Saturday, January 14, 2017

Advocating: It's. All About Relationship!

Developing relationship with school personnel is rarely easy. There are a few exceptions. In fact I was with an IEP team yesterday that was wonderful. Often, it takes lots of work. Various people have view points on how to do this. I will share some things that have worked for me.

- Communicate often. Relationships develop with lots of interaction. Remember to find things that the school is doing right. The old rule of 3 positive comments for one negative runs true when it comes to advocating.

-Request team meetings often. It enables all the team members to communicate and get to know each other. It's easy to move things forward with frequent meetings. It keeps members from getting frustrated with others.

-Be supportive to school personnel by volunteering, sending notes of encouragement or helping out on a big project.

-Bring solutions to the team. It may be others responsibility but things are more likely to move forward with your planning and problem solving.

-Keep emails to a minimum. Though email is quick, many times it isn't the best way to communicate especially when the situation is delicate or there are differences of opinion. Telephone and face to face communication usually is more effective in these situations.

-Recognize that effective advocating takes time especially if you have not been as involved in the process of solutions in the past. Advocating takes lots of patience and biting one's tongue. Otherwise, the child's progress might be sabotaged by a parent's actions and words. Remember, this about the child!

-A word of caution: there will be ups and downs in the process. Don't let those catch you off guard. Expect them.

Over the next few weeks I will take each of these suggestions and explore them in more depth. Please join me for the rest of the series.
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Monday, January 9, 2017

Making Personal Health a Priority

As a caregiver for a child with learning differences, you live under significant stress. Ongoing stress takes it's toll on a mom's body. It may not happen over night but it does happen. I am a living testament to that. Life was crazy in the days of pre and early diagnosis. I worked very hard to understand my son's challenges and various interventions. All that stress and work did bring progress! As a family, we settled into a "new normal." This routine was lots better than what we had experienced in the past but it took a lot of energy.

After a few years, I felt lethargic and could barely get the basics of life done. As I talked with my doctor, he explained what was probably happening. Testing confirmed his suspicions. I had developed hypo-thyroid. My doctor explained that when your body has a lot of stress it can wear down certain functions of the body. The problem was that hypo-thyroid wasn't my only medical issue. Within three months, I was diagnosed with Mono, shingles and an auto immune disorder. Stress affected my physical health!

What about stress and it's effect on mental and emotional health? Once again, a mental health professional explained to me how stress works. She told me that when a crisis occurs such as a death, grief, anxiety and stress, , serotonin levels fall. Over time, as life goes forward without additional upheaval, those levels normalize. She shared with me that an ongoing responsibilities of caregiving makes it difficult to emotionally "reset" because the stress never subsides.

How did I deal with these realities, it started by taking care of myself. Just like my son needed strategies to deal with life, so did I! I wasn't going to regain my physical health and deal with the emotional ups and downs of this kind of parenting without some changes.

Next week, I will share one of the discoveries I made during this time. I had to give myself permission to say no to being perfect. Perfectionism comes in all kinds of forms. Come join me as we look at the different faces of perfectionism in a mother of a child with a learning difference.

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Sunday, January 8, 2017

Proactive vs. Reactive Strategies

Normalizing family life is a tall order with a child with learning differences. I can remember thinking, that "this shouldn't be that hard." My son has high functioning autism. It is not a significant disability. No matter how hard I tried to convince myself otherwise, it was hard and it would continue to be.

There are many strategies but I found that proactive interventions were helpful as I anticipated potential problems. As structure and Predictability were added to the mix, anxiety decreased and life became manageable. Some proactive strategies included visual cues, motivation with reinforcement plans, sensory lifestyle, routines and language cuing. You might say, "I'm not sure that I understand what these strategies include." Don't worry, we'll take each one and explore tit over the next few weeks.

Just for as a point of reference, without proactive strategies, the alternative is reacting to anxiety and crisis in the moment. It create the following behaviors: meltdowns, strong emotions, sensory overload and general chaos.

Join me next week as we look at ways visual information can be a way to plan ahead to create more structure and Predictability and greater calm in your home.

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Advocating, What Now!

As a parent, you often know that school isn't working as well as you would like. What do you do? You may know some of the areas that need improvement. You may have no idea what the problems are or how to effectively articulate them. Here is a step to identify problems and break them down to find solutions.

Often, a parent doesn't know what's really happening at school. As the saying goes, a picture is worth a thousand words. If you have not seen what's going on daily at school, here is a starting point. As a provider, families often hire me, to observe their child at school. I write a report of what I see. This gives the parents a view of what is going well and what is nor. Sometimes, the greatest difficulty is convincing a school to allow an outside provider to observe. A parent can do the observation. There are challenges with a parent going into his child's classroom. The child may have lots of reactions to having a parent there. A parent may be able to "be a fly on the wall" at recess, lunch and other areas outside the classroom. If the school does not allow an outside provider, a parent can always observe. Educational law allows parents to observe their child.

As a starting place, a parent needs a "picture" of a normal day at school from an observer who is on his/her team. An observation by a school employee is not the same many times. The parent needs someone fully aligned with the needs of the child and family. Honestly, not everyone will agree with this perspective but I have found it as an important step in advocating for the child's needs.

It's hard to realize what a child needs until there's a "picture" of the school experience.

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Sunday, January 1, 2017

Help for Caregiver Stress

Being a paren of a child(ren) with learning differences is HARD! It can be really Hard during certain seasons of life. The demands are never ending. Even when things are going well, there is advocating, medical and therapy appointments and dealing with the extra needs of siblings. It is difficult to concentrate much time on keeping a marriage strong. These are just the extra responsibilities in addition to caring for a family and a home. Laundry is still there after therapy appointments.

Stress is a reality for any parent but with a child that has learning differences, it is inevitable. It won't go away on its own. It takes proactive steps to reduce Caregiver Stress. Stress Reduction Must be a Priority!

Here are a few things to remember.

•No one can be super mom or dad forever.
•Your child (and family) need you to be able to go the distance.
•Protect your physical and emotional health.
•Decide what tasks that others can do so you are free to do what only you can do.
•Find respite, tutoring, caregivers and in home help (paid or volunteer) to help with your child.
•Find people to help with other tasks around your home.

We'll discuss specific ways to reduce this stress next week!
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Normalizing Family Life

Today I start a new series that comes from a seminar I recently presented at a conference. The presentation was called Normalizing Family Life. Now we all want a little more normal but as we all know...

So how do we normalize family life just a little bit? Structure and Predictability is a good place to start. First, let's get a definition of both of these.

Structure- an arrangement and organization of interrelated elements in a system that gives meaning to an environment.

Predictability- consistent repetition of an action/behavior making it possible in advance to know what to expect.

We can get started talking about a plan once we define "normalize.
Bring to a consistent standard. Often meaning to return to the standard previously held.

Ok, as mom's and dads, goal is to return family life to some sort of s standard that was previously experienced before life became chaotic. This is done through developing a system in the home (and elsewhere) that becomes consistent and enables a child to know what to expect with each part of the day.

Why does Structure and Predictability matter? One of the biggest reasons is the reduction of stress. This is important for every member of the family. The child with learning differences often doesn't understand the "sweep of time." This causes anxiety for the child because he/she can't predict what will come next. Without dependable structures to aid in predicting the next thing on the schedule, there is often a constant panic creating a fight or flight reaction.
When this child is in this kind of emotional upheaval, so is the rest of the family. If the child with learning differences is calmer, so will the rest of the family.

Next week, we'll look at ways to create a more structured environment in your home.

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Saturday, December 31, 2016

It's Time to Advocate

With only a day or two left on winter break, it's time to begin thinking about next steps for your child at school. Here are a few questions to ask yourself as you get back into the daily routine of school.

Were things going well before winter break?

Does my child's teacher "get it" and more importantly, does the teacher understand my child?

Does school cause your child lots of anxiety? What could be done to help your child at school?

Does the teacher encourage my child by differentiating the curriculum and assisting in social skills?

What areas need to be addressed.....behavior, social, organization, attention or academics?

If the answer to any of these questions is not what would be best for your child, it's time to begin advocating. There is no better time than NOW! I would encourage you to schedule a beginning of the semester meeting if you sense "red flags." The sooner the conversation begins, the sooner problem solving can occur. I would suggest contacting your school this week about scheduling a meeting.

Over the next few Mondays, we will look at ways to advocate for some mid-course corrections for this school year. I'd love to hear your thoughts and concerns.

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