Thursday, December 18, 2014

Teaching Gratitude to Children and Teens with Special Needs

It is frustrating to give a gift to a youngster, only to have him declare how much he hates it. This situation can discourage even the most loving relatives from spending the holidays with your family. There are many benefits to taking the time to teach your child how to show gratitude, including

  • Your youngster will be happier expressing grateful thoughts than disparaging ones. 
  • It will be easier to forge social connections and make friends when others feel appreciated. 
  • You will have fewer inappropriate reactions that embarrass everyone associated with the situation. 
  • Family members will experience more peace in the home. 
Teaching gratitude is a process, not an event. You begin with direct instruction, follow through with practice, and give plenty of exposure to reinforcing experiences. 

Begin by teaching why we should be grateful for the blessings in our lives. You may want to share stories or examples of those who do not have the things we take for granted, such as running water. Next you will explain why we should feel and express gratitude. Have your youngster help you make a list of people, experiences, and objects they feel make life better. This list may include Grandma for her hugs, time to swing because it makes the child calm, or appreciation for a warm bed at night for a good rest. Add to this list from time to time as individual values are seen. 

Help your child develop empathy by teaching her to give. They can help select clothing and toys they've outgrown to donate to friends or a charity. Try to take her with you to make the donation so she can participate more fully. Also give her the opportunity to make or choose appropriate presents for family members--many children with special needs reach adulthood without having given anyone else a present, therefore missing out on joyful experiences. As you help her make selections, talk about the excitement the recipient will feel, and how she would feel if her gift was rejected. Try to move the focus from getting to giving. 

Now is the time to practice gratitude. You will need to be the role model--try some of the following suggestions:
  • Pretend to receive a gift you really like, one you aren't particularly crazy about, and a third that is not appropriate for you. Demonstrate polite expressions of thanks for each and allow your child the chance to role play as well. 
  • Talk about gratitude and thanks often, and have family members leave notes of gratitude for each other.
  • You may want to write things you are thankful for and place them in a gratitude jar. Then you can use the slips of paper to form a gratitude chain and see how long it reaches. 
  • When you have the opportunity to do service, talk about the gratitude of others. 
  • Encourage your child to give thanks
    • make visits to those who have helped him
    • write notes to teachers
    • make or purchase small gifts
You may also want to rehearse appropriate reactions on a regular basis, including thanks for food preparation, any help or service she may receive, and give lots of praise and recognition when they make others feel appreciated. 

Finally, you may want to limit the commercialism of the season for all your children. Less commercial television exposure should reduce the "want" list. Try to spend more time making lists of acts of service, shopping for others, or providing gifts of time. 

How do you teach gratitude in your home? 

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Resources to Reduce Holiday Stress

The holiday season can be especially stressful for those with disabilities, especially mental illness. Expectations for this time of year run high, especially when fed by images of perfect families and idyllic lives provided by the media. There are a number of resources with excellent ideas to help with stress reduction, provide reasonable expectations, and help you deal with psychological challenges.

You may choose to begin with tips to prevent difficulties you've faced in the past. Or, you may need to implement ideas to deal with problems in progress. Take a look at these lists, and chances are you'll find some useful suggestions:

Proactive Strategies
Reactive Strategies
What are your best tips for managing holiday stress and depression?

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Appropriate Gifts - Making Suggestions to Relatives

Having your child receive a gift that will not last long, or is inappropriate, is one sure way to put a damper on the holiday. It's difficult for many relatives to select toys for children they see infrequently, and for youngsters with special needs, this process becomes a special challenge. Here are a few tips you can provide as guidance:

  • The first consideration must always be safety. 
    • Check the World Against Toys Causing Harm site at for information on recalls and safety warnings. 
    • Children over the age of three years who continue to put non-food items into their mouths should not be given toys with small pieces. 
    • ToysRUs has a site with safety hints for children with special needs. 
    • Is the toy durable to last for over a year without breaking or coming apart?
    • Is it resistant to water and can it be washed or cleaned?
  • The next factor is the frustration level. 
    • It should be difficult enough to provide a challenge, but not so hard it is frustrating--for example children with fine motor problems would appreciate larger building blocks, while tiny parts would prove impossible. 
    • How much force is required to activate lights, motion, etc.?
    • Games and puzzles should not have many complex steps, or the child will lose interest. 
    • Can game rules be adapted so the youngster will feel successful?
    • Is the activity or craft manageable alone, or does it require assistance?
  • Appeal is also important. 
    • Contrasting colors and varied textures provide stimulation. 
    • Scents may attract some children and upset others--you need to give recommendations for your individual child on this one. 
    • Lights and sounds are exciting and entertaining, but may also annoy parents.
    • Does it allow for creativity or flexible play?
    • Is it both developmentally and age appropriate?
  • Toy use and positioning should also be examined.
    • Can it be used by children who must lie down for part of the day? 
    • Will it fit on a wheelchair tray?
    • Is it adjustable in height, volume, speed, or difficulty level?
    • For those in smaller apartments or homes, storage may be an issue.
    • Does it expose the child to new technological skills? 
  • Popularity can be a plus.
    • Is it based on a familiar character?
    • Does it tie in to a preferred TV show or movie?
    • Would other children like this toy?
  • Opportunities for interaction are beneficial.
    • Will the child actively participate in the toy use?
    • Can the toy be shared with others?
    • Does it encourage interaction?

You may want to create a checklist from the items above that are a priority for you, and give this to the potential gift givers. They will appreciate the helpful hints. 

How do you share information about appropriate Christmas gifts for your child?

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Hurry Up, Christmas! Helping Children with Special Needs Wait

Waiting for something as exciting as Christmas is difficult for any child, and many adults. When you add the impulsivity, short attention spans, and reduced behavioral control that comes with many disabilities, the month of December becomes interminably long. There are several things you can try to improve your youngster's outlook and the mood of the entire family. 

There are many countdown calendars commercially available. My children enjoyed moving a bear around his house on a wall hanging until he finally found Christmas on December 25. Other kinds have drawers for small treats, different activities to do each day, or a number countdown. This visual reminder helps your child understand the passage of time and how to be patient when waiting. 

The best countdown calendars include special activities or treats. This helps your youngster look forward to smaller, more frequent events. The expectations aren't as high, so there is less risk of disappointment or sensory overload. It also serves as a distraction as you focus on short-term waits rather than the month-long ordeal. 

You may also want to practice relaxation exercises to help develop patience and anxiety reduction. Try some yoga from a class or DVD,    You can learn some techniques on, from create to speak, or Stress Free Kids

Another method to help children with special needs at Christmas time is to perform service. Consider the activities your family member really enjoys, then look for ways to use this talent to help others. If he or she enjoys Internet activities, a coat or toy drive could be coordinated. Bakers could make treats to take to others. Musicians could share their talent at a nursing home or day care center. Artists could create cards or posters. Crafters might make gifts to donate to charity. Serving others helps develop talents, and creates a new perspective as these youngsters learn to understand the point of view of others and to appreciate the blessings in their own lives. 

How do you help your youngster wait for Christmas?

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

An Important Skill You can Model for your Child

Participating in non-preferred activities, learning a new skill, and encountering unfamiliar people are all situations that challenge children with disabilities. One skill will help them do better in all three areas--having a positive attitude.

The first step to helping your youngster develop a positive attitude is to demonstrate that perspective yourself. Start with a look in the mirror. When you encounter unexpected challenges, do you rant & rave, or look for solutions? After a confrontation with another adult, do you find yourself very upset, or are you able to let the bad experience go? Before attending a meeting with a professional to discuss your child, do you anticipate a poor outcome and make yourself upset before you even leave home?

When going to a non-preferred activity yourself, try modelling a positive attitude by thinking out loud. Are there some aspects of the event that you do enjoy? Will there be someone there you are looking forward to seeing? Focus on the good thoughts so that your child can be prompted to do the same.

Prior to attending an activity your child does not instinctively like, point out things he or she can enjoy. Encourage positive participation, even if you have to start with just 10 minutes. Then you can reward the good behavior by going to a preferred location, or changing to another activity. The time can be increased during subsequent sessions.

How do you model and teach positive attitudes?

Friday, November 28, 2014

Toys for Children with Special Needs

The Christmas season is upon us, and the challenges of finding toys that are appropriate for offspring from tots to teens are complicated when there are special needs. Fortunately, there are many toys suitable for children with different types of disabilities. Here are a few suggestions, but remember to take into consideration developmental age as well as chronological age:

Sensory Needs and Fidgets:

  • Tangle (there are many types) and other fidgets
  • Specialty sand (Kinetic sand, or sand by Brookstone)
  • Building toys (Legos, blocks, Tinker Toys, etc. 
  • Games that involve manipulation of small objects
  • Maze toys 
  • Puzzles
  • 3D Feel and Find
  • Sensory balls (all types)
  • Boogie Board writing tablets
  • Balancing boards and balancing balls
  • Magnetic Mighty Mind
  • Bubbles 
  • Pop Toobs
  • Pop up tunnels & tents

Language Problems:

  • Sensory balls
  • Boogie Board writing tablets
  • Tobbles Neo
  • Toys that pop out balls
  • Peanut Ball
  • Specialty sand (Kinetic sand, or sand by Brookstone)
  • Books of interest (for language exposure)
  • Scoot-type riding toys
  • Jumping beans
  • Books with seek-and-find activities

Social Skills:

Fine Motor Delay:

  • Paper or wooden dolls to dress
  • Toys with small pieces to manipulate
  • Building sets
  • Hot Dots pen
  • Blocks
  • Boogie Board writing tablet
  • Craft sets, such as weaving, beading, or sewing 
  • Magformers building sets
  • Rainbow scratch paper
  • Basketball hoops and crayons for the bathtub
  • Juggle Bubbles
  • Pop Toobs
  • Oball Rainstick Rattle
  • Simple sports sets (bowling, T-ball, etc.)
  • Gyro wheel
  • Bean bag and other toss games
  • Trunk Show
  • Infinite Loop
  • Play Foam
Developmental Delay:
  • Matching games
  • Piano Mat
  • Lacing cards and beads
  • Plasma Car
  • Rush Hour Game
  • Puzzles with handles or large pieces
  • Bean bag and other toss games
  • V-Tech Laptop or other toys
  • Duplo and other building sets
  • Simple craft sets
  • The Gears! Gears! Gears! Lights & Action Building Set
Need more ideas? See the ToysRUs Toy Guide for Differently-Abled Kids, the guide at, and links on Assistive Technology Corner. 

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Holiday Tips for Children with Disabilities

Holidays can be stressful for all families, but changes in routine, contact with unfamiliar people, and altered diets can be especially hard on children with disabilities. Here are a few tips to lower everyone's stress level:

Did you know that the TSA has a page with information just for people with disabilities? For example, children with disabilities can be screened without being separated from their parents, and in a manner that best meets their needs. Medically required liquids (medications, breast milk, etc.) can be brought on board an aircraft, although they may be subject to additional screening. Those who have difficulty being touched can undergo a special pat down. Individuals who need special assistance can be provided with a passenger support specialist to provide help. For more information on other accommodations, go to

Preparation is key. Inform guests and relatives of the child's needs, including unusual behaviors or dietary needs. Teach your child who will be in attendance, including their names. Create a visual schedule of events and teach "party rules". You should also role-play typical scenarios such as greetings and how to accept a gift properly. Bring quiet activities to prevent meltdowns, and make sure there is a quiet place to de-stress or take a sensory or movement break. Try to keep to as much of a typical routine as you can. Some families choose to spend the holidays at home and choose to visit during a less busy time.

Part of the festivities is the opportunity to eat special foods. This can be a challenge for those with sensory food problems related to type or texture. You may want to have the child help select and prepare food, introduce new foods in a gradual manner, and use a schedule for behavior support.

Sometimes the child with special needs requires so much time and attention that the siblings may feel overlooked. Take some time to enjoy yourself with your loved ones, and have some well-earned relaxation.

What are your best holiday tips?

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Book Review: "Hope After Suicide: One Woman's Journey from Darkness to Light" by Wendy Parmley

 Hope after Suicide: One Woman’s Journey from Darkness to Light
Wendy Parmley

We all have a story—hidden secrets buried in dark and rocky earth. Our task is to unearth—to release the pain and discover the good, discover the healing, discover the love. Uncovering the darkness makes space for the light.
After her mother took her own life, Wendy Parmley learned firsthand the heartache, despair, and loneliness that accompanies losing a loved one to suicide. At one point she even contemplated taking her own life as well. In this uplifting true narrative, you too can discover how to:
  • Forgive yourself and others
  • Open your heart
  • Seek help when you need it
  • Draw closer to the divine
Embrace the light and learn how to heal your soul and overcome loss as you read this touching and tender account of a woman opening her heart years after her mother’s suicide.
Purchase Hope After Suicide: One Woman’s Journey from Darkness to Light at:

Review on Goodreads

Wendy Parmley suffered a disabling bike accident in September 2011.  Unable to return to her 20 year nursing career because of the continued effects of her injuries, Wendy began the slow and painful penning of her angel mother’s story and Wendy’s healing journey following her mom’s suicide death.  Wendy’s mom took her own life when just 31 years old, leaving behind her husband of thirteen years and their five young children.

Wendy has long advocated for suicide prevention and has participated on various professional and community based groups dedicated to that end.  She also recognizes the need to unashamedly support those who must continue to live in the painful aftermath of a loved one’s suicide and passionately lends her voice to that cause.

Prior to her bike accident, Wendy worked in nursing leadership for 14 years, earning her MBA degree from Brigham Young University in 2007.  Despite her continued limitations, Wendy is grateful to spend more time with the love of her life, her husband Mark.  She is ever grateful for his support and the support of their three married sons and their wives, their amazing daughter, and their beautiful two grandchildren who fill their life with sunshine.

Image of Wendy Parmley

Learn more about Wendy Parmley:
Like her on Facebook
Follow her on Twitter

My review:
Wendy's compelling memoir may be emotionally challenging for some to read, but it is an essentially brutally honest look at the souls who attempt suicide and those they face leaving behind. We learn her struggles with the death of her mother as a child, coping strategies she employed as a teen, and how she found healing as an adult. This book is an important advancement in our ability to understand the tragedies many face every day. A must-read for those trying to comprehend the incomprehensible. 

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Why Your Child Needs Social Skills

When working with a youngster with special needs, it can seem like there are so many demands--medical and therapy appointments, academic remediation, and behavior modification that it's impossible get everything done. One area that often falls through the cracks is social skills.

It's easy to overlook social skills--they may not seem of critical importance compared to other struggles. But they should not be neglected, as they become vitally important later in life. Social skills are required

  • to make and keep friends.
  • to participate in social activities with family, friends, and church members. 
  • to be successful in a classroom, especially when the focus is now on group work. 
  • to function in the school cafeteria, on the playground and in many elective classes. 
  • to be on a sports team or in a performing group such as the band. 
  • to find and keep a job. 
  • to go on a proselyting or service mission.
  • to date and get married. 
I've found that those children who are relatively high-functioning are often the ones with the most glaring problems in this area. Manners and courtesy must be addressed from an early age or these children will not develop the critical skills needed during the teen years. 

How have you been developing your child's social skills?

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Does Your Child Have an Accurate Diagnosis?

Having a diagnosis is the first step in helping your family member with a disability. Professionals require a diagnosis when beginning to design interventions. The accuracy of the diagnosis impacts the effectiveness of the treatments.

Dr. Adita Shankardass, a neuroscientist with expertise in neurophysiology, neuroanatomy, and neuropsychology, had been performing digital quantitative EEGs on many children diagnosed with developmental disabilities. She has discovered that many of these children have neurological disorders rather than developmental ones, and require far different treatments.

For example, some children previously diagnosed with severe autism were found to have epilepsy that caused them to display autistic-like traits. Prescriptions of correct medications raise them to functional levels consistent with their peers.

Not sure that your child has an accurate diagnosis? Watch Dr. Shankardass' TED talk here.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Collaboration - The Key to Helping Your Child

During a recent trip to an amusement park with my family, we were entertained while waiting in line by a video game. This activity involved getting those in line to steer a bird around obstacles by leaning left, right, or backwards. There were three groups competing, and success depended on the willingness of complete strangers to work together.

I did briefly wonder if this was some sort of social experiment, but was soon lost in the fun as we leaned, laughed, and ultimately won the race.

I have to admit I was surprised that so many people were willing to cooperate at the drop of a hat. And I began to consider how this related to the families of those with disabilities.

The answer is pretty simple. We need to learn to work with others, even complete strangers, to help our family members live the best life possible.

How does this work? Consider the following scenarios:

Someone misconstrues your child's disability-based actions. Remember that they have little to no comprehension of your situation and need education. Simply reply that your child has a disability and this particular situation is a special challenge. This gives you a chance to improve understanding in a way that doesn't put people off from your message.

You are trying to get additional evaluations or services. Begin in a collaborative manner, and remember that the people you speak to are employees who have directives. If you listen to their responses and seek understanding, you will get farther than if you scream, which will get you labeled as a "problem parent".

You object to something someone has written (possibly even this post). Take time to read the entire article and then respond without name-calling or insults. This is a good way to get your voice heard.

How do you best collaborate with others?

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Generalization of Skills - Can They Do It?

Over the course of a student evaluation, I often get information from parents and teachers about what a child can and cannot do. This data may cover academic abilities, or life skills such as independent dressing, social skills, or safety information. Sometimes it's difficult to get a good picture of what the child has actually accomplished.

Gathering your own information (or to share with others):
The child can do the task, such as making a bed, if it is done independently without reminders. If you have to give prompts, indicate how many times, or if you need to supervise or help with the chore. Don't guess--if you haven't seen it happen, we need to assume that's an area of need.

How can you tell if the youngster has something mastered? We look for skill generalization. In other words, can the same task be accomplished in multiple environments?

For example, a young man with an autism spectrum disorder recently wanted to make a request of me. He approached me, shook my hand, and made his request in an impressively polite manner. He gave very good reasons for the expression of his need, and thanked me for my time. I would say that teen has mastered greetings, self-advocacy, and conversational skills. He did this independently without prompting.

Another young lady can greet others appropriately in the school setting, but requires prompts in other areas. She has not yet mastered this skill, but prompts can be removed, or faded, over time to increase her independence.

Try tracking some basic life skills, including social skills, to celebrate accomplishments and identify areas of need. You can find a list of age-appropriate behaviors here.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Book Review - "A Different Kind of Cheerleader" by Lira Brannon

From Amazon:
All I ever wanted was to be a cheerleader. That's it. Just lead my squad running and screaming across the gym floor while the students rocked the bleachers. But that will never happen. Dreams like that stopped after my accident. I'm broken. Like a violin with a missing string-the music inside of me is all garbled up. And despite what my perpetually cheerful physical therapist says-there is no happy ending for someone like me. My BFF and Seb, the one armed assistant coach, keep preaching to me about their God and His love until I just want to scream. But there's something about the two of them-something peaceful and happy that I sometimes think I want. Something that starts me believing that maybe the most impossible dreams can come true.

  • Paperback: 234 pages
  • Publisher: White Bird Publications (May 27, 2014)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1937690911
  • ISBN-13: 978-1937690915

This Christian novel is written from the perspective of Tansy, a teen girl who has been confined to a wheelchair following a skateboard accident several years ago. The reader learns to understand Tansy's frustration as she tries to participate in activities with her friends, and struggles with her lifelong dream of becoming a cheerleader. Those who struggle with a disability will be encouraged to find their path through this book, and others will be better able to understand the challenges faced by those who are differently-abled. Great read for teens and adults. 

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Book Review: "How to Embrace Your Inner Hotness: An Inside-Out Approach to a Lasting Makeover" by Leta Greene

From Amazon:
Your outward appearance might make the first impression, but sixty seconds later, when that first impression is ancient history, it's your inner beauty that needs to shine! If you want to be truly hot, this book will show you exactly how, including the following: 

• Why you need to stop buying in to a cultural concept of beauty 
• How to transform the way you see and present yourself, inside and out 
• How to discover the secrets to the right look for you 
• Why different isn't bad—it's your key to hotness 
• How to choose happiness now, no matter your current situation 
• How to leave pain in the past 
• How to figure out what you really want 
• How to stop letting other people define your worth, potential, and purpose 
• How to find the right man and have the hottest marriage imaginable! 
• What it means to be "enough" (and it's not what you think!) 

We all experience loss and pain when our lives don't end up looking like we dreamed they would. Professional beauty expert and speaker Leta Greene looked that in the face and made a choice. Happiness and permanent hotness followed. Yours can too, right now, as Leta shares how to create the life and look you want in 15 simple steps—a transformation that will make you irresistibly, and lastingly, hot!

My Review: 

This book came along at a perfect time for me, as I have battled with negative inner voices most of my life. When I found out that the author, Leta Greene, had presented a TED talk, I was even more intrigued (you can find a video of her talk here). 

I don't read "beauty" books, but I am a fan of self-improvement. This is not a volume that tells you what colors will look best on you or how to arrange your hair. It's about learning to appreciate yourself, stop comparing your weaknesses to the strengths of others, erase negativity from your brain, and live your best life.  

Greene uses challenging events from her life, from accidents that scarred her face and knocked out teeth to abuse and multiple miscarriages, to teach skills we can use to face and recover from personal tragedy. This is the first book of this type I've seen that manages to incorporate a strong personal morality that encourages righteous living rather than an extreme focus on the self. While directed primarily at women, I feel everyone can work through the exercises in this book and find themselves in a much better place. 

Purchase your copy from Amazon or Barnes and Noble, a bargain at only $4.99!

About the Author:
Learn about Leta Greene on her web page or Facebook page.  

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Running an Investigation

It happened again. Your youngster came home from school upset, or telling a story that made you angry. You want revenge on school staff members, or possibly another child, because you felt your little one had suffered an injustice.

Before you make that irate phone call, or send a hate-filled email, you need to stop, take a breath, and conduct a little investigation.

Step One: Get yourself under control.

Remember that there are two sides to every story. What you have been told may be an exaggeration or misunderstanding. Take a step back and be prepared to discover what really happened.

Step Two: Gather information.

Get all the details you can from the child, including what happened before and after the incident. For example, if the youngster was punished, asked what he or she did earlier that hour. Ask about the history--is there an ongoing conflict? Watch for phrases that indicate possible misunderstandings or deception, such as:
  • I tried that (coping strategy or alternate behavior you suggested), and it didn't work. 
  • He (she) always.....
  • The (authority figure) always sides with....
  • I didn't do anything.....
  • I only.....
  • If they (behavior), then I get to (behavior) back.
  • It's not my fault/I can't help it. 
Step Three: Gather more information.

You may have access to witnesses (friends), but you also need to speak to the teacher or other school authorities to hear details your child may have misunderstood or of which he or she may not be aware. Don't approach them with a confrontational attitude. Just explain that you don't understand the situation and are seeking more information.

Step Four: Have a meeting. 

Get all the involved parties face-to-face, if possible. If the problem involves another child, this may not be possible. But you can meet with the staff members to work on a solution together. Much better than trying to work through emails. This is the time to clear everything up without being accusatory.

Step Five: Explain to your child.

This is the hardest part. You need to explain fully both sides of the problem and help them understand the appropriate solution. If an apology is required, this is the time to rehearse. Remember that the ability to collaborate with others and solve problems is an important life skill.

 Step Six: Let it go.

You need to move on and forgive others. Allow everyone a fresh start. After all, that's what you would want for a member of your family. 

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

10 Things Your Special Education Advocate May Not Tell You

Parents of students with special needs may become frustrated with their child’s school district for any number of reasons. Feeling overwhelmed, they may look to a special education advocate to help them navigate the tricky legal waters of the educational system. A good advocate will help youyou’re your concerns addressed, but a poor one can actually get in the way of needed services. Here are some little-known facts to help you make a good choice.

1.  Anyone can call themselves an advocate.
There are no training or certification requirements to become an advocate. While some parents may have a great deal of experience with their own child, they may not have any expertise with different disabilities.  Ask your advocate if he or she has had any training or attended any courses in disabilities or law, and Google them to see how they have represented others.

      2.   An advocate is not the same thing as an attorney.
Some advocates may have experience with the law or some specialized training. They do not have the education or experience of a lawyer, and should not be your sole source of legal advice. You should not feel comfortable having them represent you in a due process hearing against school district lawyers. Special education law is complex, and constantly evolving, so you should ask how your advocate keeps up with these changes.

      3. Advocates are not qualified to interpret evaluations.

Many advocates will charge clients to review evaluations. The only people who are able to accurately interpret evaluations must have the same types of credentials as the person who wrote the report, such as a licensed specialist in school psychology or educational diagnostician for an IQ and achievement assessment. You wouldn’t want an untrained person looking at your x-rays.  If they don’t hold those certifications, charging to look at a report appears to be obscuring their competence

      4. They have to get paid somehow.

You may be told that your advocate is trying to be a champion for children with special needs. In reality, this is a job, however well-intentioned he or she may be. If they can’t convince the school district to pay them, you will most likely be footing the bill. Many advocates will approach the school district during your case and ask for money to “go away”. Does that sound like they have your best interests at heart?

      5. Your advocate will make more money if you go to a hearing.

Parents may be pleased with what the district offers during the mediation process. If you agree, take the offer. Ask your advocate to explain in detail why they recommend continuing on with the due process hearing. If they are promising you a big cash award, remember that they are not an attorney, and nothing is sure where the law is involved. Your best bet is to go with someone affiliated with a community service agency who does not have a financial interest in the outcome of your case.

      6. Advocates often visit parent meetings and other trainings to find new clients.

This is similar to lawyers chasing ambulances. Beware of advocates who introduce themselves and ask questions designed to make you want to sue the school district. Beware of those who will breach confidentiality by giving out names of former clients and personal information and those who can’t provide you with some type of background information. Do you want to trust your child’s education to a complete stranger with questionable qualifications?

      7. School district employees are often working in the best interest of your child.

While you may have had some negative experience with school personnel, educators are not universally evil or stupid. There are good teachers and poor teachers, just as there are wonderful doctors and terrible doctors. You can work together with the school to create a program for your youngster.

      8. Your advocate may be getting in the way of your child receiving services.

If your advocate stops the IEP Team (ARD in Texas) Meetings, the school is prevented from offering your child the help he or she needs. Poor behavior in these meetings (shouting, cursing, talking over other committee members) gets in the way of IEP business for your youngster. Make sure the demands they make are in line with what your child actually needs.

      9. Rudeness and bullying tactics often backfire.

Your mother was correct. You CAN catch more flies with honey than with vinegar. Calling staff members names, making insulting comments, and acting in an unprofessional manner won’t help you make progress. In fact, it may hurt you when the tapes are entered into evidence during the due process hearing. Proper behavior will hasten the process of finding help for your student.

     10. You know your child and his or her needs better than anyone else.

Don’t give up your voice in a meeting with school staff members. The best advocates will offer you advice during the team meetings, not remove your opportunity to speak. This is the best way to ensure that all your concerns are addressed appropriately.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Change and Children with Disabilities

It's been said that the only constant is change. One of the fastest areas to change is in the area of commerce. When I was a child, there was one way for youngsters to make a purchase--with cash. As a teen, I learned how to handle a checking account, learning that having blank checks wasn't the same as having money in my account.

My mother taught me to count change and how to balance my accounts. She initially did this so that I would be financially savvy enough to not be cheated. I still remember the day when my brother, a gas station attendant at the time, was short-changed by a fast-talking customer, a practice still in use today, as another relative had a similar experience about six months ago.

Children with disabilities are especially vulnerable to financial fraud. Many are so trusting that they would hand over their wallets, cash, and debit cards to anyone who asked. Many children I work with can't identify the different values of coins, including pennies. Here are a few ways to keep your child from becoming a victim:

  • Teach her to count money accurately, including how change is counted back. 
  • Keep up this practice regularly by dumping out your wallet for her to count. 
  • Explain how checking accounts and debit cards work, including how to check balances. 
  • Tell about fees charged by banks. 
  • Describe how credit costs money, how to maintain good credit, and the high interest rates associated with a poor credit rating. 
  • Keep a watch in purchases made over the Internet. 
  • Check your child's accounts with her on a regular basis. 

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Improving Sleep in Children

Loss of sleep in children has a detrimental impact on relationships, education, and behavior. Often the ruined rest is due to obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), which can be challenging to identify. A group of researchers at the Children's Hospital of Eastern Ontario have created a new tool that can be used to diagnose sleep apnea in children.

Researchers have known that adults who have a neck with a large circumference are more likely to receive a diagnosis of OSA. The challenge was to develop a set of standards to compare neck circumferences for children aged 6 to 17 years.

Pediatricians can use this standard to evaluate children at risk to develop OSA, which leads to cardiovascular disease, diabetes, emotional control problems, loss of focus, and poor behavior. Ask your pediatrician to measure your child's neck to ensure that he or she is not above the 95th percentile.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

What Kind of a Link are You?

We hear about it on the news and read stories on Facebook. Someone pays a restaurant bill for a soldier and his family, another generous person gives a large tip to a struggling waitress. These "pay it forward" stories make us feel good and restore our faith in humanity. They may even inspire us to spread around the kindness.

There is another type of chain of reciprocating behavior. A study completed through the combined efforts of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and the University of Colorado, Boulder placed hundreds of people in situations in which others demonstrated either greed, generosity, or fairness in monetary distribution.

What were the results?

Those were treated fairly by others were most likely to be kind in return. Unfortunately, those who interacted with the greedy tended to emulate that type of behavior.

The researchers were not surprised by what they learned. After all, they couldn't identify any no "good reason" to pay things forward. In addition, negative emotions, such as those you would experience after feeling shafted tend to be stronger and more influential on behavior than positive ones. That's because we deal with our bad experiences by taking things out on other people.

But this pattern, this negative chain of behavior, isn't your destiny. It isn't a foregone conclusion that you have to act as badly as any jerks you may encounter.

You have a choice. The next time someone doesn't treat you as well as you deserve, stop. Think about the consequences of your actions. Make a conscious choice to do a good deed for someone else. Start a new chain of positive actions.

If someone is disrespectful towards you, make a choice to treat the salespeople in the next store you enter with extra courtesy. Cut off in traffic? Let the next person who needs to merge go ahead of you.

Let's see what chains of goodness we can create.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

ADD/ADHD in Adults

About half of the children treated for ADHD/ADD in childhood will no longer be restless and impulsive. Most will continue to struggle with attention challenges.

Others who have been shepherded through their childhood by parents and teachers will not receive a diagnosis until they fail to keep up with assignments in college, manage the detailed work of a career, or handle the responsibilities of parenthood.

The central problem continues to be a lack of focus. While adults with ADD/ADHD may be able to concentrate on stimulating activities like video games or sports, they are unable to complete routine tasks.

Do you have ADD/ADHD? Take the free screener here to see if you have the symptoms.

What can be done?

See your doctor and ask if medication is appropriate. This is a good beginning, but will not address the lack of organizational skills many adults with ADD/ADHD experience. These individuals may need to have therapy to develop new habits, learn to effectively use lists, identify distractions, plan, and prioritize their work. Most doctors believe that a combination of medication and behavioral therapy are the only effective approach to help adults with ADD/ADHD lead productive lives.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Dangers of Pornography for Those with Disabilities....and Everyone Else!

In the words of Jeffrey R. Holland,

"Most days we all find ourselves assaulted by immoral messages of some kind flooding in on us from every angle. The darker sides of the movie, television, and music industry step further and further into offensive language and sexual misconduct. Tragically, the same computer and Internet service that allows me to do my family history and prepare those names for temple work could, without filters and controls, allow my children or grandchildren access to a global cesspool of perceptions that could blast a crater in their brains forever. (Place No More for the Enemy of My Soul, April 2010 General Conference).

Exposure to pornography does significant damage to the brains of everyone who views it. The impact is far greater for those with disabilities, especially if they struggle with comprehension, impulsivity, or are primarily visual learners. Parents of students with cognitive struggles such as an intellectual disability, ADD/ADHD, or autism, need to be especially vigilant.

Everyone needs to take appropriate steps to ensure Internet access is safe in their homes. See the Internet Safety Handout created by the Church.

Give your children and teens a “gospel vaccination” by following the lessons provided in “A Parent’s Guide” to help them understand the importance of moral cleanliness and how they can remain in that state. Encouraging participation in seminary, youth programs, and Sunday School to reinforce what you've taught in the home.

Then you must teach your youngsters what to do if they are exposed. Unfortunately, seeing these terrible images is almost unavoidable in 2014. Take away the shame of accidental viewing by explaining that everyone runs the risk of a sighting, just as we all have hands that need washing at some point. They should stop the experience within 3 seconds by closing their eyes, turning off the device, leaving the room, or in other ways removing themselves. This should be followed by prayer and recalling the words of a favorite hymn or Primary song to reduce the chances that these images will be permanent.

If your child with a disability has been exposed, understand that the compulsion to return again and again to this type of content becomes an addiction. These compulsions will wash over them in waves similar to those felt by other types of addicts. Strong intervention is needed to treat this condition.

First, contact your bishop or branch president. You should also carefully review the information available at Recovery meetings may be available in your area for those over the age of 18, and other options have been provided for teens. See the documents in the “Internet Safety and Avoiding Pornography” section of for additional information.

 Pornography is a plague upon the land. Far too many parents don’t take the threat seriously enough, especially when the child has a cognitive disability. Follow the steps outlined above to protect your children before they become the latest victims of those who would ensnare them in the net of pornography. 

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Prevent Problems, Improve Behavior, and Teach Skills Through Social or Behavior Stories

A teen needs to attend his grandfather's funeral, and has no idea how to behave.

A tween girl struggles to finish her lunch in the chaos of a middle school cafeteria.

An adult needs to learn what to do during a job interview.

The solution to each of these situations is a social or behavior story. Social stories were created by Carol Gray, and you can learn more about them on her site.

Social stories (also called behavior stories) are used to change behavior. The parent or teacher can use them to prepare children for changes or unusual events like fire drills. They can teach appropriate reactions to challenging situations and reinforce good behaviors. Children with disabilities can learn to review them on their own and increase their independence.

These stories can involve pictures for children who are too young to read, a combination for beginning readers, or all text for older kids and adults. Review them prior to the event, or when skills need reinforcing.

You can write your own social stories, find some that have already been created, or modify those others have used. Here are some resources to get you started:

The Autism Spectrum Directory Blog has many on a wide variety of topics.

The Head Start Center for Inclusion has some for download.

Kids Can Dream also has quite a few that you can use as-is, or tailor to your needs.

PBIS has many resources with samples and methods to help you write your own.

Polk Elementary has samples plus PECs pictures you can use in your story.

Teachers Pay Teachers has stories that are sortable by topic and grade. Some are free, others are offered at a nominal cost.

The Watson Institute has many pre-written stories that may be easily modified.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Reducing Anxiety in Children

Anxiety serves a useful purpose. It helps us to be careful of danger or on alert when we need to be at our best. But it can also reduce our ability to cope with stress, cause overreactions to minor problems, or be the impetus to total meltdowns and shutdowns.

Children with many different types of disabilities experience elevated levels of anxiety. Those with autism have an overall elevated level at all times. Children with ADHD are often worried that they don't know classroom and home expectations. Youngsters with a specific learning disability are concerned that they are just stupid and unable to change their circumstances.

New methods have been developed to help youngsters learn to reduce their own anxiety. These strategies involve unlearning the thought processes that create undue anxious feelings.

Theories regarding the source of anxiety now include both genetic and learned patterns of both thoughts and behaviors. A change in behavior can short circuit these patterns and lower the emotional impact.

Rational emotive behavioral therapy is a treatment method in which patients are taught to identify, challenge, and replace, thoughts that may be self-defeating. Rooted in methods of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, this technique begins by having the child name their fears.

Once they have identified the mental "bully", they are taught to distance themselves from it. This begins with instruction in skills that helps them handle the bully.

To motivate these youngsters, they are helped to create a flowchart showing how their excessive fears are impacting their lives. They discover that anxiety keeps them from favored activities, friendships, and even schooling.

Triggers are identified and ranked according to impact. Therapists then work through cycles of exposure and response prevention with the patient. As the youth faces his or her fears, they become habituated and learn to control reactions such as escape or tears.

Parents play an important part of the process as they learn that shielding their child from the anxiety-provoking stimulus reinforces the harmful pattern. By protecting the youngster, they are actually reinforcing the concept that the object, event, or person really is dangerous and worthy of fear. They also must learn to support the therapeutic methods by encouraging their offspring to face their fears.

For more information on these techniques:
Effects of Psychotherapy for Anxiety in Children and Adolescents: A Meta-Analytic Review Shirley Reynolds, Charlotte Wilson, Joanne Austin, and Lee Hooper in Clinical Psychology Review 32(4), 251-262.

Treating Childhood and Adolescent Anxiety: A Guide for Caregivers. E.R. Lebowitz & H. Omer. John Wiley & Sons, 2013.

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Unusual Study Tips - Part Two

Here are a couple of more study tips that you may not have discovered:

  • Learn like a four-year-old
    • Encourage your child to continually ask "Why?"
    • Begin with one sentence. After your youngster reads it, ask a why question. 
      • Read, "The bear went in the woods."
      • Ask "Why would the bear go in the woods?"
      • This encourages your little one to think about what he or she is reading. 
    • This is especially effective when learning factual information - think social studies or science. 
    • This takes a little time, but is no cost, and really boosts reading comprehension. 
    • For fourth grade and above. 
  • Tell it to yourself
    • After reading a section of a textbook or reviewing notes, have your student ask herself
      • What is the new information?
      • How does it relate to what I already know?
      • This method is appropriate from Kindergarten and up. 
      • It helps with basic foundation ideas by improving memory, comprehension, and problem solving. 
What are your best study tips?