Thursday, June 18, 2015

Possible New Method to Treat Stress-Induced Depression

Many parents of children with special needs experience depression induced by the stress of the challenges they face daily. Hope is on the horizon as researchers continue to investigate innovative new treatment methods.

Scientists at the RIKEN-MIT Center for Neural Circuit Genetics have discovered how memories (both positive and negative) impact mood disorders. These researchers sought to determine if a positive memory could overcome a negative one. The subjects were mice engineered to have memories tagged in the dentate gyrus area of the brain, which could be reactivated through an optical fiber.

Male mice were first provided with exposure to a female mouse to create a positive experience to remember. Then they had a negative event that led to a form of depression. Light was then used to remind the mice of the earlier positive experience and caused a rapid recovery from the depression. This was continued for five days, leading to continual reactivation of the positive memories and resistance to stress-induced depression.

The take away? While this is an early study, it may lead to new treatments for depression. Individuals can try using positive memories to reduce their depression--it can't hurt.

Do you have any experience using positive memories to treat or reduce your depression?

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Easier Visual Schedules and Communication with Pictures

Visual schedules are very helpful for children with disabilities, and often pictures are the only way to communicate with those who are nonverbal. Juggling small laminated squares, Velcro, and folders can be difficult at times. Dragging around a huge binder can also be inconvenient.

I've discovered that using 3 x 5 cards is the best solution, especially when the child will be moving from one location to another during the school day. Loose cards are hard to manage, but there are now systems you can use to keep them organized and attached without spending significant amounts of money or adding bulk. Here are a few suggestions:

Try a system of spiral bound cards. While the order can't be easily changed, they will stay organized.

Purchase cards with holes and use rings to attach them. There are several different types, some that use one ring and others that have two or more. Cards can be moved around, but they are also easier for the child to tear off.

You can also purchase small notebooks for your cards. Harder for the child to remove, re-positionable, but also slightly higher in price. You can find each of these options at your local office supply store.

What system have you used successfully?

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Problems with Anger Management, Homework, or Anxiety? A Different Solution.....

A poll by University of Michigan's C.S. Mott Children's hospital revealed that while most parents visit the pediatrician prepared to ask questions about new physical symptoms demonstrated by their children, they often neglect to mention behavior changes.

The problem? Behavior and emotions are often linked to physical problems. For example:

  • Temper tantrums could be triggered by 
    • gastric pain from a food allergy or sensitivity
    • a seizure disorder
    • ADHD
  • Sudden homework problems may arise from
    • vision difficulties
    • anxiety
    • sleep of poor quality
    • depression
    • ADD/ADHD
  • Anxiety could be the result of
    • depression
    • asthma
    • diabetes
    • thyroid problems
    • heart disease
    • irritable bowel syndrome
What do you do? Discuss sudden changes in behavior and emotions (such as sadness that lasts for a month or longer) or symptoms that are unusual for the child's age, with your family doctor. Together you can consult about the most appropriate interventions. 

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Dyslexia - Just the Facts

Many people assume that everyone with a reading difficulty is dyslexic. Problems with literacy are not always the result of dyslexia. Here's how you can tell if your youngster has dyslexia:

Dyslexia is generally considered to be present when the problems are in

  • phonological processing
  • phonological manipulation
  • single-word reading
  • reading fluency
  • spelling
Phonological processing involves how speech sounds are processed in the brain. It includes
  • awareness 
  • memory
  • rapid naming
Phonological awareness is the ability to be aware of sound patterns in words or syllables. Your child should be able to do the following at the appropriate age:
  • Kindergarten (beginning) - word awareness, making rhymes
  • Kindergarten (end) - identify  and isolate beginning sounds, segmenting and blending syllables
  • First grade (middle) - identify and isolate ending sounds, blending sound segments
  • First grade (end) - blending and segmenting sounds in 4-5 phoneme words
  • Second grade and above - segment words, manipulate sounds (delete first sound in "sip", and replace with "t" sound to make tip), in beginning, middle, and end of words
Phonemic Awareness is the ability to discriminate between sounds, recall and/or manipulate them. This is what helps children understand the alphabet, correlate letters and sounds, and recognize or decode unfamiliar words. It is also important for spelling. 

Phonological memory takes place in the part of the brain that holds words. This allows the child to recall the phonological skills they have learned. 

Rapid naming in the ability to quickly access words in long-term memory that belong in a certain category, such as names of friends, or types of animals. 

Teachers and evaluation personnel can test for any of the challenges listed above, plus how well the student can read single words, reading fluency levels, and spelling ability. An evaluation of each area is needed to tell if the child really has dyslexia. Screeners are available at and 

More information on dyslexia is available at 

Next time: interventions for dyslexia. 

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Reasons to Keep Infants and Toddlers Away from Mobile Technology

A report recently presented to the American Academy of Pediatrics revealed that more than 33% of babies younger than 12 months are using smartphones and tablets. As many as one in seven toddlers are on mobile devices for a minimum of an hour daily. The devices were used to entertain children while their parents ran errands and did household chores, as a calming method, and to put the babies to sleep. What are these wired youngsters doing? Watching TV, calling others, interacting with apps, and playing video games.

While this may seem like you're creating a technology savant, this practice is actually harming your youngster. Here's why you should keep your little one insulated from technology:

  • The National Association for the Education of Young Children has identified that passive screen time (without adult intervention) does not calm children or teach them anything. Interaction with a human is required for both. 
  • Adults can't model appropriate use of technology if the child is using it solo. 
  • Experts at the Barnard College Center for Toddler Development recommend no exposure to electronic screens for children under the age of two years because learning and emotional support needs to come from live humans. 
  • The American Academy of Pediatricians also recommends no TV or other digital screens for those two years of age or less. 
  • Youngsters participating in screen time are sedentary and not learning through active exploration. 
  • Having the the technology out draws you in and attention away from your baby. 
  • Talking to your toddler is more calming than providing a video--and it builds your relationship. 
  • If you're already on the tech train, limit time to 10-15 minutes. It's very hard to remove mobile technology from a little one once you start. 
  • Don't worry about your child "falling behind" technologically. They will pick up the skills just fine at age five years or even later. 
  • Apps labeled "educational" may just be electronic babysitters. 
The good news? The same doesn't seem to hold true for spending time with relatives who live far away through a web cam because it's interactive. And if the parent is participating, the effects are similar to playing together with toys. 

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Apps for Special Needs - Which Ones are Best?

The development of app technology has led to a proliferation of choices for children, teens, and adults with special needs. There are thousands available, and little time to identify appropriate options. How can you wade through the options and not waste hours or money?

Many people have gone this way before, and you can take advantage of their reviews. Here are some sites that can help your search (click on the name):

Apps for Autism:

Apps for ADHD:
Apps for Disabilities:
Need more help? Science Daily has a new article on choosing apps. 

Leave a comment and share your favorite app!

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Video Games and Your Child

Researchers have determined that when children play video games for three or more hours each day, they are more likely to be involved in fights, are more hyperactive, and have less interest in school. These results happen no matter the type of game played.

While the researchers found no link between violent video games and aggression, there was also no effect on social skills or grades for those who played games focusing on puzzles and strategy. The improvement in academics, emotional health, and behavior were found in those who played cooperative or non-violent competition one hour per day or less. Teens who consistently play violent games were also found to have delayed moral judgement.

Need more reasons to limit "screen time"?

  • Teens who play for more than an hour a day run an increased risk of becoming addicted as adults, which may cause them to drop out of college, lose work, or become unable to develop normal social relationships. 
  • Adolescents with autism have more propensity to become addicted, leading to more oppositional behavior, lowered levels of social skills, additional arguments, and home disruption. 
  • Those with ADD/ADHD have worsened social skills, increased aggression, poorer time management, and academic problems. 
How do you set limits on screen time?

Friday, March 20, 2015

Book Review - "Raising an Army of Helaman's Warriors" by Mark Ogletree, Ph.D. and Kevin Hinckley, M.Ed.

The subtitle of this book is "A Guide for Parents to Prepare the Greatest Generation of Missionaries", but this is an understatement, as the skills you will help your son or daughter develop will serve them throughout their lives in higher education, career, marriage, and as parents.

This is the first time I have been reading a book for review and stopped to not only order a copy for myself, but for other people. I can't recommend this volume highly enough for all parents -- including those who have children with special needs. I had been planning to create a curriculum for youth with an autism spectrum disorder to prepare for missionary service, but that is no longer needed as this guide is completely appropriate for that purpose.

If your child is young, you may think this is something to tuck into the back of your mind for the future, but you can begin these lessons when your child is 8 years old, or even younger for some children. You will learn many concepts that will help you as a parent, including:

  • Your rule in Gospel teaching.
  • The difference between discipline and punishment.
  • How to teach obedience, and why it's important.
  • The power that can be found in the scriptures and how your youngster can learn to use it.
  • Teaching how to pray and ask for guidance.
  • How to become truly converted.
  • The recognition of inspiration.
  • Methods to help your child learn the value and principles of work. 
  • Physical preparation for mission experiences. 
  • Ways to become and remain emotionally healthy and resilient. 
  • Appropriate communication.
  • How to turn your home into a missionary preparation center. 
Each chapter contains an explanation of the importance of the subject,  valuable background information to prepare you for instruction, teaching methods, ways to apply what you've learned, and supplemental materials to help you and your child. 

This valuable guide does more than help you understand what skills and abilities your child will need. It is a practical teaching help that will benefit parents as well as Church teachers and leaders. The abilities described by the authors are especially important for those with special needs, and the activities are completely appropriate. 

Time to stop reading this blog and order the book!

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Finding a Summer Camp for Children with Disabilities

Summer can be a time for fun and relaxing activities, learning new skills, or exploration. Parents of children with special needs often struggle to identify camps that are appropriate for their youngsters.

The American Camp Association has created a new search tool to help in your hunt. They have a database of programs that have been certified for safety and quality.

You can search for day or sleepover programs, for camps that deal exclusively with one particular disability, or those that accommodate for special needs. Family camps are also included. You can also limit your search by age, gender, location, activities, dates and duration, cost, or affiliations such as religion or Boy Scouts of America.

This web site also has information for parents, tips on how to prepare, facts on homesickness, and help making camp decisions.

Go to ACA Camps for more information.

Friday, February 27, 2015

Taming Impulsivity

Those with ADHD, autism, learning disabilities, and other challenges often act in an impulsive manner. They may blurt out inappropriate comments, hit others, or break rules that they understand. While this behavior is due to poor executive function control, there are methods you can use to help them reduce impulsive actions.

  • Use visual reminders of expectations

  • Practice calming strategies such as deep breathing, walking, using a squeeze ball in the left hand, or taking a time out. 
  • Teach the child to recognize when he or she is becoming upset and to use the calming strategies. My friend used a traffic light as an example for a two-year-old. When her daughter started to get anxious or angry, she would say, "You're on yellow, what are you going to do to go back to green?" After a period of days without going to red, there was a reward. 
  • Reduce anxiety by giving a clear schedule and warnings of transitions from one activity to another (in 5 minutes, we're going to put the toys away) or one location to another (this afternoon we're going to Grandma's house). 
  • Try a point system to encourage good behavior. 
  • When the child has calmed down after a problem, discuss the other options he or she had to deal with the situation and what the best choice would be in the future. Use a visual reminder to prepare for the next time. 
How have you tamed impulsivity in your home?

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Emotional Security, Self-Help Skills, and Improved Family Life

One simple change has the power to improve your family's health, behavior, and relationships. It can prevent chronic illness and school failure. Sound too good to be true?

It is.

While this change can be powerful, it's not simple. It requires ongoing effort and consistency. What is this miracle cure?

Working a family schedule.

Before you dismiss this idea as unworkable, take a look at a few advantages for all family members:

  • Everyone in the family will be happier.
  • It decreases stress in the family.
  • You will build stronger family relationships through fun routines and traditions.
  • Daily tasks seem more manageable.
  • Fewer family disputes.
  • Improves resilience for all family members.
  • Prevents chronic illness such as diabetes.

There are additional benefits for the parents:
  • Greater productivity for household tasks.
  • Parents will be better able to think and be more organized
  • You will feel better about how you're doing as a parent overall.
  • Less nagging for parents.

The children (especially those with disabilities) will experience:
  • The ability to fall asleep faster because when children are overtired, it takes them longer to fall asleep.
  • Body clocks will be set to regular times for eating and sleeping, which is healthier.
  • Better cognitive development and learning of new skills.
  • Fewer emotional and behavioral problems.
  • Better sense of feeling secure.
  • Children will be healthier and learn good health habits to use throughout their lives.
  • Predictability reduces anxiety.
  • Routines teach responsibility, job skills, and time management.
  • Lowers risk of school failure.

Experts report it's best to start working a family schedule when children are young, but it's never too late.

Next time: How to begin implementing your family schedule.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Don't Feed the Troll....Even if it's You

The Internet can be a blessing in many ways. Easy access to information, connections to other people, and chances to share your point of view. Unfortunately others have easy access to what you post and can make their views known quickly, and often anonymously. 

They're called trolls.

Trolls like to call names, poke fun, make accusations, and generally cause havoc. They can raise your anxiety level, make you cry, have you hesitating before posting, or even keep you away from cyberspace altogether. 

How can you spot a troll?
  • They don't compliment--they only make negative comments. 
  • They may try to distract you from the topic under discussion by picking a fight.
  • They don't add to the conversation--they are not there to help.
  • They engage in personal attacks. 
If you've done the things described above, you can consider yourself a troll. 

What can you do with a troll?
  • Ignore them (not feeding the troll). This is my new policy. I've tried to have an online conversation, find out individual concerns, work out a compromise, but these methods don't work because the troll is out to attack and disrupt--not find solutions. 
  • Thank them for their input and walk away (or pretend they're agreeing with you).
  • Ask the moderator to block them. 
  • Take down the post. 
What if you are the troll?
  • Go find something productive to do--stop attacking people who may actually be trying to help others. 
Have you had any experiences with online trolls?

Friday, February 6, 2015

Helping Children with Disabilities Start, Follow Through, and Complete Activities - Improving Executive Function

Many people with disabilities struggle with executive functioning. Your executive function abilities can be compared to the leader of an orchestra. These skills are what coordinates all other brain activities. Individuals who have problems with executive function will struggle to

  • plan a project
  • determine how long an activity will take
  • tell a story out loud or in writing
  • share details that are organized or sequential
  • memorize and retrieve memories
  • start activities
  • generate ideas
  • recall information while doing something else--such as remembering what to do next as they are getting dressed
Diagnosis of an executive function disorder may be made through standardized testing by an educational diagnostician, psychologist, or psychiatrist. Challenges with executive functioning may also be part of another disabling condition such as ADHD, autism, depression, learning disabilities, brain injuries, Alzheimer's, stroke, etc. 

There are two types of executive function: organization and regulation. Organization is involved for tasks like making a grocery list, getting to the store, purchasing the items, and getting them put away. Regulation is required to react to changes, such as lowering the volume of your voice when you go from outside to in the house.

There are many things you can do at home to improve executive function:

  • Give step-by-step instructions for new activities, with visual reminders to use along the way. 
  • Make use of organizers, watch alarms, computer reminders, and other devices for reminders.
  • Use visual schedules when learning how to get ready for school, making a simple meal, or performing household tasks like setting the table. 
  • Combine oral instructions with visual or written reminders when possible. 
  • Plan for transitions between activities (give warnings and reminders).
  • Use checklists for long tasks.
  • Break big projects (like cleaning the room) into smaller pieces, like 
    • clean off the bed
    • pick up the clothing
    • put Legos away
    • put game pieces away
    • close closet door
    • put books away
  • Train your child to write the due date at the top of every assignment.
  • Organize desks and lockers on a weekly basis
    • clear clutter
    • throw away trash
    • have a "to do" area and a "completed" area
    • make sure supplies are easy to reach
  • Make a reusable checklist for homework and projects
    • get supplies out
    • seat in designated area
    • work for 15 minutes
    • 2 minute break
    • work for 15 more minutes
    • put supplies away
    • put work in backpack to take to school
  • Schedule monthly troubleshooting sessions to review problems and form solutions.
How do you best deal with executive function challenges?

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

The Cycle of Adaptation for Family Members of Individuals with Disabilities

Discovering that a family member has a lifelong disability can be devastating. Parents and others generally go through a cycle as they seek to adapt to their new living situation, including surviving, searching, settling in, and separating.

Those who are surviving feel helpless. fearful, confused, guilty, blaming, shamed, and angry. These emotions may be expressed physically and through crying or inappropriate laughter. Support groups can help parents learn that others have the same emotions. Support groups, help finding treatments, and opportunities to honestly express feelings all help at this stage. With sufficient time, family members can begin to feel more in control, optimistic, and filled with hope. This stage also includes the beginning of an outward search.

Searching begins with outward research for a diagnosis and services, including attempts to change reality or bargain with God for a better outcome. The inward search involves an examination of personal feelings about having a child with a disability. Some individuals may withdraw from all support or attack those who try to help. These experiences can cause a re-ordering of priorities and altered relationships with others. Emotions during this stage can range from incompetence, fear, and feelings of being overwhelmed. Differences emerge as one person may feel empowered to meet new challenges while others may feel immobilized. Time to recharge helps during this stage. 

As interventions and treatments begin, family members tend to reach the settling in stage. Patience must be exercised as most programs take time. Other aspects of life are often resumed, or parents may become depressed and feel hopeless. Parents in this stage generally have the knowledge necessary to advocate for their child, but may feel it is pointless. Finding programs that take a family-based approach can be helpful at this time. 

Separation technically begins at birth, but it continues in small incremental stages throughout childhood. This process is slower when the child has a disability. Typical peers will initiate some of this separation on their own, but those with physical or cognitive struggles may require that parents start the separation process. Parents may re-experience guilt and grieving at this time and return to outer and inner searching, and additional opportunities to talk will be beneficial. 

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

New Book in February - "Plain and Simple Truths"

Launching February 28:

Plain and Simple Truths is a practical teaching resource that consists of simple hands-on activities that are used to teach religious ideas. It's like Cub Scout science meets Religion 101. The flexible lesson plans also include links to additional resources such as LDS General Conference talks and videos. This resource can be used for Family Home Evening, the new youth curriculum, Sunday School, Priesthood classes, and Relief Society lessons. It's also appropriate for those with cognitive disabilities.

Looking for bloggers who would be willing to review the book, post launch information (including a contest), or do an author interview from February 9-28. Email me at with your blog address for more information!

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Using Visuals to Improve Behavior

Many children with learning differences struggle to understand the spoken word. They may not comprehend teacher expectations, classroom rules, or re-direction. This situation can result in poor behavior when they don't realize what they need to do. Here are a few ways to help:

Visuals can serve to explain what is expected of each student:

Students are less anxious when they see their schedule:

They help remind students of possible consequences:

Visuals can help explain a reward system:

To help deal with problem behaviors:

Behavior think sheet
And to communicate:

moods by LEGO face... Use in conjunction with How does your engine run? or as part of another program to help students identify their arousal state.

How do you use visuals for behavior?

Friday, January 16, 2015

Visuals to Increase Comprehension at School for All Subjects

There are many ways visuals can help children with disabilities do better in school. They can be used to help remember previous lessons, 

Visuals can serve as a reminder of content information the class has already learned.

They also can help the child review strategies.

Pictures can be used to check understanding without increasing reading load.

They can help a child prepare for learning.

And give guidance during the construction of a paragraph.

Organizing information to understand the subject or begin a report is another use. 

Help remembering what to do next is a productive use of pictures or written words. 

Math processes can be reinforced with visuals.

And abstract information becomes real through the right pictures.

How does your child use visuals in the classroom for comprehension?

Next time: Using visuals for behavior. 

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Eight Ways to Use Visuals for Comprehension at Home

Many children with disabilities have significant memory problems. Not only does this impact academics, but parents often see challenges when giving directions or trying to teach basic life skills.

Here are a few ways visuals can be incorporated into your home life:

  • They can be used to help communicate (no yelling)

  • The child can use visuals to make requests or choices
Sample PECS Cards

  •  Use visual reminders for personal care routines
This FREE Bathroom Visual Schedule For Boys contains all aspects of using the restroom. From knocking on the door to closing the light, you can select the icons that work best for your students' needs. Mount the icons on a white strip of your own, or use the bathroom and washing hands strips that are provided.
  • Daily schedules can be communicated through visuals,

  •  as can changes

  • Pictures can help teach household tasks
  • Children can be taught to work for a reward with visuals

  • Pictures can also be used for lists in the community
Free Grocery List template and Free pictures of common grocery items!

How do you use visuals at home?

Next time: using visuals for comprehension in school subjects

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Visual Strategies for Children with Disabilities

Students with learning disabilities, attention problems, or autism often require visual strategies to make progress. These teaching methods can decrease the amount of time required for learning, improve subject comprehension, facilitate information retrieval, and increase retention rates.

To decrease learning time, visuals reinforce auditory information and serve as reminders. Here are a few examples of visual schedule use:

Visual schedules decrease anxiety as students can anticipate activity changes and look forward to preferred activities. They also increase independence as the children can move through their day with fewer prompts.

Students who think concretely may require a schedule with objects.

Some of these learners may then be transitioned to pictures,

and others may eventually move to a written schedule.

Packing-up checklist

How have you used visual schedules?

Next time: Using visuals to improve comprehension of subject matter.