He feels angry and unnerved by the apparent failure of his child—he is not used to failure and doesn’t like it. He ends up in my office wondering if his child is lazy and manipulative.

High-functioning autistic child and the socially conscious parent. The set up for disappointment is the child’s lack of social skills. While many high-functioning autistic children are smart in school, they inevitably push other kids too hard, blurt out embarrassing statements in the most inappropriate places (“Mom, my butt itches!” “Look at that fat ugly person!”), or pick their nose during school choir performance. The parent feels humiliated and angry. Parents may be unintentionally gruff with their child, lecture them, or lash out.

Developmentally delayed or low IQ child and high achieving  parent. In a family of high achievers, the arrival of a child who is cognitively delayed almost always causes some disappointment, frustration, and embarrassment. A parent may think, How does he not understand that he is acting like a two year old? Why does he persist in throwing a tantrum…or playing with nursery-age toys…or not understanding what we’re talking about at the dinner table? Parents can descend into sarcasm, anger, or physical punishment, especially when they think their child is doing these behaviors to ‘test’ or ‘tease’ their parent.

You might think these parents must be heartless, but they are not. They are typical parents engaged in raising what they had hoped would be typical children. And the feelings emerge. What to do?

5 Ways to Tackle Your Disappointment, Starting Now

You can’t pretend your way out of disappointment—your child knows you too well. Even a seriously impaired child will inevitably ask the heartbreaking question, “Mommy, why are you so mad at me?” But there are actions you can take today to come to terms with your feelings and learn how to manage them.

1. Be honest with yourself—and then talk about it.

Examine yourself, and be totally honest. Do I harbor anger, resentment, disappointment, or embarrassment about my child? Many parents do—dig deeper if you can’t find it. Remember the cancelled ski trip? The tantrum at the neighbor’s birthday party? Find a confidante and talk about your feelings. (Make sure it is someone you really trust, because this could become fodder for gossip.) Better yet, schedule a few sessions with a therapist. The therapist can guide you toward self-discovery and suggest healthy outlets for your feelings, along with ways to rejuvenate. There are many low fee or no fee therapy centers so it needn’t place another financial burden on you.  But it can help a lot.

2. Find out more about your child’s strengths and limitations.

Many parents are better able to calm their emotional responses after they read a full diagnostic assessment that includes their child’s strengths as well as limitations. Learning more about your child’s condition may help you adjust your expectations, recognize signs of progress, and manage your emotions.  If you are not satisfied with your current evaluation, seek a second opinion. Hopefully, you will be helped by a professional that can offer you more than cookie cutter recommendations and can provide true insight.

3. Every night, think of one thing that makes you proud of your child.

Think about it before going to bed. Remember, you will need to think about that one thing the next day (maybe a lot). I’m sure your child has many things to be proud of. Start thinking about one thing at a time, and the list will grow.

4. Find a support group in your area.

Whether your child’s condition is rare or commonplace, there are support groups for almost everything. Many parents find that learning to commiserate, laugh, cry and share stories is the most healing therapy.

5. Know when to get help.

If you feel that your emotions or your spouse/partner/shared caretaker’s emotions get out of control, or you worry when reading this that you have crossed the red line into abusive behavior with your child, GET HELP NOW. Do not continue to avoid the need to take care of your feelings in order to help your child. Talk with a therapist or start with www.childhelp.org for more information.

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.

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.

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