Tag Archives: learning disabilities

Parents: Is Your Child an In-Betweener?

The In-Betweeners: When There’s No Diagnosis for Your Child13110733_s

What happens when your child is struggling but doesn’t have a diagnosis? It’s so much easier for parents to explain their child to a school, doctor or coach when there’s a label to go with the behavior: “She’s ADHD, please cut her some slack,”  or, “He’s on the autism spectrum, please help him make friends.”

But what about the child who doesn’t make the cut?

Take Carly,  a cute 8 year old redhead with a gap in her front teeth and a perpetual grin. Her mother brings her in to be tested because she just is having a hard time in second grade, but a full evaluation reveals that she does not meet the criteria for any disorder.  She doesn’t have ADHD or organization problems, and she is not lagging academically.  But one thing stands out: Carly is annoying. She talks a lot, laughs too loudly and is bossy.  She’s driving her classmates, teachers, parents, and everyone else crazy.

And then there is Max. Max has an IQ of 82, in the “low average” range. He is slower than most of his classmates, and is also very immature. His peers are starting to outpace him socially.  By age 10, Max is an outcast. He does not meet the criteria for intellectually challenged and he has managed to learn his academic skills with a lot of tutoring, so he is not eligible for any services.  Max is not different enough.

And Maria. Maria is a 6 year old firecracker.  She has tons of energy, is difficult to engage, and is only happy when she’s moving. An exceptionally intense child, Maria is a voracious learner but falls apart when she doesn’t get her way.  Intense? Active? Emotional? Absolutely.  Diagnosis? None.

Carly, Max, and Maria are what I call in-betweeners —kids with challenging symptoms that don’t meet criteria for a specific diagnosis.  Annoying to be around or slower to learn or intense and active, these are types of kids who are challenging to raise and even harder to teach, but don’t meet diagnostic criteria, so they don’t get a label.

Some experts call this phenomenon ‘shadow syndrome’ as in, a mild form of a specific diagnosis but not quite…..  But I prefer to see these children as “the in-betweeners” because it’s a positive term, unlike the slightly diabolical sounding “shadow syndrome.”  In-betweeners are kids who don’t quite fit in.  Their parents have a special set of needs, too.

Why is no label sometimes harder than a diagnosis?

When a child is atypical but does not meet a diagnosis, the parents can feel isolated and at a loss. You know your child is different, and you’re relieved that there is nothing more serious going on, yet it would be so much easier to deal with the difference if there was a label attached. Why?

Labels lead to services.  When your child is diagnosed with a specific disorder, there is usually a designated list of services they are entitled to, either through the school district, regional center or through private pay system.

Labels lead to awareness.  For example, when your child is on the Autism spectrum, you can educate yourself about the disorder.  There are websites, books, support groups, and specialists at your disposal. Having a diagnosis can also help a denying parent be more accepting about his or her child.

Labels lead to understanding from others. Most people now know that having a diagnosis such as dyslexia, ADHD, autism or processing disorders doesn’t mean that there is something wrong with your family.  These are neurodevelopmental disorders a child is born with.

In-betweeners and their parents don’t have these advantages.  Instead, they are subjected to head- shaking and judgment from others who think, “What is up with that kid!” or “These children are just not being parented right.”  As if parents needed more stress!

And with no diagnosis, parents tend to blame each other or themselves for their children’s problems. “What the heck is wrong with this kid? Can’t you discipline him better? We threw out all this money on testing and they didn’t find anything! It must be our fault—probably yours.”

Help for in-betweeners and their parents

Please be patient with me—God hasn’t finished making me yet.

Remember that saying?  It’s a good mantra for your in-betweener, who may outgrow his or her difference. With early intervention, a child can outgrow a diagnosis but retain some aspect of the condition. For example, a child with early sensory integration disorder may continue to refrain from walking barefoot in sand and flinch at hugs, but otherwise be able to socialize with few problems.  A child with an early speech disorder may develop into an excellent speaker but still struggle with spelling (there is a strong link between expressive language and learning to read and spell).  The same is true for in-betweeners—with help, they often can overcome many of their challenges.

On the other hand, some kids grow into diagnoses as they develop.  A child who just seems to be working a little too hard on mastering letter sounds can certainly develop a reading delay by later elementary school.  A child who is just a bit eccentric can look more than a little different by a later age.

In the meantime, there are steps parents can take and advice they can tap.  Determine the diagnosis that most closely resembles your child’s behavior, and use those resources.  Diagnoses are not exact anyway—there is no blood test that correctly diagnoses psychological issues. So based on your own observations, find out what help is available.

Is your child super-energetic? Can’t seem to stop?

Check out ADHD, hyperactive impulsive type. Your child may not meet criteria but the same tactics may help change his or her behavior.  Make sure your child is getting a high protein, low carb/low sugar diet.  Eliminate junk food and artificial coloring. http://www.webmd.com/add-adhd/guide/adhd-diets  This child also needs a strong cardiovascular workout daily.  Limit screen time and increase active play. Mindfulness techniques or yoga can also be helpful. Join the fun and learn new techniques and diet along with your child.

Learning problems but not learning delayed?

Help your child stay on top of his or her academics with enough support. There is no substitute for early intervention; find an educational therapist from the national Association of Educational Therapists  www.aetonline.org  and you can prevent a small problem from becoming an overwhelming problem later one.  Sometimes a retired school teacher or a tutor in your neighborhood can be helpful.

Socially annoying but not on the autism spectrum?

Your child will still benefit from social skills training and social stories.  Social skills training is available in many areas through the school system or privately through therapists or speech therapists.  Social stories is a technique originally developed by Carol Grey  http://www.thegraycenter.org/social-stories  to teach social cues and to better learn nuances of social communication.  Some children will benefit from speech therapy if their pragmatic language seems off, even if there is so specific language disability.

And, so many parents can benefit from the counsel of a  therapist, support group or taking their child for a few sessions of family therapy.  Don’t forget to help yourself through the process of raising an atypical child.

There are lots of different types of “in-betweeners”.   Is your child an in-betweener? Please write in and share your story.

 

 

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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.

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.

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