Saturday, March 30, 2013

Special Education Saturday - Reducing Aggression in Children and Teens

A recent study at the University of Bristol linked aggressive thoughts and behaviors to how we see facial expressions.

The participants were shown pictures featuring facial expressions that were either happy, sad, or ambiguous. They then identified the corresponding feeling.

When the viewers were encouraged to recognize joyful feelings in the  uncertain pictures. This activity encouraged the identification of happiness over more negative emotions.

This procedure was repeated with youthful offenders, and was followed by a reduction in anger and aggression.

What does this mean? Children and teens need to learn to process emotions properly. If they continually look for anger, that's how they will feel. If they discover cheerier feelings, those will be reflected in how they behave.

What kinds of emotions do your children see in your face?

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Wellness Wednesday - Starting to Want to Exercise...

It's no secret that I hate exercise. My motto is that I'll run if a bear is chasing me. And then only a little faster than anyone else. Also not above tripping someone.....

Back on topic. I decided in January to improve my health. So far I've lost 22 pounds. I'm dieting, but also making more of an effort to exercise. In the past, I'd go to the gym if someone was waiting on me, or if I couldn't find an excuse to stay home.

I've had a bad cold for the past week, but that's pretty much resolved itself. I found I miss the good feeling I get from exercise, the extra energy, and the lower numbers on the scale. Although my gym buddy couldn't go tonight, I went anyway.

Glad I did. I feel better, and am one step closer to looking better. My blood pressure has dropped from 132/90 (scary) to 113/78 (much better). I have lost two sizes. I feel so energized and am willing to participate in more physical activity.

How do you motivate yourself to exercise?

Monday, March 25, 2013

Upcoming Presentation - Bullying

I'll be making a presentation about perceived bullying an cyber bullying on April 27 at 9 AM on behalf of the Genesis Autism Resource Center and the ARC of Northeast Tarrant County. Click here to register.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Special Education Saturday - Video Game Addiction

Another concern mentioned by Temple Grandin during a recent presentation is video game addiction. She is especially concerned that more and more teens and young adults are developing an unhealthy obsession with their gaming systems.

Although Dr. Grandin did not grow up in a time of online play, she said she participated in what she calls a "1950s video game". She had a brass plate that covered a screw on her bed. She could spin the plate, and preferred to spend hours in this activity. Her mother, however, had other ideas. After an hour, her mom called a halt to this engaging pastime and would send her outside.

Video game addiction is a newly recognized disorder, and those with special needs, low self-esteem, and social problems are especially vulnerable. A family history of addiction is also a risk factor. Role-playing games are especially seductive as children, teens, and young adults These activities allow the player to display online personas that are everything the person is not in real life.

How can you tell if a loved one has a video game addiction? Turns out it's very similar to any other kind of addiction, according to Web MD.

  • The person in question is sustained by increasing amounts of the behavior or substance.
  • If they don't get their increasing amounts, they are irritable and spread their misery around. 
Is this really a problem? If played excessively, the child may not socialize, do homework, finish chores, or participate in other activities that teach life skills and foster social development. Video and computer games also isolate the player from family and friends, even if several people are involved in the play. 

How can you tell if there is a problem? lists the following:

  • Time playing continues to increase.
  • Thoughts turn to gaming while doing other things.
  • Using video games to escape from life's problems. 
  • Lying about gaming activities.
  • Reduction in gaming time causes irritability. 

What can you do about a video game addiction? 
  • Track time playing. 
  • Note problems from gaming. 
  • Keep the system in a public area of the house rather than a bedroom so you can monitor play. 
  • Limit play from the beginning and point out how he or she reacts to the limits. 
  • Require other activities before playing. 
  • If problems become severe, seek out a specialist in video game addiction. 
More questions? Try these sources:

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Special Education Saturday - Another Lesson from Temple Grandin

Shared interests are important for all families. When I was a child, we spent a lot of time fishing. Family activities are fun, teach important skills, and create a bond.

Shared interests are especially important for children with disabilities. Temple Grandin said that her social skills were build while participating in school clubs such as the robotics team. Every child has special interests. Most schools will have some kind of club, team, or activity that aligns with that hobby.

The trick is finding the club and encouraging your child to take part. A child who skateboards and enjoys movement may like soccer. Those who play video games may enjoy drawing or computers. Boy Scouts provides opportunities for a wide range of interests.

There are many benefits to these groups. Children who participate in a team sport or activity are less likely to drop out of school. Their grades tend to be better, and they have more friends. They are better able to deal with setbacks because of an improve social network. There are also ample opportunities to practice social and friendship skills, which are vital to adult life.

My boys were in the band, while my girls built the sets for the theater and were captains of the rifle team. The important thing is not what activity, but that it exists.

What activities do your children enjoy?

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Wellness Wednesday - Taking a Break

We all get to the point where we're tired. Doing the same thing every day, fitting tasks into small chunks of time around larger tasks, and feeling discouraged can all take its toll.

What to do?

There is value in down time. Relaxing, taking it easy, and giving yourself breathing space are all great ways to relax. It's hard for me to do something when I feel like I'm not getting something done, but taking time out makes us more productive in the long run.

One of the techniques I've found most valuable is to spend time with a hobby. This activity should be something you enjoy and does not provide additional stress.

I enjoy needle crafts  They are relaxing, creative, and I like having something to give family members. But there are times when I impose deadlines on myself. This adds to my stress rather than relieving it. I have to make an effort to relax and appreciate the process rather than looking at the end product.

I also like to spend time with my family. I used to feel that I had to cook for them nonstop, but have learned that they appreciate me better when I am relaxed and able to participate in activities with them rather than being the chef. It's all about priorities.

How do you relax?

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Special Education Saturday - Lesson 2 from Temple Grandin

Another thing emphasized by Temple Grandin in a recent talk was consistency between home and school rules. Keeping similar rules in both locations benefits children with special needs in many ways, including:
  • It's comforting to have consistent behavioral expectations. There are fewer surprises for adults and children this way. 
  • School rules won't seem unfamiliar and scary if they're similar to home rules. Families with parents who regularly curse at each other have children who are stunned to discover they can't curse at their teachers. 
  • Home rules that are similar to school rules, such as how to speak to each other, teach career skills. 
There are also a few drawbacks, like:
  • Everything can't be the same. For example, you dress in a variety of ways at home, and the school dress code is more rigid. 
  • Situations at home and in the school will not be the same, so some rules will be unique to each place. 
How do we do this?
  • As you make rules for your family, make them consistent with behavioral expectations for your community (e.g. table manners). 
  • Teach your children that family expectations for behavior will be enforced even if the inappropriate actions took place outside of the home. 
  • Reinforce the golden rule and encourage your children to treat others as they would like to be treated. 
  • Try to remember that the standards you set are preparing your child for future relationships, school success, and career planning. Learning how to live harmoniously with others is crucial for a happy life. 
How have you taught rules at home and enforced school expectations at home? 

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Wellness Wednesday - Electronic Exercise

Some of the more popular video games are those that involve movement. Many choose to work out in this manner because it's done in the privacy of home, there are no ongoing fees, and it's convenient. These activities have been criticized because the exercise is not strenuous.

They do provide a good solution, especially for those who don't exercise at all. They encourage light to moderate movement, which is better than a typical sedentary lifestyle. They are motivating as participants try for an improved score.

These games encourage people to think about their fitness level while doing something fun. Multiple family members can challenge each other, which is good for relationships as well as physical health.  Finally, they can be a gateway to more challenging activities.

These games have proven especially good for seniors, and are much better than just sitting around.

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Special Education Saturday - What I Learned from Temple Grandin (Part 1)

This week I was blessed to be able to hear Temple Grandin speak. I'd like to share some of the important lessons she shared with the group.

For those few of you who've never heard of her, here's a brief biography from Wikipedia:

"Temple Grandin is one of the world's most accomplished and well known adults with autism. She has a PhD in animal science from the University of Illinois and is a professor at Colorado State University. She is the author of six books, including the national bestsellers Thinking in Pictures and Animals in Translation. Dr. Grandin is a past member of the board of directors of the Autism Society of America. She lectures to parents and teachers throughout the U.S. on her experiences with autism, and her work has been covered in the New York Times, People, National Public Radio, and 20/20. Most recently she was named one of Time Magazine's 100 most influential people of the year. The HBO movie based on her life, starring Claire Danes, received seven Emmy Awards."

If you ever get a chance to hear her speak in person, I strongly recommend that you attend. I was learning so much so quickly that I pulled out a scrap of paper to take notes. You'll be learning more about this over the next few weeks. What she said was intended for those raising and teaching children with autism, but I believe these valuable lessons can be applied to anyone with a disability.

Lesson One - Stretch Them

When someone has a disability, those who love the person want to make the way easier. They want to pad the corners of the coffee table, remove obstacles, and eliminate consequences for poor decisions. In the short run, steps like these are helpful. Over the long term, they can create untold damage. 

Every day, we all need to learn and grow. During our lives, we move backwards and forwards with skills and abilities. We do not remain in the same place. For example, I spent much of my life playing the clarinet. I recently tried after not having touched a horn in several years. My muscles tried to move in familiar patterns, but they were awkward and slow. My abilities had deteriorated. 

Those with special needs must be encouraged to keep moving forward. One way to do this is through family responsibilities. Every child in the family should have chores. The household expectations must be for everyone to do their part. This teaches valuable abilities that lead to greater independence and higher self-esteem later on.  

Those who don't fully participate to the best of their ability should expect consequences that are not removed no matter how much they demand or beg. When you remove consequences, you set up an unrealistic view of life. They will anticipate no consequences, and will be unable to cope when life hands them a difficult result. If they refuse to brush their teeth, they will fall out for a special needs child just as for a typical peer. 

Then next time you're tempted to wipe out justice through your mercy, remember this fact. I've watched parents swoop in to "save" their children from the results of their actions time and time again, only to find the first real price they have to pay involves the police. 

Don't let your unwillingness to let your child suffer a little pain lead to greater misery later on.