Tag Archives: Atypical Kids

Therapy’s Transformational Moments

In times of difficult emotions, it’s important to know that psychotherapy can offer transformational change and emotional growth.

I wanted to share this moving article from this week.

By Barry Duncan – Reprinted from Psychotherapy Networker online

A recent consult I did illustrates the intrinsic rewards of healing involvement and intimate connection. It also taught me that anything is possible—that even the bleakest sessions can have a positive outcome if you stay with the process.
— Read on www.psychotherapynetworker.org/blog/details/698/therapys-transformational-moments

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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, Here Are Your 6 Teachable Moments!

Parents, Here Are Your 6 Teachable Moments!

19221587_sA teachable moment is supposed to be a moment when your child’s attention has landed on something you want him to learn—and he is actually ready to learn it. More often, parents use “teachable moment” as code for “catastrophe.”  As in, “William dropped all his stuffed animals in the toilet and then flushed it. Ah, that was a teachable moment.”

In everyday life, the challenge for parents is to recognize teachable moments and follow through. It’s not really a matter of waiting until your child is ready to grasp the lesson. It’s a matter of repeating the lesson so often that, sooner or later, it sinks in and becomes second nature.

Here are the skills I believe parents of atypical kids should try to teach their children, along with the right moments to do the teaching.

1. Eye contact: You and your child run into someone you know or are introduced to someone new. Your child stares shyly downward and says nothing or mumbles, “my airplane got lost.”

Your teachable moment: BEFORE your child is approached, remind your child what is expected.  SAY: ‘Neighbor Joanie is walking over to us, remember to look her in the face and say hello’.   If your child is not doing so, don’t be shy, say it aloud: “Look her in the face and say ‘Hello’ ! Good for you!” Every child is capable looking someone in the eye when they are introduced, even if it takes years of training. Don’t hesitate to keep reminding.

2. Manners:  Every child is capable of saying please, excuse me and thank you—again, even if it takes years of training.

Your teachable moment: Every single time your child asks for or accepts any item, task, or favor. Also: You must model this behavior by saying please and thank you yourself, every single time. Your child can learn to do this, and it will make so much difference later on in his or her life.

3. Simple conversation skills: Your child should be able to hold up his or her end of a basic conversation, including asking questions: How are you? What do you like to do in school? Who are your friends? What are your hobbies?

Your teachable moment: Driving in the car is a great time for parents to rehearse these conversations with children so they are at ease with the questions and ready to roll. They can help you make up the questions and, of course, they get to answer the questions too. Model having back and forth conversations with imaginary people or friends, don’t hesitate from adding some humor to it, kids love to laugh at absurdities, like what to say to Mr. Elephant at the zoo or Mr. Ralph who, of course, owns Ralphs grocery store.

4. Planning and organizational skills:  How to clean out a backpack. How to neatly put papers in a folder without them getting crinkled. How to lay out clothes the night before (also builds good planning skills). How to prepare lunch with their parent the night before.

Your teachable moment: After homework is done but before TV privilege time. Now is the time to run through all the necessary prep work for the next day.  The trick is forcing yourself to take the time to teach these skills in a patient and relaxed way at the end of a long day. It’s always so much easier just to do it yourself, right? Don’t! Your little Johnny needs to pack up his own backpack and put it right by the front door all my himself. He can do it!

5. Nutrition: Children must eat foods that are not white. I lost count as to how many parents have told me that their child will only eat exactly 3 foods, over the years. How did that happen? Eating a healthy diet is the most important brain-building activity.

Your teachable moment: Start young. Give them nutritious food before they have an opinion. The world of natural food is delicious! Whole Foods offers cooking classes for kids or you can buy simple cook books with pictures and experiment.  Do not succumb to every plea for orange-dyed snacks, and oversalted, oversugared pseudo-food that only benefits food industries but certainly not your child.  DO NOT. EVER. PLEASE.

6. Entertainment: Do not introduce your child to iPads or iPhones until at least age 5.  You have control until then.  Use your parental control and your wisdom. Please.  One parent I know equated the iPad to vodka for an alcoholic. It can be that addictive. Why would you want to do that to your child? From age 0-5 is the time for a child’s sensorium to develop, including sensory relationship with the world. That does not include using a finger to swipe for immediate gratification, but does include crawling, touching, tasting, sensing and interacting with real people in real time.

Your teachable moment: Any moment when you are stressed and it would be so much easier just to hand over the device. No, make that BEFORE you are stressed.  PLAN AHEAD.  Are you going to be in the car for a long stretch? Doctor waiting room? Long meeting? Long car pool line? Remember drawing on a scratch pad with crayons? Picture books? CDs? If you can’t listen to Radio Disney for one more second, try movie soundtracks or children’s classics like “Peter and the Wolf.”  Plan to have conversation topics or plan songs from your childhood to teach your child while waiting. Teach them finger games or other ways to entertain themselves for those few minutes.

There are many more teachable moments that are available to parents if they can be mindful and alert to their children’s behaviors.  What are some teachable moments that have worked for you?

When Is “Too Much” Just Enough?

Umbrella Parents
Umbrella parents always know when the rain is coming, and are ready with a metaphorical umbrella.

You know the ones.  The moms or dads with chronically worried faces, who pre-empt every group parent meeting to talk about their child’s special needs, and seem oblivious to the eye-rolling of parents around them.  The ones who wait outside the classroom at the end of each day to make sure their child is bringing home the right books. The parents who take the longest in the parent-teacher conferences.  “Helicopter parents.”   “Smother mothers.”

You know them because they are us and they are you. Parents of atypical kids do stand out from the rest; they take care of their children in ways that other moms and dads don’t have to, risking criticism from other parents and weary sighs from teachers.  They look like they are helicopter parents, but here is the truth that only you know:

They are doing what it takes to get their kid through the day.  Sometimes “too much” is just enough.

Hello, Umbrella Parents!

Instead of helicopter parents or smother mothers, I like to refer to these devoted moms and dads as umbrella parents. Good parents know what their children need, anticipate those needs, and take action. They are like weathermen who know when the rain is coming and are ready with a metaphorical umbrella.

When a child is diagnosed as atypical, I always explain to parents that they will need to be more attuned to the child’s needs than the average parent, at least for a while. Helicopter instincts are a very practical response to dealing with your special needs child.

Why? Because most atypical children experience some impairment and delay of their executive function.  Executive function is a broad term for the process that takes place in frontal lobe of the brain: the ability to anticipate, plan, problem-solve, organize, and self-monitor one’s social behaviors.  That pretty much sums up the job description of a parent, doesn’t it?

Umbrella parents don’t hesitate to protect their kids

When parents know that their children will have problems in particular areas, not only is it important to intercede, pave the way for them, and inform those adults who teach them, it is critical.  Teachers and coaches are busy running programs with lots of kids, and the problems of a single child just don’t stand out—until they do.

At that point, how the coach or teacher treats the child can lead to a series of humiliations, unfortunate discipline tactics, and subsequent self-esteem problems for the child. Coaches, counselors, and some teachers can be too aggressive in their tactics unless they are informed and instructed about better methods to deal with a child who is different.

So parents, do not hesitate to be your child’s advocate! Stand up, call it out, pay no attention to the other parents who think you are helicoptering. You are protecting your child!

The 5 W’s of  Umbrella Parenting

When your child is beginning a new class, team, or other activity, you have the chance to set the stage for a positive experience for your child and a good relationship with the teacher or coach. It is your chance to replace the “helicopter” label with “attentive and available.”  Just remember the 5 W’s:

  • Who? Who should be in the meeting? When you ask to meet with the teacher, coach or activity leader, it’s best if you bring along backup. The more people to support you, the better.  A spouse, neighbor or even your child’s therapist.  There is strength in numbers; moms rarely get heard as well as a professional who is saying the same thing.
  • What? What should the parent bring to the meeting? A note from a doctor or a one page recommendation list could help the process.  For example, a note could say: “Andy suffers from an auditory processing disorder. This means that he may not hear your instructions the first time. Please do not yell at him for this, but do repeat it a few times if he seems confused.  You could also meet with him before the game to see if he has any questions.”You could also attach a brief printout about the disorder for him to read. Note that what the doctor is saying is exactly what you will say, but somehow the doctor or therapist note provides more weight to your requests.
  • When? When should the meeting take place? The earlier the better. I often advise parents to meet with teachers a few days before school starts to debrief them on your child’s needs.  Depending on how many adjustments your child needs, you may want 15 minutes up to a half hour.Ask the teacher for “15 minutes of your time” just to briefly explain the situation and why you, the parent, will be hovering a bit throughout the year.
  • Where? Location matters. You will want privacy, away from other parents.  You also may not want to involve your child if he or she is not ready to talk about his issues (stay tuned for a future blog post on this)
  • Why? The point of this first little meeting is to set the stage with the teacher, explain what the situation is, and communicate that you are a calm, attentive parent and want to help the teacher so that your child is not disruptive and also is getting what he or she needs.

Stay tuned for my next post, when I will talk about the flip side of umbrella parenting: over-indulging your kid, soothing your own nerves instead of his, and when and how to let go.

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!