Sunday, February 19, 2017

Motivation: Key to a Child's Progress

Motivation is a key to helping any child to push through to the next big thing. This is not only true for children with learning differences, it's ESSENTIAL! But how do I motivate a child who does not want to try new things? Great question! One problem: there are as many answers as there are children. With that said, there are a few principles from the study of behavior that are helpful.

1. A child with a learning differences often needs an external motivator. It would be great if she learn to tie her shoes because she is self motivated and wants to do it herself. That would be nice but it doesn't often happen with this child.

2. First....Then. Is often a great strategy. IF you try to tie your shoes 10 times THEN you will be able to use your Leapster toy for five minutes. This encourages perseverance when a child wants to give up. Perseverance is vital if she is going to learn non-preferred tasks that are difficult for her.

3. Find a very strong motivator for the child to earn. This motivator may wane in its power to get this child to persevere and work hard. If this happens, a parent needs to find a new motivator. Some children need frequent tweaks to this. It is often called a reinforcer. It may take work finding the "right" reinforcer now. Just because it works now doesn't mean it will last for long. If it ceases to motivate, find a new reinforcer that's more powerful.

4. Isolate the reinforcer. If it is the most motivating thing for this child, he can only have access to it by doing the hard thing that is being asked. If he has access to the reinforcer any other way, it loses its power to motivate in this situation. If the reinforcer is 5 minutes playing his favorite video game, he should only be able to play this game by doing this skill. If he has 15 minutes on this game after school then it will not be as motivating.

I would love to hear from you about things that have worked in motivating your child. Please share comments and questions.

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Saturday, February 18, 2017

Spring Conference: What Now?

Spring conferences are here. For most schools they occur before spring break. Let's have a heart to heart talk here. If the tweaks or needed overhaul of your child's program has not happened yet this year, it's not going to happen. Ok, I'm not a optimist on this one. Experience in the advocating process has taught me that after spring break it's time to concentrate on NEXT YEAR.

By the time conferences happen and you have time to process the information, it's the middle of March. It's time to cut any losses for this year and use the time you have left before summer to advocate for the fall. If you have a yearly IEP or 504 meeting, this is a natural time to concentrate on next year. Even if you've had this meeting for the year, you can call the team together to address concerns or have another meeting. The "rules" for IEP teams and 504 meetings are different. I will do a post in the next few weeks on this.

Even if things have gone well this year, it is important to allow a forum so the teachers for next year can hear from the current ones. There are things that can be communicated in a gathering that just does not happen in the school hallways in the busyness of a school day. I will be writing a post on how to structure this exchange of information about your child. The great part of this kind of meeting is that you, the parent, may learn some valuable information.

During conferences, your classroom teacher may suggest that more supports are needed for your child. This could mean observations and evaluations by school personnel. I may also lead you to pursue some private testing by a therapist. Whatever you may choose to pursue, there is time to do this before the end of this school year. It is always helpful to have the results before the end of this year as the plan unfolds for next year. Again, an upcoming post will address this.

What if you feel your child is "flying under the radar" at school and you need to figure out how to advocate for her. I will also address this in this series.

Please join me over the next few weeks for the "many faces" of advocating before summer break.

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Saturday, February 4, 2017

Learning to Maintain Balance

I am an emotional person but life has taught me a few things about handling my emotional side. I am very excitable and can be on "cloud nine." I also can be hurt or disappointed easily. Those roller coaster emotions don't help an adult woman who is trying to manage a marriage, parenting and the day to day responsibilities of running a household. Now, let's throw in the reality of being a pastor's wife, teenagers and a child with autism.

I wasn't going to do well if I was "UP and DOWN" emotionally on a consistent basis. With some of these responsibilities, I was "down" a lot. This was no way to live life. I liked to be happy but the reality of being an adult woman meant there were demanding days that didn't make me happy by my definition of happiness. Something had to change, but what?

I learned (not easily) that I needed what we call "margins" at our home. I found that just because I could do something didn't mean I should. I had to ask myself. "If I take this volunteer position and my son has a meltdown at church, can I manage both on Sunday mornings?" To maintain balance and emotional control I had to focus on the most important things and make sure I had enough emotional reserve to stay even tempered and in control of my own emotions. This was a hard lesson because I love being involved in lots of things. I find a lot of those outside areas were the things I really wanted to do. They really gave me positive strokes but I couldn't manage life well with them during a certain season of my life.

Seasons of life come and go. I am able to do lots of things now my family responsibilities have changed with adult children. The changes I made in those days help me as I evaluate new opportunities that present themselves. It isn't easy to maintain balance. It is a discipline that is worth the effort!
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Routines and Visuals

If you are a routine oriented person, you feel a little out of sorts when there's been no consistency in your schedule for a few days. How many times have you heard a mom say, "I am so glad the holidays are over. It was great but it's time to get back into our routines." If a mom feels that way, think about how out of sorts a child feels but without a routine to manage the activities of her day. This is true for most children with learning differences. But why?

Children with learning differences often have difficulties with understanding how time works. Time is such an elusive concept. Does your child really know what it means when you say, "we're leaving in five minutes?" If she's like my son and those I work with, she probably has no idea! This is why routines are so important. It gives a child a way to know what to do next and next and last. It provides structure and Predictability.

I saw these visual directions at a preschool where I tutor a student. They display a routine visually with images and words above the sink where children wash hands. This helps a student who struggles with the process of washing hands to have a visual sequential routine to memorize.

A child needs to have routines for all of her daily activities. If you go into a preschool or early elementary classroom, there will be lots of visually displayed routines. These diminish in upper grades but a child with learning differences may still need visually displayed routines for new or activities not completed often.

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Advocating: Sensory Needs

How do you advocate for your child's sensory needs. Well, where I live this is a huge issue. The public schools and their evaluation teams don't recognize sensory integration issues. The problem has been that sensory integration, though readily accepted in most other developmental disciplines, is still suspect in the educational community. It takes many years to have results back in research in an area and sensory integration is young enough that here hasn't been a lot of studies completed. Studies are often 10 or 20 years in length and the results are just emerging now. Educational institutions want any accommodations or teaching strategies to be research based so that is where disconnect has been between education and therapy disciplines.

As I have had some intense conversations with educators on this issue, I have learned to "advocate" for sensory in a way where I don't ever mention the word sensory. After arguing with a school based autism strategist over adding two 3 minute sensory breaks of "heavy work" to an IEP, In desperation, I tried another approach.

I asked if this child could pick a friend daily to carry a tub of the lunch boxes left in the cafeteria. This would be about 3 minutes of sensory heavy work daily but I changed my advocating strategy. This became a part of his daily social interventions. This was viewed by the school as a social break and a chance for this child to have a meaningful social connection with a non special education peer.

This encounter happen several years ago. What I learned is that sometimes advocating takes a "backdoor approach." If you aren't being successful at gaining a sensory or any other accommodation/goal, could the activity address another area. Honestly, it is important to find ways to meet more than one objective at a time. This requires a little "out of the box thinking" but it will help your child to achieve more if you can advocate wisely.

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Thursday, February 2, 2017

As a mom and in an my work providing behavioral services, I have seen a few hundred temper tantrums and meltdowns. I used to think they were the same thing. Not any more. After my third child was born and eventually diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder, I saw crying, whining, yelling and stomping for the smallest irritations. This had been going on for years. These were meltdowns. Other children had developed emotional regulation in the preschool years but my son was in second grade by the time he was diagnosed. His lack of emotional control led us to seek out professional help to understand what was going on with our son.

Emotional control: self regulation skills between inhibition and initiation
Behavior inhibition “can’t stop when asked, cognitive inhibition includes daydreams and being off topic,
Behavior initiation is getting started with something different

There are three areas that affect a person’s abilities to have emotional control. It is a crucial building block to all executive functioning skills including attention, working memory, organization, planning and problem solving. Key skills essential to the development of emotional control are illustrated on this triangle.

Social perspective taking
Self monitoring and affect
Impulse control, adaptability, cognitive flexibility inhibition/initiation

Over many years, I have looked for interventions that would help my son and others develop emotional control. One resource that is a “go to” I have found to help children learn skills is the Amazing Five Point Scale.

This scale looks like a thermometer and helps child, especially visual learners, develop a plan and visual cue for self monitoring emotional control. It does not specifically target perspective taking but it incorporates understanding what behavior should be in various situations. Once a child understands what are the socially expected behaviors, it will be easier to teach social perspective taking. This can be done with talking and thought bubbles. “When I do this, is that what I should be doing? “ If the child isn’t doing what is appropriate or socially expected, what impression is he making to others? How is this affecting others? Could this be pushing potential friends away?

I know there is a movement to allow children with diagnosed disabilities to be accepted for exactly who they are. I wanted that for my son, as well. I knew he would not grow out of autism and he needed people to accept him and his uniqueness. At the same, I knew he needed to develop just like any other child to reach his full potential. Emotional control was one the areas he needed in order to grow and develop in so many other areas.

This is the book that explains the various uses of the scale. One of the authors, Kari Dunn Buron and and creator of the Amazing 5 Point Scale has a website that explains the what’s and why’s of the scale.

I use a free resource created by Kathryn Whitaker based on the scale when I teach it to children. I love this resource because it gives forms to use, instructions, samples and portable visual Supports. Download this resource, print and start using it.

As I teach the 5 Point Scale, I define each part of the scale using the number and color. I find that yellow/3 is the most important aspect that a child must understand. I explain it as when “you look great on the outside/your behavior but on the inside you are not feeling ok. You barely can hold your behavior/emotions together. Once a child can identify what a yellow/3 feels like and what to do to move down the scale, I find most children make progress developing emotional control.

I would love hearing others experiences with the Amazing 5 Point Scale and teaching a child emotional control.

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Location:Emotional Regulation Tool

Saturday, January 28, 2017

As a caregiver of some one with disabilities, no matter how large or small, it can bring out a multitude of emotions. A person can go from one emotion a complete opposite emotion by getting one phone call or email from a child's teacher. Anyone been there? I certainly have! It happened this week.

My son is in an autism support program at his University and a few portions of the program were not working for him. He had become very rigid about some things he had to do. He called me and was irate. Well that kind of phone call wakes up some dormant emotions. After trying to help calm him down, I was thrown into my mom fight or flight mode. I calmed myself down and started to problem solve. Here is how it went.....

I went home and started to compose an email to the director of the program. I wanted to share my son's perspective but acknowledging his rigidity and asking some questions. My husband encouraged me to seek to understand, very good advice. I edited my email several times before sending it. The tone and words needed to be controlled toward the situation while advocating for the things my son couldn't get across in a way that helped the leadership understand from his perspective.

I got a return email from the director the next morning and heard the leadership's perspective. We also had a phone conversation and came up with a short term solution and if it works well, a potential long term solution.

During these hours, from my son's phone call to the phone call with his program's director, I had a roller coaster of emotions. Can anyone relate? I thought the event was over but those emotions linger and tend to reappear hours a days afterward. I don't have any understanding of why this happens. I just know that it does! I can only guess that it takes some time for my emotions to settle back into "normal mode" after they have thrown into havoc like a white river rapids or roller coast ride.

I have had these roller coaster emotions many times in my years as the mom of a child with a diagnosed disability. I should expect the slow "back to normal" with my emotions but I seem to forget every time and it catches me by surprise. While it's still fresh in my mind, I thought I'd share my recent experience as a help to others.

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Location:Handling Roller Coaster Emotions