Summer Routines for Your Quirky Child

May 29, 2012 by · Leave a Comment 

Summer is the time of ease, of rest and relaxation, of freedom from all those rigid schedules.  Hurray!  However, if you have a child with learning disabilities or ADHD or other atypical profile, you know that your child needs some structure in order to get along well and be happy.  Not knowing what to expect next can increase anxiety and lead to trouble.

Most of the families in my area have two working parents, so they have probably already put some sort of summer plan into place.  But for most families there are gaps in the summer arrangements.  These bring the opportunity to spend more time with your children, and with proper planning these interludes can be delightful.  The challenge is to have enough structure so that your child is not thrown off but enough flexibility so that it feels like a vacation.

I find that for many families it is important to set an expectation for how much screen time you will allow.  Perhaps you will have some days with no plans.  You might imagine your child doing crafts, playing with a sibling, or exploring outside.   However, for most children television, video games and computer games are so attractive that they can quickly trump the other activities.  It is a good idea to set an expectation for how much screen time is OK and when it will be.  For older children you will need to get their input on this and come to some negotiated agreement for it to work without struggles.  Be prepared to be tested and to need to stand your ground.  It’s a good plan!

Now, what will your children do when they are not occupied with screens?  Perhaps you have children who will engage with Lego or crafts for an hour or so.  To be sure that this will work, you might want to be sure that you have the supplies for the crafts. You might want to plan to invest in a new Lego set during the summer to keep the interest going.  Regular trips to the library will outfit you with new books to read.

Other times you will plan to do some activity with your child. Consider some outings that you and your child will enjoy.  Many public libraries have free passes to area museums.  Find out how to reserve ahead and make your plans accordingly.

In addition, many children have (and should have) some responsibilities around the house.  The morning is a good time to attend to these.

Now that you have some activities in mind, you can come up with a loose daily schedule.  It is a schedule, so that your child will know what to expect, but it is also loose so that it feels like summer.  It  might go something like this.  Your child gets up and has breakfast.  Then she can play on her own for awhile either on screens or with other activities, like the Lego or crafts or books.  This gives you time to do some things you might want to do: return phone calls, read the paper, pay some bills.  After an hour the screens go off, and your child can play off screen if you are still busy.

Now you are done with your work, and you and your child can go out on an expedition — a visit to a local park or a museum, or the library.  Many towns have story hours or other summer entertainment for children.   Perhaps you’ve arranged a play date.  Lunch happens somewhere in here.  Perhaps you pack a lunch, or you eat out.

By mid-afternoon you arrive back home.  You child might be tired, so a quiet activity would be a good option while you prepare supper.  Maybe a little more screen time or independent reading.  After dinner, maybe some board games, a TV show the family likes, and reading together.

The schedule might look quite different in your family.  The point is that the day is chunked into somewhat predictable parts.  There are times for independent play (you provide engaging supplies), time for entertainment on screens, time for you to attend your business, time for activities with you.  This is a schedule you could make predictable for your child and still have flexibility to enjoy summer.  You can make a schedule and post it using pictures to make it accessible for younger children.  If your children can contribute some to the schedule and the activities, they will be more cooperative about it.

You will notice that I did not put in a great deal of time for you to work from home.  If you have a quirky kid, it is likely that this is not realistic, unless you are willing to let videos and TV keep your child occupied.  I hope that you will be able to take some time off when your children are not in programs.  If you are torn between work and children, neither gets the best of your attention.

Let me know what ideas you have for making the most of summer free time.

 

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Learning Disabilities and Family Life: Four Ways Learning Disabilities Affect Home Life and Ways You Can Help Your Child

May 8, 2012 by · 12 Comments 

If you have a child with a learning disability, you are probably learning that your child learns and reacts differently at home as well as in school.  You will likely have to adapt your parenting strategies to your child’s neurology.   If you have a diagnosis, then it is likely that you also have a neuropsychological testing report.  These reports and the IEP (individual education plan) include recommendations for instruction.  Good test reports will also have recommendations for home. You can look at these recommendations and adapt them for home use.  Here are a few that I run into in families I work with.

Slow Processing Speed

Your child is bright enough to do the work, but she thinks things through slowly.  Think of having a computer with an old CPU. Often the IEP will recommend that a teacher provide “wait time” after asking a question.  Parents need to do the same.  If you patiently wait for your child’s response after a question, you can include her in family dinnertime conversations that she might otherwise be left out of.  Processing speed can especially be a problem in tense situations.  For instance, suppose you are asking about a missed homework assignment.  Give her a minute to remember and give her response, instead of filling in for her.

Nonverbal Learning Disability

This is a disability that affects children’s ability to read social cues and to understand metaphor and sarcasm .  They can be very sensitive to tone of voice, and their own modulation of tone of voice is poor.  However, they can be taught these skills over time.  It helps to understand that if your child responds angrily to a request, it might be because he thought you were angry.  It is important to keep your voice neutral.  Joking with this child is a tricky business.  You will need to explain teasing because he won’t pick up from your tone of voice that you actually mean the opposite of what you are saying.  Adding, “Just kidding,” can be essential.

Poor Working Memory

This is a problem that affects a person’s ability to keep a few ideas in mind in order to manipulate them or use them for problem solving.  This could come up if you give your child complicated instructions.  For instance you might say, “When you go upstairs to start your homework, check on the hamster food, and if we don’t have enough for the week, tell me so I can buy more.”  This is a lot to keep in mind — go do homework; check on hamster food; and then what?  You can have more success, and your child will feel more successful, if you break down the requests.  Start with “Go check to see whether we have enough hamster food for a week, and tell me what you learn.”  Then say, “Ok, now start your homework.”

Adjustments like these avoid misunderstandings that frustrate everyone.

Executive Function Deficits

This seems to be the diagnosis dejour in my caseload.  If executive function is a problem for your child, you are probably already well aware of it.  Your child loses and misplaces things related to school and everything else in life.  It’s really frustrating for all.  But scolding and shaming her for being disorganized doesn’t teach her strategies.  I find it helpful to give kids like this lists for different situations.  For instance, before going out the door in the morning, she could check off backpack, lunch bag, instrument for band, gym shoes.  For going to soccer practice:  cleats, socks, shin guards, ball.  The same list applies for leaving soccer.  Some kids are visual learners, and for them, a picture or drawing of themselves labeled with all the right equipment would be more useful.

These are just a few of the ways that learning difficulties affect home life.  Learning about how your child thinks and learning strategies for managing life with a person with this brain will save you and your child a great deal of aggravation.  Using accommodations at home can actually teach your child coping strategies for life.  I know young adults who have learned to make their own lists so that they don’t travel without essentials.

My website, www.drcarolynstone.com has a number of resources listed that can be helpful for parents in learning what they need to know about living with learning disabilities.

 

Click here to sign up for my newsletter, Parents’ Corner, and receive my free report on how to improve morning routine with children who have ADHD, Asperger Syndrome, or other executive function deficits:  Smoothing Out Your Morning.

Photo Credit:  Steve Webel on Flickr

Good Prescription: Fresh Air and Exercise

March 6, 2012 by · 4 Comments 

This morning I took my dog for a slightly longer walk than usual because I’ll be away much of the day.  We went to a local park, and I let him off leash (don’t tell the city fathers).  As I watched him bound away from me, I lengthened my step and breathed deeply.  As I did so, I began to feel more energetic.  I felt the “sludge” of early morning clear from my brain.  I am not a morning person.

This simple experience reminded me of what I have seen over and over with children who have ADHD or anxiety or Asperger Syndrome.  Getting outside to move around helps calm nerves, improve focus, help transition to sleep.  It might not do all of these for your child, but even some could be a big help.

You might wonder when your children could have time outside when they have homework, tutoring, music lessons, and two working parents. In addition, many people live in cities where getting outside to shoot some hoops or kick a soccer ball is not so simple.  This is just a simple reminder that it can be worth your while to find ways to incorporate outside activity in your day.  Perhaps your child could walk home from school with friends or siblings.  Or  perhaps you find a park nearby that you can visit a couple of days a week.

Incorporating outside activity into your family’s routine involves setting up some routines.  If your child has grown to expect to use TV, computer or video games, whenever he is not doing homework, you would need to change the expectation.  I don’t say this is easy.  But parents can do that if they make it fun and positive.

Notice that I am not recommending playing on sports teams, though this would serve much the same purpose.  If your child enjoys playing sports, that is excellent.  However, many of the children I see have poor coordination.  After elementary sports the teams get more competitive, and these children no longer enjoy the team sports.  But your child can still enjoy getting outside and running around or riding a bicycle.  This is a lifelong habit that you can help instill.  Fresh air and exercise — good for the nerves, attention and spirit.

 

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Coping With Road Blocks

February 27, 2012 by · 6 Comments 

Recently a number of families I work with have been stymied by their childen getting stuck.  These are children with Asperger Syndrome, nonverbal learning disability, obsessive compulsive disorder, or some combination of those.  During the course of a normal day, these kids hit road blocks that trigger outbursts. Often the cause is a change in plans that seemed inconsequential to you.  You might say, “On our way home, I’m stopping at the grocery.  Want to come in?”  Child: “Nooooo.  You always do this, etc.”  Or you might say, “Your brother has a friend over.”  Child:  “I won’t go in the house.”  Or on a pleasant family outing to an ice cream store you say, “They’re all out of confetti sprinkles, but they have the chocolate ones.” Child:  “Noooooo.”

Any one of these scenarios can trigger an outburst that could last five to forty minutes or more.

You get the picture, and you have been there.  It is very frustrating for a parent to deal with this behavior.  It can seem as though your child is incredibly self-centered, immature or badly behaved.  When it happens in public, it is embarrassing.

You have a child who is wired to be rigid.  Imagine what it must feel like to have your anxiety peak over a minor change in routine.  Imagine that you are headed down the track on a bobsled run and suddenly the track has new turns.  You skid, you careen, and you might be pretty anxious and angry.  I think that is a little of what these children experience.  The emotional discomfort triggers the outrageous behavior.

So what is a parent to do?

First, consider the last paragraph about what a child experiences.  Try to have some empathy for your child.  It’s a tall order, but it is very helpful.

When your child is out of control, concentrate only on what will help him or her settle down.  This means that you cannot argue or reason with him at this time.  You simply do not have a rationale partner for this. On the other hand, I don’t mean offer him the world so he will quiet down.  Just don’t make it worse by arguing and scolding.  That means that you might be in a fairly awkward situation, but there is nothing to be done about it then—once your child is out of control the “horse has left the barn,”  so to speak.

When your child is calm, you can address the situation again if it is still relevant.  But the passage of time may have changed this.

Punishments are not helpful this type of problem. Your child needs to learn to recognize his or her emotional discomfort and learn coping strategies.  No amount of punishment or reward can teach this.

Using empathy, begin a conversation with your child about how to manage the outbursts.  Consult a psychologist if you need to, to help with this.  Once your child is learning some strategies, incentives can be helpful to motivate him or her to use them.

Good luck.  This is a long process.  Because it has to do with neural networks, it will take some time for your child to learn to cope with it.  The important thing to understand is that you do not have a spoiled child—you have a rigid one with poor coping skills.

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You’re too soft! You’re too harsh! When Parents Can’t Agree

February 20, 2012 by · 8 Comments 

Most parents know that they are supposed to agree on childrearing.  It’s better for children if parents present a united front.  That’s all well and good when you agree.  What about when you don’t?  If you have a child who has ADHD, Asperger Syndrome, or anxiety, it is likely that you are presented with behaviors and situations that you did not expect.

Here is a quick list of the major points in coming to agreement.

  1. Acknowledge that it is hard work.  Ross Greene, Ph. D, who wrote The Explosive Child, says he assumes that parents are doing the best they can.  I totally agree.
  2. Find time to talk about the problems without children present.  Difficult, but essential.  Worth the effort.
  3. Try to find and express some empathy for each other. Do you understand enough about your partner’s background and disposition to understand why he acts the way he does?  Perhaps you might ask.
  4. Without blaming tell your partner what you see and how you like things to be.  “I know that Sally pushes your buttons, but I really need you not to explode in anger at her.”  Or, “When I have set a limit with Sally, please do not renegotiate with her.  That undermines me.”  Be willing to listen.
  5. Find where you agree and set a goal for how you want Sally to behave.  This might be, “Start your homework after a 30 minute break after school.  Do this with cooperative behavior.”
  6. Talk to your child together about your expections.  Sally sees that there is a new regime.  She has less room to manipulate, and she will test the system, but ultimately, she will be comforted by this approach.
  7. Follow through.  If Sally goes to Dad to renegotiate the homework agreement, he should politely refuse to engage.  If Sally starts to negotiate with Mom, Mom might need to walk away, but the basic expectation (Start your homework), still stands.
  8. Repeat.  Over and over.  Find a time to talk.  Express understanding and empathy.  State your needs without blame.  Come to an agreement about a goal.  Explain it to your child.  Back each other up.

Sometimes it is too difficult to start this process on your own.  That is where a Parent Coach can be helpful.  I enjoy this type of work because it is so helpful to parents and children.

 

Click here to sign up for my newletter, Parents’ Corner, and receive my free report on how to improve morning routine with children who have ADHD, Asperger Syndrome, or other executive function deficits:  Smoothing Out Your Morning.

Where’s Your Child’s Strength? Bolstering Self Esteem in Children with Learning Disabilities

February 10, 2012 by · 7 Comments 

Having a learning disability is exhausting.  Whether your child has ADHD, or a Nonverbal Learning Disability, or a Language Based Learning Disability, or Asperger Syndrome does not matter.  Learning differently from the way school is taught is hard work.

In order to obtain proper educational services for a child, one must define the difference or deficit.   The child needs to fail to make progress in order to qualify for services.  This is simply how the law is written, but it means that a smart child often has to experience frustration and failure before appropriate services are put into place.  Even if the services are helpful, their delivery distinguishes the child from other learners — the child has to leave the room for support in reading or math, or a special teacher comes in. It is a situation that can grind down self esteem.

What to do?  Where are you child’s strengths?  Perhaps you have some excellent teachers in your school who know where your child has particular talent.  Perhaps you know and can encourage you’re her to take a chance on a non-academic pursuit. These are the parts of life that teachers and parents can encourage so that the child feels competent, even gifted.

I once knew an art teacher who had a depressed teenager with nonverbal learning disability in her class.  She raved about his skill and originality.  His parents had no clue.  The boy had been so down on himself that he denigrated everything he did, including his drawing.  With the teacher’s encouragement he took some drawing classes and produced some fine work.  It helped turn his life around.

Another student I knew who had nonverbal learning disability was on the chunky side.  His parents wanted him to play sports to get exercise and to practice social skills, but his poor coordination made it impossible for him to enjoy any sport with a ball.  His Dad got him involved on a swim team where he excelled.  He was on a team, but he was swimming to beat his own time.  The swimming also helped with his anxiety.

These are just two stories.  There are more.  There are kids who are writing wonderful poems, often about their challenges.  Others I  know are on speech or debate teams.  The precise logic involved in those activities fits their thinking well.  Playing guitar or any other musical instrument can provide calming comfort.  Other children I know excel at archery.

It is as important to find activities in which your child excels as it is to provide tutors and social skills groups.

 

Check out my newsletter, Parents Corner, available at my website, www.drcarolynstone.com.  Sign up and receive my free report about improving morning routine with children who have executive function deficits:  Smoothing Out Your Morning

Baby Steps

January 13, 2012 by · Leave a Comment 

Some of you may have seen the old Bill Murray movie, “What About Bob.”  Murray plays a man who is very dependent on his psychiatrist, played by Richard Dreyfus.  Dreyfus encourages his patient to make progress in his life by “baby steps.”  He has even written a book by that name.  It’s a good spoof on the mental health profession.  Dreyfus is making a bundle with simplistic advice, and Bob is ultimately the undoing of his pompous doctor.

All the same, there is a lot to be said for the baby steps idea.  At this time of year many of us are ready to turn over all the leaves that we did not get to last year.  Parents are no different.  People are telling their children, “Now you are big enough to sleep in your own bed all night.”  Or, “Now you can do your homework in your room all on your own.”  Or “I think you can get up on your own in the morning.”  “This year you can be ready for school on time.”  “This year when you are rude to me, I will ignore you, and you will treat me more nicely.”  These are all good goals, and every parent has a right to them.

But it takes baby steps.  Another way of putting this is that all change happens slowly, bit by bit.  If you are dealing with grade school or older children, you will need to include them in the conversation.  They need to agree that the change you suggest is worthwhile.  Then you can discuss how to start.  For instance, when should the alarm be set?  How much time does your child need to get ready in the morning?  Or you will need to explain just what you mean by rude and say what you would like instead.  (This may sound as absurd as the baby steps book, but believe me, it is helpful to be very clear.)

When you have explained the goal and your child has agreed, you might also consider incentives to increase your child’s motivation.  Incentive does not need to mean expensive stuff.  It could mean a special dessert or fifteen extra minutes of screen time.

The last goal is to moderate your expectations.  Remember baby steps.  Your child might get up on time some days and not on others.  She might do her homework on her own for a day or two but have a meltdown about a new type of math problem.  Try to notice the progress, and not be too discouraged by the slip-ups.  Always praise progress.  And consider whether you can learn from the slip-ups.  Maybe the program needs adjustment.

Change takes time.  A few good days don’t mean you are out of the woods, but a few good days are definitely a few good days.  Progress happens in baby steps.

Good luck to all of you on the changes you are trying to make in your families in this New Year.

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Try a Little Tenderness—for Yourself

November 23, 2011 by · 4 Comments 

Recently I went to a workshop on Mindfulness, and its use in psychotherapy.  I was quite excited as I listened because I could see its usefulness to parents. 

First of all, what is mindfulness?  When people practice mindfulness, they try to change the quality of their awareness so that they are observing and accepting of themselves.  Mark Sorensen, Ph.D., (www.sorensentherapy.com) one of the presenters, teaches his clients to Stop, Observe, Accept, and Refocus.  This shortens very nicely to SOAR.  That’s a good concept isn’t it?

Imagine that your three children are home after school.  They are quarreling, procrasting about homework, and begging you to intervene.  Meanwhile, you are very tired.  This is a recipe for an angry outburst in many families.

 What would SOAR look like here?   Stop means that you stop your action and your thinking.  Just stop with resolve and intention. 

Now, Observe.  Observe your own mind.  What is the story you are telling yourself about the situation?  Here are some possibilities:  “This is a disaster.”  “I’m a terrible mother because Angie is behind in spelling, and I can’t get her to start her homework.”  “This will never stop.”  Wow — thoughts like those would upset anyone.  Try to separate the events from the story you are telling about them.  Imagine that the events are appearing on a radar screen.  Observe your thoughts, your emotions, and your physical feelings.  “I’m thinking this is a disaster; I feel anxious and angry; my shoulders are tight and painful.” 

Next Accept the situation.  (I know this sounds absurd, but stick with me.)  Accept is an attitude.  You stop struggling with the reality.  You are open to it.  “My children are arguing.  My children are asking me to intervene.”  This is a way to relax into the situation. 

Lastly, Refocus.  Try to refocus to good intentions.  Can you feel compassion for yourself?  Patience? 

After this sequence you might be better able to decide how to respond to the situation in a productive way.

I’ve listed the steps, but this is a discipline that is learned with practice.  One participant suggested that people practice “Mindfulness Moments” or M&M’s during the day.  You can tie the M&M’s to specific behaviors, like using the bathroom!  Each time is an opportunity to go through the steps. 

I will be researching some resources on this topic, and I’ll post more next week.  Meanwhile be kind to yourselves as you observe Thanksgiving.