Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Could Your Child Have Autism?

Although most children with autism are not identified until they are at least three years of age, there are some warning signs parents may observe earlier.

Dr. Rebecca Landa is the director of the Center for Autism and Related Disorders at the Kennedy Krieger Institute in Baltimore, Maryland. She has suggested parents of children six months of age and older look for the following ten signs during playtime:

1. The child smiles rarely when approached by familiar people.

2. The child does not imitate the sounds and movements of others (e.g. smiling and laughing), or this is rare.

3. Babbling is infrequent or delayed.

4. No response to his or her name from 6-12 months old.

5. No gesturing to communicate by 10 months of age.

6. Lack of eye contact.

7. Does not seek attention on a regular basis.

8. Stiffens up, has uncommon postures, or displays repetitive movements such as hand flapping.

9. Does not reach out to be picked up.

10. Motor delays such as in rolling over, pushing up, or crawling.

What should you do if you have concerns? Contact your pediatrician for screening, or your local office of Early Childhood Intervention for additional testing.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Preventing Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS)

I first became aware of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) when having my babies. I had a friend whose babies were all sent home from the hospital with monitors because a previous infant had died from the syndrome.
We were terrified it could happen to our children. When each of my four children initially slept through the night, I awoke in a panic, sure they had died.
The “Back-to-Sleep” campaign in the early nineties brought some reassurance. At last, we could DO something to prevent a tragedy. But my last child wouldn’t sleep unless she was placed on her stomach. I remember the long hours of worry.
Placing infants on their backs halved the numbers of SIDS deaths. But a plateau was reached in 2000. Researchers began to take a look at other risk factors. Back sleeping, bed sharing, premature birth, and maternal smoking were all examined.
From 1991-2008, the various risk factors were examined. While the numbers of stomach-sleepers had dropped, the number of infants sharing beds with parents experienced a dramatic increase. This was especially true for babies less than two months old.
The results were shocking:
·   Children who share a bed with their parents are twice as likely to die from SIDS. If they are less than three months old, the risk is 17 or 18 times greater.
· If the parents smoke and share a bed with their youngster, the risk of SIDS is 18 times greater, even if the infant is older than three months.
· Babies who sleep on soft mattresses or blankets also have an elevated risk.
Recommendations from the American Academy of Pediatrics:
 Put your baby on her back to sleep.
 Use a firm sleep surface.
       Babies should sleep in their own beds.
       Remove pillows, blankets, and bumper pads from the sleeping area.
       Don’t cover the baby’s head or allow her to overheat.
       No sleeping with others.
       Return the baby to her own bed after cuddling and feeding.
       Don’t use infant wedges and positioners.
       Breastfeeding is best.
       Get your baby immunized—vaccinations are not a risk factor for SIDS.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Talking to your Child about Disabilities

When a child has a physical disability, it can be explained in a manner similar to an illness. When the problem is psychological, it's a little more difficult.

As a social skills teacher, I interviewed 12 high school students with autism. I asked them if they had ever heard the term "autism". Although these students were nearly of legal age, only two had heard the term. One asked for more information, and the other said it meant, "my brain doesn't work right".

I wondered how anyone could deal with a disability he or she didn't even know existed? Clearly children and teens need information to help them deal with their intellectual challenges. Generally they have already noticed how they are different from others, and have wondered why. Keeping information a secret does not make the disability go away or ease the pain of their problems.

How do you begin? Choose the right time. Have a discussion using appropriate wording. Give them information and hope. Then keep the lines of communication open as your child grows.

Timing is important. Youngsters may not understand a diagnosis or complicated terms, but can comprehend how their psychiatric challenges can affect their behavior. This talk can begin at four or five years of age. If your child is having problems with peers or controlling behavior, an explanation of his or her diagnosis can ease the pain. Eight years old is a good time to start if the difficulties mentioned above have not yet appeared.

Be very matter of fact during the discussion. Remain calm and positive. Explain it is not a punishment.

Use the disability to explain challenging behaviors, but reinforce that improvements can be made. Explain that everyone has something that is difficult for them, and give examples. Let them know that they are not alone in their challenges--others have similar problems and there are many people working to provide help.

Make sure your child knows that the services they are receiving are to help them. Talk about this topic every time challenges arise. Keep the dialog going and remind them that most conditions can improve over time.

Children can not only tell when they are different, but when their parents are concerned. Postponing the discussion will not save anyone in the family from worry. Consider how hurt your child may be if he or she learns about a disability by overhearing a conversation or by being told by someone outside the family.

It is important to remember not to permit your child to use the disability as an excuse. While the school may make accommodations and modifications based on a diagnosis, the world after high school generally will not. If a teen is pulled over for speeding, the officer will not let him go because he says, "I can't help it. I have ADHD and I'm impulsive". Teach your child that disabilities are not an excuse for poor behavior.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Priorities of a Wandering Mind

Ever wonder about your priorities? Turns out there's a simple test to help you identify them.

A new study published in the journal Psychological Science determined that working memory can show you what's important.

Working memory is the process that not only moves information from short-term to long-term memory, but also allows you to select what input receives your attention. It also determines the actions you take, and in what order you do them.

How do you use this information to see your priorities? Pay attention the nest time you're doing a routine task. Do you think about absent family members while doing dishes? Wonder about your pet when you're at work? Ponder financial problems as you drive? Your working memory directs your thoughts to the topics of most interest to you at the time.

Lots of mental wandering while doing the mundane may seem upsetting. Exactly the opposite is true. The more you focus on other things when you're bored, the higher the capacity of your working memory. This isn't true when distractions are present.

It's important to be aware of the journeys your working memory is taking. Too many mental side trips may cause you not to remember a drive home, or miss important details while reading. This happens because you're using too many cognitive resources on your daydreams.

Do you have a problem? How many times did your attention wander as you read this post? Where did your thoughts go? Did your intellectual absenteeism impact what you needed to do? Only you can answer these questions.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Bullying.....or not!

The news is full of reports of bullying and its consequences. Students who have endured taunting for years go on shooting rampages or commit suicide. Parents claim nothing was done to help their child despite repeated complaints.

Bullying is nothing new. I've experienced it, and so have you.

What is bullying? Behavior is considered to be bullying when it meets the following criteria:
  • Negative behaviors by peers over time.
  • The perpetrator intends to oppress the victim.
  • There is a disparity in age, physical size or ability, intellectual abilities, or social status.
There are several types of bullying. The negative actions may be physical, social, relational, verbal, sexual, and cyber.

Physical bullying is the easiest to identify, Any type of violent physical contact falls into this category, and the marks make it stand out.

Social and relational bullying are similar in nature. This may appear as shunning, ignoring, intentional embarrassment, or acting in an unwelcome manner.

Verbal bullying involves threats, teasing, comments, or intimidation.

Sexual bullying includes unwanted physical contact, sexual comments or displays.

Cyber bullying is similar to verbal, but it involves some form of technology.

Think you have a handle on it? Take a look at the following scenarios:

A seventh grade girl is upset because she isn't invited to a party. Is this bullying?
  • No, because this is a one-time event. If this is part of a pattern, and the girl(s) involved repeatedly point out that she is being left out, the teasing is bullying. There are too many other reasons why someone is not invited to a private activity.
A sixth grade boy is called "gay" repeatedly by a variety of students.
  • Yes. This is a negative behavior intended to oppress. Members of a group are using their status to inflict pain.
If your child reports bullying, do as much investigation as you can. If it is a one-time problem, teach your youngster how to resolve conflicts with others and make friends. Unless there was a serious threat of harm, this does not necessarily need further action.

If the events have continued for more than a week, it's time to alert the school. An investigation will be launched. Do not ask what happened to the other student. This is confidential, and you will not be notified. Do ask what is being done to protect your child. If you are concerned, visit with school officials.

Be aware that students do make false reports of bullying incidents. They may be trying to disguise their own bullying of others, covering up for a school transgression, or trying to explain away stress behaviors. Be careful when jumping to conclusions.

The best defense against bullying is vigilance. Encourage your child to be near school personnel during unstructured times (before and after school, lunch, etc.). Ask administrators to keep an eye on your student. Be aware of their digital communications. Watch during community activities. It's the only proven solution.

Questions about this topic? Click the link to send me an email.