Thursday, September 29, 2016

Empty-Nest , Yeh!

Life is changing! Honestly, it has been for the last 10 years. In this time, I sent my daughters off to college. After that, study abroad programs, graduation and first real jobs. They have had weddings so we have son-in-laws joining our family. When they were busy with these next steps in life, I was advocating for my son in junior high and high school. It was a challenging road helping an older child with learning differences. A child in early intervention grows up. My role as mom changes. It is hard to gracefully assert influence and encourage a child continue in his growth and development.


My son was one of those students who didn't fit into special education. But school without supports was not the right fit, either. He was capable of doing any subject but he needed some accommodations. Very few high school physics or English Literature teachers have had a lot of students that receive accommodations. I know this because I learned little by little and step by step the things my son needed to succeed and advocated for them. This was quite the learning curve for this mama! I needed to figure out how his learning disabilities intersected with his gifted areas. It was a very demanding position to serve as his advocate while encouraging him to take on this role for himself.

Honestly, I felt like giving up so many times when it seemed hard and frustrating. I tried to figure what my son needed. That was no small task. Then I needed to convince and encourage school personnel to give him the accommodation he needed (or at least what I thought he needed).

Today, 3 years after high school graduation, my husband and I are empty nesters. It took a little longer than with my daughters. Join me, over the next few weeks. I will share the road to empty nest for a family with a child that has diagnosed learning differences.


Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Teaching Hygiene How-To's

How do I teach hygiene as a life skill? Well, there is not an easy answer to that question. I used to think if I taught my son all the steps to taking a shower, brushing his teeth or putting on deodorant, my job was done. I would say this was STEP 1. These routines took a lot of effort. Visual supports worked great. This can be with visuals, words or both. I made the mistake of thinking my son was verbal so he didn't need visuals. I was WRONG! When I finally tried a checklist for routines, that's when he learned hygiene routines and could do them on his own.

There was STEP 2: convincing my son that it was important to practice the hygiene routines he knew. I have had many "discussions" with students over hygiene especially hand washing after toileting. I don't understand why so many individuals "fight" hygiene routines. This rigidity seems to be a behavioral issue. It is but it won't be solved unless it is tackled at its root. It begins as rigid thinking and progresses to the behavior of refusing to practice some type of hygiene. My job is to convince a child that there are important reasons that will benefit him by practicing good hygiene. This was a big task at times. Sometimes this took months and years before this thinking problem was totally solved.

STEP 3 is the key to self sufficiency with hygiene. Simplify the routines and supplies needed so that hygiene is not complicated. Next week I will share how I helped my son simplify these routines as he went away to college. I have learned that simplicity in routines enable a student with learning differences to be more independent.

Join me next week as we look at specific ways to simplify your child's hygiene.




Monday, September 26, 2016

When Can I Quit Advocating?

If you are like me, the advocating process went something like this at the beginning of anything new.

  • I met with everyone I could think of to advocate for my son.
  • I wrote the plan for everyone involved. This includes my son, school personnel and anyone else who needed to be in the loop.
  • I reminded my son what he needed to do and emailed his teachers to check how things were going. I learned early on that no news is not necessarily good news. I never wanted bad news "dumped" on me at parent teacher conferences so I contacted the teacher(s) often.

  • I gently pushed my son to take responsibility to advocate for himself. In the beginning, I told him what I wanted him to ask the teacher. I held him responsible for getting the information. When he didn't follow through, I sent him back into the school to find out the information. It was gentle but a definite push.
  • I found an advocate for him on the school staff. This was incredibly important in junior and senior high school. It was an adult who would advocate with the teachers on his behalf. It was a person who had taken time to understand him. She was a teacher that he felt he could go to when he didn't know how to advocate for himself.
  • My son is now in college and he has some wonderful people in his life that understand, support and empower him to advocate for himself. I still interact and advocate with these individuals but it so much less than when he was younger.
  • I often get a phone call from my son when he is unsure of what to do. I help him problem solve and encourage him to seek information from the resources that are available at his school. I also help him by coaching him how to be his own advocate.

As I come home from a college family weekend, there is a lot to contemplate. Life is a lot different than a few years ago. I am in the midst of launching my son in the real world. I still am his advocate but I must relinquish this role to my son and others but it must be done with wisdom. There is no perfect way. The timing will different for each child. Be sensitive and consistent and you will get there!


Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Is Hygiene a Life Skill?

Is hygiene a life skill? I want to say and emphatic "YES!" It is basic but oh so important. Without good hygiene a lot of opportunities will evaporate. Hygiene doesn't need to be complicate but it must be present. It is important to avoid body odor, be clean and neat. So what does a parent need to teach.

  1. Wash hands after going to the bathroom. This is a battle that needs to be fought. If you think or did an inadequate job, check her hands and send her back in to do it again. For some reason, I have found that children with learning differences try to avoid hand washing after a trip to the bathroom. For some children, this takes years. It did at my house. This must become automatic. Good hygiene is a first step to making friends, getting and keeping a job and even legally working around food.
  2. Take a shower or bath before leaving the house. I heard arguments on this for years. Clean hair and a lack of body odor does a lot to make a good impression with others. This is another battle to fight. The first step is teaching a child all the steps to taking a shower. My son had a sheet with 17 steps to taking a shower without any adult help. It took a few months for him to memorize the whole process but I did happen. It is very time consuming but essential.
  3. Brushing teeth is another skill that takes a lot of work. There may be sensory sensitivities that must be tackled. The steps need to be taught. It is important that a child knows when his teeth need brushed and how to do it well. If she doesn't do an adequate job brushing, there will bad breath and he will look unkept with food in his teeth. He will have tooth decay that will complicate everyone's life. In the early days, a parent assists the child in this but it needs to become independent eventually. At some point, a child needs to learn to floss, use mouthwash and take care of other mouth related issues.
  4. Deodorant needs to become a daily habit even if it's not cold outside. This one can cause a lot of arguing especially in the winter.
  5. A child needs to learn when and how to clip fingernails and toenails. If he doesn't care for these well, it can cause a bad impression. My son learned if he didn't do this regularly, he would sag his socks with long toenails. There can be some good life lessons that a child learns as a parent chooses to make her independent by not reminding (nagging).
  6. As a child moves into adolescence, she must learn how to control acne. Acne can get out of control when it isn't dealt with aggressively.

Next week, we look at some practical how-to resources for children with learning differences in the area of good but simple hygiene.


Monday, September 19, 2016

Advocating 1st Quarter

For many families, the first quarter of school will wind up soon. Now is an excellent time to have an in-dept check in with teachers. If things are going great, no problem. At least, you will know there's nothing to worry about. If things are going poorly, it's better to know sooner than later. Many times schools encourage parents to wait until fall parent teacher conferences to "give the process time." The longer I have been around advocating, the more opposed I become of this approach.

Here are a few reasons.

  • Fall conferences are often as late as mid November. There is no way to "get the semester back" that late in the game.
  • Sometimes, a teacher unleashes her frustration with a child, when the parents come for conference. It is very emotional for everyone. Often, this causes hard feelings between parent and teacher for the duration of the term.
  • A great deal of time has be lost. Some teachers do not contact parents before conference unless there are extreme behaviors. This means, parents must take the innitiative. Next week's post will share some possible ways to initiate this communication.
  • A child who struggles with academics, attention or behavior can lose so much ground quickly. Often, once the habits and structure is lost, it is so hard to get back on track. It is much easier (though you may be viewed as a helicopter parent) to address these before things go awry.

I remember my mother telling me, "Learn as much as you can at school today. You can never get that day back." In a similar way, stay on top of the advocating process. The sooner things in the classroom are working for your child, the faster he will progress toward his goals.


Thursday, September 15, 2016

Lifesavers When Special Needs Parenting is Exhausting

I know as a mom of a child with learning differences, I am often tired. It's a different tired than I felt with young children or on a moving day. Those are physically tiring times. What about the mental and emotional exhaustion that parenting a child with a disability brings? It can be overwhelming! The advocating, therapy appointments, behavior struggles, anxiety(your child's and your own), and stress of dealing with disability day in day out over many years. Sometimes, I had no energy to do anything that was not absolutely necessary.

When I hit this point of exhaustion, I've found a few things that have made a difference. Here are a few.


I told my husband I need him to relieve me of the care for a short time. I rarely asked but when I did my husband knew that I really needed it. I remember my son's second grade year. By the first of May, I could not handle any more advocating and going to school for all the end of the year field trips and activities. There were so many changes to my son's schedule and he struggled with them. I felt like I needed to be done with the stress of school. My husband helped by rearranging his schedule and attending many special events that spring to allow me some rest.

Friends of ours helped my husband and I to get away together by taking care of our children. It is amazing what a few days without parenting responsibilities did to rejuvenate me and renew my energy.

Friends who "get it" were a lifesaver. Just sharing the struggle of everyday ups and downs with another mom who dealt with similar issues, made a huge difference. Feeling understood was so important. It provided a place which normalized my experience. A friend who lived a similar life provided a respite. Laughter and tears that lowered stress and bonded me to another mom. Friendship was so essential.

Exercise lowers stress. I walked with a friend as often as possible. We walked and talked, outside and at a local mall, depending on the weather. It was another way of reducing my stress and increasing emotional energy.

Prayer and reading the Bible filled me up in ways nothing else could. God met me so many times and renewed me with strength and energy.

Find an escape. For me, I love mysteries, especially old tv shows. I have found a few newer ones. It is something that I can get "lost in" for an hour. I have found this hour "vacation" really helps me.

Parenting a child with learning differences is hard, sometimes really hard. It depletes a person at times but there are ways to replenish. Let me know if you have found other ways to recharge. It can be done but it takes effort.



Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Life Skills:What's Necessary?

Our youngest child went away to college this fall. There is fear and trembling when a child goes away from home. Is she ready this? Did I prepare him well enough? But when a child with learning differences does this, a mom can have a panic attack at any time. This is my third trip releasing a child to college but my first with a child that has learning differences.

What does a child need in life skills? I think this has changed in the last few years but many are the same I needed 30+ years ago. Here are a few.

  • He needs to have good hygiene skills. This is extremely important for those with social difficulties. Without knowing how to manage this area, life away from those who love this kid no matter what he smells like, it will be hard to make friends.
  • Does he know how to express his wants and needs to those around him. The ability to communicate to professors, students people working at the university is crucial to success at school. These people need to understand exactly what this student is trying to communicate.
  • Does he know where to go to find help in various situations. Should be ask his resident assistant or go to the disability office to find the answer to his problem?
  • Can he handle the independence with responsibility? Does he get to class on time? Does he get his assignments completed and turned in by the due date?
  • Does he remember to take care of daily/weekly responsibilities like laundry, remembering to go to the dorm cafeteria before it closes?
  • Can he manage medications, illness and other medical difficulties that require him to seek medical, dental or optometry help?
This is just a few starters to consider and/or work toward before a child can manage a week at camp or a semester abroad without much extra support. Join me over the next few weeks at these areas a little more in depth. I would love to hear from othersabout skill areas they are working. I am sure I have left out some important things. Please share additional areas that I can add to this series.