Tag Archives: Coping with Your Child’s Special Needs

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.

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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