Getting the Environment Right (and focusing on the positive)

 

 “He can’t sit still at school!”  “She always gets annoyed by her brother at home when they are playing!”  So often we want to focus on the problem areas, the situations where our children aren’t meeting our expectations, that we forget to look for clues in the activities and environments where they are excelling. As you work on communication skills with your child, give thought to the environments where they are thriving.

 

I work with children who can hold it together well at school, but unleashed upon the home environment, every bit of self-control seems to fly out the window.  They disobey, push their parent’s buttons, and antagonize their siblings.  Conversely, I also know children who can’t seem to focus at school on their academic work, but stay occupied and focused for an hour building a Lego set with 1000 pieces in their backyard at home.

 

You can find clues in your child’s favorite pastimes.  If they hold it together well at school, look at the structure in place within the school environment.  There is a set schedule, set rules, and announcements which are reviewed every day.  The expectations are consistent, the transitions mostly predictable, and the time for breaks and down time logical.  Some of our most difficult children need the most structure. They need overkill with repetition, transition preparation, and a review of expectations.

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If your child is falling apart at school, consider how their learning can tap into the multisensory environment they love at home.  Outside time, physical breaks, sensory reinforcement (like sitting on a wiggle cushion or having a hand-fidget), hands-on learning… all can help refocus and energize their learning.

 

What ideas can you find from the activities your child loves?  Why do they love that karate class?  How about digging in the backyard?  What makes them read for hours in the backyard hammock?  Make a list of everything you can think of that about that environment (“She loves reading fantasy, she can go at her own pace”), and include the sensory components of each (e.g. “it’s sunny and quiet, the hammock rocks back and forth,”etc.)  Then circle the elements of each activity that you could replicate for another, more challenging situation.

 

Need help?  List your child’s favorite activity and environment below, and we’ll come up with some ideas.

Kids Do Well If They Can

daydreaming at schoolBehind every challenging behavior is an unsolved problem and a lagging skill.

Every child demonstrates frustrating behaviors at times.  As they grow and develop, children challenge the world around them, sorting through their own feelings to find an individual voice.  Some children demonstrate mental overload by whining, crying, or withdrawing into themselves.  Others reveal behavior that is more outwardly-focused, such as yelling, shouting, and spitting.

Still for others, a mental switch is flipped, and being unable to process a situation takes them into a “fight or flight” response where they bolt from the situation, lash out physically, hit, punch, or kick.  The problem is, once the switch is flipped, they often don’t have the cognitive capacity to process the situation appropriately.  What’s a parent to do?

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Language processing problems, and/or anxiety often lie behind an apparent behavior outburst.  Consider the following list of skills (adapted from Ross Greene’s “Lost at School”) frequently found lagging in challenging kids:

-Difficulty handling transitions, shifting from one mind-set or task to another

-Difficulty persisting on challenging or tedious tasks

-Poor sense of time

-Difficulty reflecting on multiple thoughts or ideas simultaneously

-Difficulty maintaining focus

-Difficulty considering the likely outcomes or consequences of actions (impulsive)

-Difficulty considering a range of solutions to a problem

-Difficulty expressing concerns, needs, or thoughts in words

-Difficulty understanding what is being said

-Difficulty managing emotional response to frustration so as to think rationally

-Difficulty attending to and/or accurately interpreting social cues/poor perception of social nuances

 

These skills require quick and flexible thinkingMost children with behavioral challenges already know that we want them to behave.  They also would like to behave the right way.  What’s lacking are important thinking skills that allow them to regulate their emotions, consider the outcomes of their actions, understand their feelings and those of others, and respond to changes in a plan.  Such flexible thinking skills are challenged when the demands in a situation are more than the child is able to handle adaptively.

They aren’t doing it on purpose.

The kids who are most often described as being manipulative are those least capable of pulling it off.

 

While a clear diagnosis (language processing disorder, attention-deficit disorder, anxiety disorder, etc.) is helpful in pointing us in the right direction, a child is more individual than their own diagnosis.  There are also many children who fall through the cracks in receiving a true diagnosis, meaning they don’t fully qualify for all the conditions of that disorder.  But you don’t need a diagnosis to have a problem.  You just need a problem to have a problem.

The situations which are most challenging for our children vary depending on the strength and development of their organizational and flexible thinking skills.  The challenge for parents and professionals is to break down situations where these behavior outbursts are occurring and develop strategies, in collaboration with the child, for better behaviorIt is also important to truly address lagging skills in processing and flexible thinking in order to fill the holes a in a child’s development.  Children who experience the most success with behavior modifications are those who are considered an integral part of the team, who are asked for their insight, who problem-solve with their parents and teachers, and who are asked for their opinions every step of the way.

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For more information on collaborative problem-solving, check out Dr. Ross Greene “The Explosive Child”

 

Reading Ahead in Summer

The transition from third to fourth grade is probably the most important transition a student will make during their school career, especially as it relates to reading.

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If your child is struggling with reading fluency during the early elementary years, summertime can be a critical season for intensive literacy intervention. Deciphering exactly where your child is missing pieces in their foundation is key. Difficulties with phonological awareness, reading comprehension, and reading fluency can have different underlying causes, and it’s important for a thorough evaluation to determine what you as a patent can do to help support your child.
For an interesting article from the International Dyslexia Association, click here

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As parents, the thought of intervention when our kids are still so “young” is often troubling. But I have yet to meet a professional who doesn’t advocate for early intervention services when warranted. It can change the direction of your child’s academic path.

Anger… and Maintaining R-E-S-P-E-C-T

I’ve been working with several students on their anger outbursts and how to regulate their intense feelings.  Then I happened on THIS from Ahaparenting.com about how parents fight in front of their kids has a neurological effect on their children.  The strength and ferocity of the argument can cause a child’s stress hormone levels to escalate, which takes some time to diminish after an argument (this flight-or-flight stress response.)  A few tips for managing anger and keeping it from turning into a full-blown argument, from Dr. Laura Markham:

“Is it ever okay for parents to disagree in front of kids?  Doesn’t it model the resilience of relationships, and how to repair them?  Yes, if you can avoid getting triggered and letting your disagreement disintegrate into yelling or fighting.  For instance:

1. One parent snaps at the other, then immediately course corrects: “I’m so sorry – I’m just feeling stressed – can we try that over? What I meant to say was…” Kids learn from this modeling that anyone can get angry, but that we can take responsibility for our own emotions, apologize, and re-connect.

2. Parents work through a difference of opinion without getting triggered and raising their voices. For instance, if you and your partner have a good-natured discussion about whether to buy a new car, your child learns that humans who live together can have different opinions, listen to each other, and work toward a win/win decision – all respectfully and with affection. Having these kinds of discussions in front of kids is terrific, as long as you agree to postpone the conversation if one of you gets triggered and it becomes an argument.

3. Parents notice that they have a conflict brewing and agree to discuss it later. Hopefully, this happens before there’s any yelling — or you’ll be modeling yelling! And hopefully, you can close the interaction with a big, public, hug. If you’re too mad, take some space to calm down and then prioritize the hug in front of your child, with some little mantra like “It’s okay to get mad….We always make up.” This takes some maturity, but it models self-regulation and repair.”

When we teach our children and students how to handle their emotions, we want to make sure we are providing an appropriate model to back it up.  It is healthy to express emotions and not keep them bottled up inside, but we need to show our children a productive way to handle that anger.  An angry child can turn that passion into a quest to change to world, with the right guidance and structure.

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For tips on teaching your child to self-soothe, read my previous post here about essential tips for self-soothing.

Latest News on Autism

I thought this post (copied below) was an interesting reflection from parents in the trenches. Lately, there have been several new studies examining causes and correlations of autism, including the link between air pollution and autism. For a parent of a child with autism, this can be equally promising and exhausting, and doesn’t take away from the day-to-day challenges and wonders of parenting a child with special needs.

Quoted from The Guardian:
Last week, Kristina Chew wrote about how she’s struggled with whether it’s right to support the medical community’s efforts to find a cure for autism. We opened up the issues raised Kristina’s piece to Guardian readers, and asked parents of autistic children to weigh in on what finding a cure means to them. Nearly 200 parents wrote in with their thoughts and we’ve published ten responses below.

Jane Daniel, London: ‘I’ll take the cure, please’

At diagnosis, the paediatrician said, “I’m afraid it’s autism,” and gave me a leaflet from the National Autistic Society. This pretty much set the tone for our experience with physicians: generally woefully ignorant, and not interested in investigating beyond the diagnosis. The lazy Rain Man references are as insulting as they are dull. Why on earth wouldn’t you want to find a cure? There is no hope that my son will ever be able to live independently, and I’m terrified at the prospect of what will happen when I’m no longer around to advocate for him. I’ll take the cure, please.

Miriam Cotton, Ireland: ‘The concept of a cure is offensive’

My doctors accept my son’s condition and don’t speak of it as something that can be cured. The concept of a “cure” for autism is as offensive as wanting to cure Down’s syndrome. There are therapies and supports that can substantially help the person to mitigate the symptoms of their condition – to develop strategies for living with it optimally – but the condition is there for life. Early diagnosis and help improve a person’s capacity for independent living exponentially. It’s the same for ever disability, of course, and yet our governments steadfastly refuse to confront this fact.

Dave Korpi, Oregon, US: ‘I would love a remedy as much as a cure’

I don’t feel like autism is as much of a stigma as it used to be. On the other hand, the US media sends mixed messages about why autism rates are rising; the CDC attributes it to better diagnostics, which is laughable. I would love to have a remedy that would lessen the intensity of the symptoms, as much as a cure. My son is brilliant in some areas, infantile in others, and non-verbal. Trying to develop independent living skills is woefully not enough, but it’s better than no strategy, or warehousing, which is still commonplace.

Gordon Darroch, Scotland: ‘The idea of a cure is meaningless’

The doctor has had very little input into the lives of either of my two autistic children, mainly because they aren’t taking medication. Speech and language therapists, educational psychologists, child psychologists, paediatricians, schoolteachers, music therapists, respite care workers and social workers have got most of the bases covered. I find the idea of a cure meaningless. I want my children to acquire skills that let them get on in life and become happy, sociable, thoughtful, considerate people, but they’ll always be autistic. If I’d been able to prevent them being born with autism I would have done so, but dwelling on that notion is just denying the reality of the situation they’re in. They need practical help and therapeutic support now, not the dubious benefits of a miracle pill at some point in the future.

Leila Couceiro, California, US: ‘I still have hope’

The researcher who works on new medications is not the same person who will think about smarter ways to include and support the adult autistic population. My child is only nine years old, so I still have hope that a new drug to lessen his symptoms will be discovered in his lifetime. And at the same time, not a day goes by without my worrying about his adulthood after I’m no longer alive and able to make sure he’s safe.

Rob Gentles, Ottawa, Canada: ‘I would jump for joy, but I am doubtful’

For my family, we just need help getting Alex as independent as he can be. I fear for Alex once we are gone. I hope that he will be able to advocate for his own needs. I hope that there will be good people who will help him look after himself. We will do what we can to save money for him now, but we are not rich and we can’t predict the future. I would jump for joy if there were a cure, but I doubt there will be one. Whatever the cause of autism, it has probably been with us for a long time.

Tara Hughes, United Kingdom: ‘There is nothing “wrong” with me’

I’m autistic. I frequently despair at the coverage of autism in the media. I do not “suffer” with autism. I don’t need or want fixing or a cure. Equating autism with cancer is extremely offensive. I don’t need curing. I’m autistic; I have a different operating system that’s all. I’m not “less than” the majority who run on a different distribution. Some things I can do really well, and some things are harder and I might sometimes need help. Reasonable adjustments, anyone? Autism is not an illness. It’s a way of being. It’s the way I am. There’s nothing “wrong” with me.

Sherry Nelson, New Jersey, US: ‘A cure would mean everything to us’

My son is ten. When he was little, it was all about ABA therapy. The hope that he could learn to communicate and function normally was alive and well for a while. A cure would mean everything to our family. Our son is so sweet, happy and loving. But he can’t tell us his most basic needs. He can’t tell us he is hungry, or thirsty or sick. You can get through the day and make sure he eats and drinks enough, but when he is sick, it is so hard. You are guessing half of the time, trying to help him get better. That is when being his mom just breaks my heart.

Yakoub Islam, Greece: ‘We need to maintain the funding’

My son starting taking small doses of Risperidone at age 16 (he’s now 20), to help manage his challenging behaviours, which had become more destructive during his adolescence. The medication was effective, as part of an overall programme of behaviour management. We would never have managed him living at home until he was 19 if I had not trained as a special needs (autism) teacher, shortly after he was diagnosed at three. My concern is that my son’s specialist autism care placement continues to be fully funded. It sickens me that so-called austerity measures are targeting some of our nation’s most vulnerable people.

Michelle, Canada: ‘Support is what we need’

My boys don’t need a cure – they are not diseased. They were born with autism: intervention was needed as early as the first three months of their lives. To “cure” my kids, I’d be wishing my sons would be different kids than they are today. Support is what we need, not the insulting idea that our kids are suffering from a disease.

Surviving Arsenic Hour

This is a pretty spot-on post (see Dr. Laura Markham Surviving Arsenic Hour) for us these days.  Either my husband or I swoop in to relieve the nanny at… just about dinnertime.  I’m all about adding some focused structure and thought to the time of day that hollers for peace.

My 15-month-old is ready for cuddles and food, so I’ve taken to strapping her in the Ergo carrier while I prep.  My preschooler has questions and afternoon recaps to share, so there is constant chatter.

I usually haven’t used the restroom in several hours, my husband is still dressed in his work attire, and the dog is greeting us with her normal barks and booty-wags (she is a tail-less Aussie).

Basically, it’s chaos.  On a good day: happy, fun, excited chaos.  On a bad day: Pour the wine, and get ready for arsenic hour!

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Anger Management

Everyone experiences anger and frustration.

How we handle it depends on how we’ve developed our coping strategies.  Many adults don’t handle anger in a mature way, which makes it even more difficult for us to demand that our children do the same.

We want our kids to advocate for themselves, to assert themselves, and to challenge the status quo.  As we guide them through their anger at home, we help them to assert themselves positively and independently.  Give them words for their emotions, and help them regulate their own behavior.

For tips on self-soothing, see my post here.

For other regulation strategies, click here.

 

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