Saturday, April 27, 2013

Special Education Saturday - Brain Bashing

Our brains are a vital part of anything we do. The damage that can be done to the brains of soldiers, boxers, or those in contact sports is only beginning to be understood.

Your brain is about as hard as soft tofu or hard gelatin. It has some protection from your skull, but when your head is hit, the brain is impacted twice--once from the initial blow, then another as your brain slams against the opposite side of your cranium.

This double whammy causes an abnormal accumulation of tau protein. Over time, this leads to chronic encephalopathy (CTE). This condition is similar to Alzheimer's in that it causes memory loss and impulsiveness. The damage can be directly correlated with the number of head injuries.

What can you do to prevent this?  The Mayo Clinic recommends the following:

  • Always wear a seat belt and have young children sit in the back seat. 
  • Don't drive under the influence of alcohol, medication, or drugs.
  • Wear a helmet when riding a motorcycle, skateboarding, bicycling, snowboarding, or when on an all-terrain vehicle. 
  • Install handrails in bathrooms of older adults. 
  • Put nonslip mats in bathtubs or showers.
  • Remove area rugs or place nonslip material underneath.
  • Have handrails on both sides of staircases.
  • Improve home lighting.
  • Clear clutter from stairs and floors. 
  • Get regular vision checkups.
  • Exercise.
  • Put safety gates at the top of stairs for young children.
  • Install window guards in upper floors. 
  • Go to playgrounds with shock-absorbing materials. 
  • Don't allow children to play on fire escapes or balconies. 

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Wellness Wednesday - Getting Unstuck from Negative Thoughts

Latest in a series of blog posts based on "Train Your Brain to Get Happy" by Aubele, Wenck, & Reynolds.

Did you know that your brain can get stuck in negative thought patterns? When this happens, your amygdala (emotion) underreacts and the frontal areas (control) overreact, and you tend to have even more negative thoughts.

How can you change this pattern?

  • Recognize your patterns. Most people have some of the following three types:
    • Guilt
    • Negative interpretation of others' thoughts
    • Self-fulfilling prophecies of bad events/actions
  • Force yourself to think happy thoughts. You can use objects, pictures, or journal entries to recall happy times. This will change your brain by creating new synapses and lifting your mood.
  • When you fall into bad patterns, give yourself reason to disbelieve them. For example, if you felt bad about doing something over which you had no control, or couldn't foresee the outcome, give yourself a break. 
  • Write a new ending--a positive interpretation of the thoughts of others, or see yourself being successful. 
  • Distract yourself with a enjoyable activity. 
How do you change your negative thought patterns?

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Special Education Saturday - Autism, ADHD, and Visual Input

During a recent training, autism expert Dr. Marilyn Monteiro stated she believed one of the reasons behind the recent rise in autism diagnoses is the prevalence of visual input provided to today's children. Youngsters of today spend far more hours in front of screens than did their parents, or even older siblings.

While this opinion has not been validated by research, here's what we do know:

  • Children with ADHD tend to hyperfocus on video games to the exclusion of all else. 
  • As the number of hours spent playing video games increases, ADHD symptoms worsen in every child. 
  • Those with autism who spend many hours in front of a screen have a reduced motivation to interact with people. 
  • Video is a good instructional tool for these kids, but it must be strictly limited and followed by face-to-face interaction.
  • Television shows and movies that demonstrate poor social skills, rude behavior, or dangerous actions have a stronger impact on these children than their typical peers. 
What can you do?

  • Limit videos and game time to 2 hours per day.
  • Allow your children to earn their screen time by doing chores. 
  • Make sure your youngsters spend time playing outside or interacting with others. 
  • Follow any electronic entertainment with time spent together talking. 
  • Monitor television time, shut it off if the content is disturbing, and have a discussion reinforcing your family values. 
  • Spend time as a family taking walks, playing in the yard, or going on excursions. 
How much screen time do you allow your children? How do you maintain control of their video input?

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Wellness Wednesday - Making Happiness Real

The power of imagination is very strong. It inspires the written work, causes the creation of great works of art, and provides a welcome escape from current problems.

It can also make you happier.

A study at Bowling Green State University in Ohio revealed that the act of imagining happiness or sadness caused participants to feel those emotions and demonstrate corresponding brain activity. This explains why we laugh and cry along with characters in movies.

How can this impact your happiness? You can make choices to imagine happy situations. Listen to music that makes you feel happy rather than dwelling on those selections that invoke anger or depression. These efforts can actually make you feel happier.

***This is one of a series of blog posts based on "Train Your Brain to be Happy" by Teresa Aubele, Stan Wenck, and Susan Reynolds.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Special Education Saturday - When IQ is Not as Important

When I test children for possible special education services, one of the parents' first questions is usually about IQ scores. While this overall measure of intelligence is important, it's not the most important part of academic success.

Researchers at Stanford and Florida State University have determined that motivation and learning strategies are more important than "smarts". These techniques can be divided into six categories, including self-regulation, organization, mnemonics, seeking help and reviewing.

Self-regulation includes the ways the learner plans to learn. Individual goals, plans, and self-evaluations are all part of this category.

Organizing includes time management, which ensures all assignments are completed. It also includes managing supplies and information.

Mnemonics are devices that help you remember information. "Please excuse my dear Aunt Sally" helps students recall the order of operations (parentheses, exponents, multiplication, division, addition, subtraction).

Seeking help is critical to learning. No one can learn all subjects independently. Knowing when you are lost and how to get assistance is critical for a well-rounded education.

Reviewing is just as it sounds. College students who spent more time going over new information with their peers and studying made better grades.

The short version is that strategy use was more important for student GPA than SAT scores or IQ.

So, teach your children how to learn for  success.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Wellness Wednesday - Training Your Brain to be Happy

This is the first in a series of blog posts about how you can change your brain to increase your happiness. This information comes from "Train Your Brain to Get Happy" by Teresa Aubele, Stan Wenck, and Susan Reynolds.

The first thing we need to know is that we can do many things to literally change our brains. We experience neuroplasticity, or brain changes, on a regular basis when we learn and do other thinking processes. These activities allow our brains to awaken dormant areas, make new circuits and rewire old ones, and change problem connections.

What does this have to do with happiness? When we practice good habits for thinking or attitudes, that area of the brain expands. The same is true when we dwell on anxious or unhappy thoughts. We can also use our imaginations to reduce the impact of bad experiences and reprogram our self-images.

For this week, let's work on empathy and compassion. Spend at least 5 minutes each day recalling a time when someone was empathetic and compassionate towards you. Then spend another 5 minutes planning how you can act in a similar manner with those you encounter. Track what happens in a journal.

I'll be reporting on my results next week. Post yours in a comment!

Saturday, April 6, 2013

SpEd Saturday - The Value of Money

Your probably pay for groceries the same way I do--with a swipe of a debit card. It's more convenient and generally safer than cash.

There is one drawback few people notice with this system. It's the impact it has on our children. There are three concerns here:

  • Children don't see monetary transactions and understand the values of coins and bills.
  • When they can't observe cash in action, it's too abstract to understand.
  • Kids with disabilities who don't have the opportunity to work with money don't develop critical life and job skills.
I work in a junior high school. I also test elementary-aged children from time to time. It is becoming more and more common to see children who don't know the value of coins and can't count change. They don't see bills used, and don't have exposure outside of school. This means their understanding can be lost. This can be a huge deficit when applying for a first job. 

My children often asked for things we could not afford. I tried to explain to them the realities of our family budget, and they would often reply, "Then just write a check." I soon realized that they had no comprehension of how checking accounts worked. We had many lessons, and they were given the opportunity to have a checkbook while in high school so they could learn to balance the books and be better prepared for adulthood.

As mentioned above, teens need to know how to make change when applying for their first job. They should also understand this concept so they are not cheated when making purchases. Many opportunities must be provided to practice this important ability. 

What can you do? Make small purchases with cash in front of your child. Help them develop a budget and make family finances a subject of regular discussion. Easiest of all, have them count the change in your wallet each night.

How do you teach your children about money?

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Wellness Wednesday - Benefits of Planning

It's important to plan for the future. It's even more important to help your children plan for theirs.

Scot Ferre shared information about transition planning at You can read it here.