The Virtual Wheelchair Ramp: Making Accommodations at Home for Your Child’s Learning Style

October 23, 2012 by · 11 Comments 

In a meeting I attended last week in which we discussed handicapped accessibility for a building, we challenged ourselves to consider the mission of our group and whether our building reflects that.  In this instance we were considering accessibility for people who are physically handicapped, things like having an elevator or grab bars in the bathroom.

The discussion reminded me of conversations I often have with parents about accommodating their children’s learning or emotional disabilities.  Often the best way to help a child improve behavior is to change the environment to suit his or her needs.

For instance, if your child has difficulty with changes in routine, it is helpful to try to make your days, or at least parts of days, be predictable.  On weekends when most people like a change, your child might do better with a preview about what events are coming up.  Your child might benefit from a schedule written out or with pictures to show what is happening that day.

Some people might see this type of accommodation as coddling, but would they say that about putting in a wheelchair ramp?  When you adapt your expectations to your child’s current abilities and the way she thinks, she can be more successful and feel better about herself.  You are likely to have fewer meltdowns to cope with. And in time your child will grow to be able to take a little more of a challenge.  Success builds confidence so that children are willing and able to try challenges.

There are as many ways to adapt the environment or expectations for a child as there are children.  The adaptions all depend on who your child is and what her strengths and challenges are.  This means taking the time to notice what situations cause difficulties and then thinking about how things might be rearranged.  For instance, if you ask your child to go get three things from her room, and she regularly returns with one or none, you could scold her for inattention.  Or you could take note that she does not hold that much information in working memory, and you could give her a list next time.  It might work better.

As children get older, they often begin to use these adaptive strategies on their own.  They become more independent and they are able to shape their environment in some ways themselves.  I know adults who will ask their spouse for a written instead of spoken list of errands.  These people know what their working memory can and cannot do.  And they are more successful because of it.

Have you made helpful accommodations in your household?  I would be interested to know.


Photo credit:  Kecko on Flickr

What’s Normal?

October 16, 2012 by · Leave a Comment 

I am away for a couple of weeks, so I have looked back in my archive, and I am recycling a couple of blogs from a year ago.  I hope you find them useful.

Lately I have noticed that parents I work with need information about normal child development. It’s quite reassuring to hear that a behavior is just what’s expected at that time.  I explain that parents are expecting too much self control from a three year old.  Or that they are expecting too much responsibility from a seven year old.  At times my message is that an eight year old would do better sleeping in his own bed and that he is capable of it.

This led me to look up some books from the 1970’s that you may have seen on your mother’s bookshelf. This is a series of books put out by the Gesell Institute of Human Development at Yale.  The series starts with Your One Year Old and goes year by year up through Your Nine Year Old.  There is also Your Five to Ten Year Old.  Most of the books are by Louise Bates Ames, Ph.D. and Frances Ilg, M.D.

The books in this series are brief with clear chapter titles so you can find what you want.

The series gives you a good idea of normal child development, including the ways that your child might be difficult—just because of the way he or she is developing at that time.  For instance, the authors talk about the six year old wanting to be more independent but having mixed feelings about it.  This leads to some confusing behavior.

Ames and Ilg also include good ideas for managing difficult behaviors.  The ideas are practical and caring—of parent and child.  Think of a kind hearted grandmother helping you out.

There are good ideas for age appropriate ways to interact with your child, to encourage creativity, and good toys to provide for your child.  I especially like that the books were written before video games, computers and smart phones were such a part of our lives. The ideas are low tech.

Some of the suggestions and examples will be quite dated.  You have to give them a break on that.  But overall, child development has not changed in thirty years.  These books have some real gems to offer.   You can find them on Amazon or in your library.


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Photo Credit:  Elsewhere Artist Collaborative on Flickr

The Last Word

October 9, 2012 by · Leave a Comment 

I am away for a couple of weeks, so I am recycling two blogs from a year ago.  I hope that you find them useful.

I have been thinking lately about having the last word.  Often when things get tense between parents and children, both sides want to get the last word.  It’s a pretty normal impulse.  But when parents insist on the last word, it doesn’t contribute either to problem solving or family harmony.

Say you have told your child for the third time to start his homework.  You are pretty aggravated by now, and your voice shows it.  He finally turns off the TV and stamps off to his room, saying, “Whatever you say, your majesty,”  or worse.  You see red (rightly so), and you have a choice.  You could say, “Come back here, young man.  You talk to me with respect.”  Or you could take a deep breath, exhale slowly, and notice that he is complying (at last) with your request.

But, you say, “Didn’t he win?  I don’t want him to think he can be fresh and get away with it.”  I don’t think he won if he did what you asked.  I agree that he shouldn’t be rude, and that’s an issue you still need to deal with.  If you can work on compliance, so that you don’t have to ask three times, I’ll bet that you won’t have the problem with your child having the last word.  In a conflict, no one wants to knuckle under and “say uncle.”  For many children “the last word” is a way to comply and save face.

So, if your child does comply, but with the “last word,” it’s a step on the way.  A good one.  Enjoy.


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Is It Misbehavior?

October 3, 2012 by · Leave a Comment 

Lately I’ve worked with grade school children who have “misbehaved” in some pretty major ways.  We have running away from organized activities, hitting family members, and yelling insulting things at parents, to name a few.   These are reasons for parents, teachers, and therapists to put their heads together to figure out what is going on and help these children to behave better.  That’s what the orangutan in the picture is doing, I think.

In all cases I am advising the parents to go easy on the punishment.  Is this because I’m one of those free-thinking, loosey goosey psychologists?  Well, I don’t think so.  I certainly agree that children should not behave in this way.  The children know this as well.  They all feel quite bad about themselves.  The parents are at a loss because punishments are not leading to better behavior.  Yet they know that they cannot tolerate this behavior and be responsible parents.

This gets to my title.  When you simply think of bad behavior as bad behavior, you are likely to want to deal with it with punishment.  We get further by trying to understand and helping children to learn better ways to deal with frustrations.  Often “misbehavior” is an immature or impulsive solution to a problem.  If adults can join with children in trying to understand the problem, they can also help children learn better strategies. Here are some thoughts about how to do this.

  1. Adopt a problem solving, questioning approach.  This might help you be more calm as you address the problem.  Problems don’t get solved when the participants are very angry.
  2. Accept that you are in a bad place and it might take a some time to figure out what else to do.
  3. Involve your child in the problem solving and questioning.  This might help you understand what the trigger is for the behavior.
  4. If your child has a learning disability, consider how this might be affecting his or her coping.  For instance, a child who has great difficulty with transitions, might act out when surprised by a change in routine.
  5. Instead of punishing consider brainstorming some alternative behaviors and praising your child whenever he or she uses them.
  6. If you do punish, keep it brief—something like no screens for the rest of the day.  Define this ahead of time, so your child knows that if he does _______, he will lose screens.  Only use punishment if you are also praising or rewarding the good behavior.

I know that this is a tall order.  Many people need the help of a psychologist or therapist to help with the problem solving.  But in time, many families learn to do this.  When they do, they can get past “misbehavior”  with less disruption to all.  I wish you well.  And I would be interested to know what strategies have been helpful in your family.


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Phot o credit:  Alex Semenzato on Flickr

Becoming a Parenting Team

September 25, 2012 by · Leave a Comment 

Any parent knows that one of the biggest challenges of being a parent in a two parent family is working with the other parent.  You can be in agreement about décor, finances and many other things, but it is likely that parenthood will bring out differences that you were only dimly aware of before.  Add to that a challenging or quirky child, and the differences can quickly become polarized so that you feel that one parent is too strict and the other is too lenient.  In all likelihood both parents hold part of the solution.

Any two people have definitely had different experiences growing up.  All of us had parents who did things we pledged we would never repeat.  At the same time there might be aspects of your parents’ practices that you feel were wise, and you would like to repeat.   Whether in trying to do as well as our parents did, or in trying not to repeat their mistakes, each of us can become rigid in our own approach.

Add to the mix a quirky child who might not be much like the way you were as a child, and the situation is primed for conflict.  There is no doubt that the situation challenges parents to negotiate and treat each other with respect under pressure.

Children learn very quickly where the differences are and how to exploit them.  I tell parents that any child worth her salt will sort this out and aim for the space in between the parents.  The child feels a great deal of control in this situation, too much control, and this contributes to a feeling of careening near the edge when it goes unaddressed.  Especially if parents disagree in front of the child, the child then feels empowered to ignore limits set by one parent.  The child then feels entitled to provoke that parent.  This is often when parents seek outside help.

The situation requires a kind of respectful listening and negotiation that will in the long run be good modeling for the child.

What to do?

  1. Agree to address the differences in a respectful way out of your child’s earshot.
  2. Listen to your partner.  Perhaps there is something useful in what she or he has to say.
  3. If you cannot come to agreement, seek outside help.
  4. Agree to try an approach and come back to it later to see how it is working.
  5. When either parent is in an unsure situation with a child (for instance, “Can we rent an R rated movie?” when you and your partner haven’t developed a clear policy on this), feel free to say, “I need to talk to Dad (Mom) about this.  We’ll get back to you.”  It is OK to let the child know you don’t know.

Children feel safer when they know their parents are working together, and this alone helps them maintain better behavior.  They are no longer “careening out of control” wondering who will put the brakes on and when.

Good luck with this challenging but rewarding endeavor in raising quirky kids.


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Photo Credit: Scott Ableman on Flickr

Strength in Community

September 11, 2012 by · 4 Comments 

Last week I wrote about the complicated feelings that parents have when their child is diagnosed with a learning disability.  While these feelings are all a normal part of coping with a special needs child in your family, they can interfere with your well being and your ability to advocate for your child unless you find ways to support and take care of yourself.

There is nothing like community to heal the shame, sadness, fear and anger that parents feel in this situation.  If it is painful for you to talk to parents of “typical” kids, find other parents whose children have special needs and cultivate relationships with them.  Below I’ll list some useful organizations.  At these meetings there is no shame in having a child with special needs because everyone is in the same boat.  Before you know it, you’ll be meeting with others for coffee or calling each other on the phone to share the latest outrageous story (sad or funny, or both).

When you become part of a community of this sort you experience many benefits.  You’ll find others who are more experienced and can share tips that have been useful to them.  You will find out about services in the community or school system.  Your fear about the future might decrease because you might learn about kids like yours who have had successful outcomes.  In time you will be the one to offer useful information to a newcomer, and this also feels good.  There is no doubt that community is healing.  Where can you find it?

  1. Under IDEA, the federal law that mandates special education, all school systems have PAC’s or Parent Advisory Councils.  These meetings can inform you about your rights and the services in your school system.
  2. In my area the Asperger Association of New England offers a wealth of educational and support services for parents and children.  Their website,, even offers a listserv useful to people outside the immediate area.
  3. Another organization that offers very useful information is the Federation for Children with Special Needs (  Within this organization parents can find useful information, support, and opportunities to volunteer and give back.  FCSN even has webinars on their page.

These are ways you can find and develop community that might help you diminish your shame, sadness, fear and anger.

Next, let’s think about how you see your child and where her strengths might offer community for her and you.  When you first get a diagnosis, you might only see her shortcomings.  But it is likely that there is much more to her than that.  Try to recover a more full understanding of who she is.    Does she have an encyclopedic knowledge of some topic?  I knew one boy who had nonverbal learning disability whose knowledge of geography took him to the state level competition in the National Geographic Geography Bee.  This gave him a little social capital in middle school.

Does she do well at individual sports rather than team sports?  Many children who cannot manage the social and physical complexity of team sports can excel at track or swimming where the main competition is against oneself.  I knew another boy who excelled on a swim team.  He enjoyed the camaraderie and the exercise helped manage his weight and his anxiety.

Can she play a musical instrument?  How about a sense or humor? What about art?  Theatre can be a helpful way for some kids with Asperger Syndrome to try out different ways of being. Finding these areas of competence and nurturing them will be good for your child and you.  It gives you both something to feel proud of when school is tough.  Activities that draw on your child’s strengths can also give her a social network in which she can feel strong.

I would be interested to hear how others have coped with having an “atypical” child.


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Five Difficult Feelings Parents Have About Their Child’s Learning Disability

September 7, 2012 by · 8 Comments 

Often children get diagnosed with learning disabilities after some amount of time of difficulty at home, in nursery school, or in public school.  Parents or teachers have recommended an evaluation. The report comes back with a description of how your child learns and participates in the classroom as well as in social and family situations. A good report points out strengths and weaknesses and gives useful recommendations about how to be helpful to your child in and out of school.

Sounds good, right?  With a good evaluation, report, helpful educators and therapists children begin to do better and even thrive.  I want to focus on what parents experience when they confront their child’s difficulties, such as ADHD, a specific learning disability like dyslexia, Asperger Syndrome, nonverbal learning disability, or something else entirely.

Instead of feeling relief that they are at the beginning of remediation, many parents feel some uncomfortable feelings.  In my work as a Parent Coach I find it important and rewarding to give parents a place to acknowledge and come to terms with these feelings.

Shame:  Let’s face it—parents often feel that their children’s accomplishments reflect on them.  It hurts to find out that your child has an invisible difficulty that is interfering with her education and likely her friendships as well.  Even if you requested testing because you suspected a difficulty, most parents still hope to find out that there’s no problem and just a simple adjustment in school or life will help.  Maybe just an after school tutor.  Now that you know that there is a problem that can be managed but not necessarily be fixed, you might feel ashamed, as though there is something wrong with you that your child has a learning disability.

Anger:  I think that people tend to be more aware of this one.  Many people feel angry at school personnel for not understanding their children and causing unnecessary pain.  And one can be angry at your child (even if it isn’t rational) for having a problem that makes daily life more complicated.

Sadness:  This is a big one, especially when parents first get the news that there is a problem.  It is sad to accept that your child has a problem that will not go away.  This difficulty will probably affect your child’s life in some degree forever.  It changes the future for you and your child, and you need to rewrite the family narrative.

Fear:  What will the future look like?  I have often had parents sit with me and ask, “Will she be able to go to college?” “ Will she ever leave home and have a job?”  Often when children are struggling enough that people get an evaluation, the child may look very impaired.  After all, there are probably no services in place.  As a result, parents worry that things will never change or get better.  They have no experience with this new world of parenting a child with a learning disability.  With the people I see, I tell them that they just need to keep working to get their child the services she needs and not to give up on a bright future.  It will be a different future, but it does not need to be bleak.

These are uncomfortable feelings that are a normal part of coming to terms with your child’s learning disability.  It is helpful to accept the feelings as you move along to advocate for your child.  In next week’s blog I will talk about ways parents can take care of themselves to manage these feelings and become effective advocates for their children.


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Photo Credit:  Keltron (So far behind,  I’m in front of me!)

Monkey See, Monkey Do—How We Teach Values With Our Behavior More Than With Words

August 28, 2012 by · 6 Comments 

Sunday did not turn out as planned.  My husband and I offered a ride to church to a sweet, confused friend, and she gratefully accepted.  Unfortunately, when we picked her up, she had locked herself out of her house, and her husband had left already.  After church her husband was still not home.  Long story short, I invited her back to our house where she had lunch and told me stories about growing up in Southern California.  Around five o’clock she and her husband caught up with each other, and I took her home.   Both husband and wife were very grateful for my help.  I was glad that I had been able to adjust my plans for the day to be helpful, but I was also quite aware of the items still undone on my “to do” list.

Why relate this story here?  Throughout my son’s grade school and middle school years we had elderly grandmothers living nearby in nursing homes.  Whether he came with me on a visit or not, I thought about the example we set when we took time to visit.  (And I hoped that if I’m ever in a nursing home and dependent on his visits, he’ll remember this lesson.)

Children learn from our behavior.  It’s a scary thought sometimes.  They learn values from the values we live by.  When you share baked goods with neighbors, feed their cats when they are away, or babysit their child in a pinch, you are demonstrating a kind of relationship with people that you value.

This morning in The Boston Globe I read a review of the book, The (Honest) Truth About Dishonesty by Dan Ariely.  The author says that we lie a lot and we fool ourselves about it.  He believes that we all want to think of ourselves as honest and good people.  But we also want to make money and get ahead, and this can lead to what he calls “cognitive flexibility.”  That’s jargon for telling yourself that the dishonesty doesn’t matter.  He also has done some research on this, and he concludes that people feel better and are more healthy when they consciously try to be honest.  It is worth considering what our behavior communicates to our children.  Ariely mentions such “lies” as lying about your child’s age to get her into a movie.  Another is bringing office supplies home from work (assuming you work for someone else).

I am not holding myself up as a paragon of virtue.  I am rather pleased about yesterday, but in general, I’m no better than most.  This is just a reminder to us all to consider what our behavior and how we spend our time communicates to children.

I would love to hear other people’s thoughts on this.  Let me know!


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Photo Credit:  D.o.M.e.N.i.C.o on Flickr

Treatment for Those Late Summer Blues

August 21, 2012 by · 10 Comments 

This week I have been hearing about sadness about the end of summer sneaking up on us.  I look at the calendar and see that school starts in three weeks, and I know that in many parts of the country it starts sooner than that!  Meanwhile, dusk is arriving sooner.  Last week I wrote about back to school jitters.  This week I want to address the fact that it is still summer!  As I said to one young client, what do you want to do with this part of your summer?  There’s a wonderful poem by Mary Oliver, The Summer Day, that ends with the lines, “Tell me, what is it you want to do with your one wild and precious life?”

That might be too grand a thought, but maybe not.  Summer, leisure, pleasant times with our families, these are all things that we need to plan for and grasp when we can, just as we need to grasp the summer days while they are here.

So, is there something that you have wanted to do with your children (or without them) that you can still fit in?  What means summer pleasure and leisure to you?  What would you be sad to miss come October?  Can you manage to fit it or something like it into your life?

Here are some of the thoughts that come to my mind:

Going to the beach (ocean or lake)

Bike riding in the country or through a park

Canoeing or kayaking

Going to a summer release movie

Working on a jigsaw puzzle, or playing a family game

Spending an entire afternoon reading


Going to an amusement park or water park

A trip to a zoo

A trip to a museum (Many public libraries lend out membership cards to decrease the entrance fee)

Going to an outdoor concert, movie, or play

Camping out


Lying in the grass and watching clouds go by

A picnic

Swimming, playing in surf

A visit to a fine ice cream place

Fried clams (in my part of the US)

Lobsta dinna 🙂

Some of these take a day; some take much less time.  The point is to find enjoyment—on your own and with your family.  Make sure that you find a few times when you can say, I really wanted to do this, and I am doing it!  Living a healthy life involves balance and finding pleasure in the midst of busy-ness.

Good luck with this.  I would be happy to hear from you what you plan to do.  For myself, I’m going to the shore for a few days.  🙂


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Photo credit:  Moose Mama on Flickr

Back to School Jitters

August 14, 2012 by · 6 Comments 

We are into the second full week of August, and I have received my first call about a child who is anxious about school starting.  The reminders are everywhere.  The advertisements are on television for back to school supplies and clothes.  Children with learning disabilities and others who are simply anxious  are beginning to have difficulty sleeping at night.  They might also be more irritable and rigid during the day.  How to cope?  This is no fun for parents either.

  1. The first step for parents is to recognize that this change is about worries; not bad behavior.  Set limits on behavior, but address the cause.
  2. If your child isn’t talking about it, bring it up yourself from time to time and wonder what her thoughts and feelings are.  Some kids are going to new schools, and they are worried that they will get lost, or won’t have friends in their class, or that there will be mean kids there.  Others may have heard that the work is much harder in the next grade, and they worry that they’ll have too much homework.  Just talking about these worries is helpful.
  3. Validate.  It is very tempting to tell your child, “Don’t worry.  Things will be fine.”  If your child knew how to stop worrying, she would.  It’s more helpful to say that you understand. Sit with your child and the worries first.  Just understanding helps decrease the anxiety.  Arguing increases it.
  4. Check out the school.  For some kids, especially those with Asperger Syndrome and Nonverbal Learning Disability, it is difficult to anticipate how things will look and feel in a new grade.  Start taking a walk, bike ride, or drive to the school every few days.  This helps your child get acquainted with the route, if it’s a new one, and just review if it isn’t.
  5. Visit the school.  As the start of school approaches, teachers will be in their classrooms setting up.  Go on in and introduce yourselves.  It will be very helpful for your child to see the classroom and meet the teacher.  Don’t stay long.  It’s a busy time for teachers, but most will understand why you are there.
  6. Remind your child of the anxiety management strategies he has already learned.  See my June 2012 blog, “What’s in Your Toolbox?” for suggestions.

Oh, and equally important enjoy the rest of your summer!  Keeping your child busy will also help manage the end of summer worries.


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