Help for Haiti

Help for Haiti
This organization has been in Haiti for many years. They are trustworthy.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Please Try Again

Sometimes companies use the marketing strategy of offering the possibility, in addition to enjoying their fine products, of actually winning additional prizes. The prize offerings are often in the form of financial winnings, but may include the lure of exotic vacations or new cars. I don't buy products just because they offer the potential for prizes, but if it's something I would buy anyway I certainly take the time to read the bottle top, box flap, or inside the bag to see if I've won anything. (So far, nothing, but I'm only middle-aged so I guess it could still happen!) Usually, my message reads something like, "Please try again" or "There are many chances to win" (insert here, but you probably won't) so...please try again. It doesn't surprise me when I don't win, since the odds are against it and it's not like I'm trying day after day to strive for a prize. One day, though, I was feeling a little discouraged and opened a wrapper without realizing it was one of those "might win a prize" wrappers. When I read, "SORRY YOU DIDN'T WIN!" it was like an unexpected dig. "Wait a minute!" I cried out in my mind. "I wasn't even trying to win that time!" In my discouragement the message translated into "SORRY YOU ARE A LOSER! AGAIN! AND PROBABLY ALWAYS WILL BE!" Gee, and I just wanted a little treat.

I started thinking about the messages we communicate, and how our struggling learners might be translating them. I might say, "That was a good try" and my child might mentally translate that into, "I did it wrong again". I can see how easily my own perfectionist tendencies might be perceived by my children as "Nothing is ever quite good enough." I can say, "Let's keep working on this" and "Work hard and do your best", but depending on the child's temperament and interpretation of my tone of voice it might be perceived as criticism rather than encouragement. For most of us, we can shrug off those "You are a loser" messages and get on with life. For those with learning disabilities who struggle, day after day, with tasks that are unavoidable and reoccurring, it is harder to ignore and resist that message. Day after day, they struggle to complete work. A math fact or phonics rule they "knew" yesterday eludes them today. They do not know why, they cannot explain it, yet they experience the frustration of having material seemingly evaporate before they can nail it down. So they start the learning process over, or repeat work that in their minds they believe they should already know. They notice that other people seem to have it much easier, and even when no one else says it they draw the conclusion "I am not a winner". Every day, it's like they are opening the wrapper or bottle to see if today they will be a winner. Over time, resignation sets in along with the belief that winning is for someone else.

There are no easy answers here. I have no quick fix to offer, or sure-fire rapid remedy to make your child feel like a winner. Every child is different, as are teachers, parents and families. What I can offer is more of a life strategy, a paradigm shift that views struggles as a part of life. I shared my own struggles with my children (at age-appropriate levels) and taught them that everyone has strengths and weaknesses. Some are more visible than others, but the fact is that we all need others who are strong where we are weak. Likewise, we all have something to offer. I believe that beyond a shadow of a doubt, and I shared that belief over and over with my children. I made it a point to focus on the whole child, not just the academic areas and disabilities and differences. Despite the diagnosis, I would not allow my children to use it as an excuse for not developing good character traits or not doing as much as they were able to. Are some things harder for you than others? Do you sometimes feel like you are a loser? Sure. Does that feeling make it true? Absolutely not. Speak the truth to your children, boldly and repeatedly. Say it out loud so they can hear your own mental battle resolve. It might sound something like this: "I sure have a hard time doing this, and other people make it look easy. Sometimes I feel like a loser. But you know what? I'm not! Even though I might feel like a loser, I know I have a lot to offer. Nobody is good at everything and I'm not, either. But that doesn't make me a loser." By talking it through, your children are learning from you. They will see how you acknowledge an emotion and tackle a thought that is not healthy or true. Over time, they will learn how to battle the "I am a loser" notion with the truth that they are individuals with great worth and value in many ways. Next time you get the message "SORRY YOU DIDN'T WIN!" think about translating that into a message that reflects gratitude and appreciation for all you have to offer. Be resilient and teach your children to be resilient. Don't fall for the "You are a loser" message. The next time you are faced with a challenge, "Please Try Again", because there truly are many chances to win.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Special Needs Expenses and Help

Having a child with special needs and learning struggles can put a strain on your budget. There are so many expenses with doctor's visits, therapy, tutoring, specialists, and medications that the overall cost is overwhelming. As a speech/language pathologist and homeschooler, I could address some of my children's needs on my own. I was a speech therapist before I became a mother, and felt blessed that I had an education background as I navigated the paths to finding help for my children's struggles. It helped that I could do the speech therapy myself, but I still needed resources to help with the other diagnosis and treatment for identified areas of need. I relied heavily on input from my occupational therapy friends (thank you, Amy!) and had weekly visits to a psychologist for over three years. Actually, my child had the visits but there were times when I could have used more help for my own struggles as his mother! I took my two AD/HD children to social groups, parent-child programs, group activities, and more. There was a significant financial expense as well as a personal cost since I almost always had to be in fairly close proximity to help them be successful and to train and advocate with others who worked with them. My husband has always been supportive, but does not have the special needs background that I do and I was the one doing the homeschooling. As such, my husband just saw all the bills come in for all the interventions and programs we tried. We've never had money just to throw around and I wanted to be responsible with our family resources and have something to show for my efforts. Yet I'll admit, even when I heard about treatments that sounded too good to be true, my heart still had a burst of hope wondering if it might actually be THE thing that changed our lives for the better. What kind of mom would I be if I didn't at least give some consideration to something that might make a huge difference in my children's lives and ease their struggles a bit? Some of the more outrageous proposals I was able to talk myself out of attempting, but there were others I explored more thoroughly. Some were rather expensive explorations with minimal or no returns, and I try not to think of what I could have done with that money had I not fallen for the marketing strategies and testimonials that sucked me in. Still, I have to say that as a parent desperate to find and do anything to help my children, I would have had more regrets had I not at least given some things a try.
Even if you have insurance, it may not cover all the therapy sessions your child needs or the other medical expenses you incur. Here's what I have learned over the years:
1. Most medical professionals will work with you on financing. If you are self-employed or uninsured, sometimes they will agree to charge a lower rate than what the insurance companies are charged. Talk to the billing department and tell them how much you can afford to pay each month. If you are at least making monthly payments, you are much less likely to have your bill turned over to a collection agency.
2. Some agencies (like those with United Way) have sliding fee scales based on ability to pay. You have to share what your income is and how many are in your family and so on, but you may be able to afford therapy that otherwise would not be available to your child.
3. Check with your local school district, even if you are homeschooling, if you feel comfortable in doing so. Some schools will provide therapy and other supports even to homeschooled students. It varies from district to district, and I always recommend checking with Home School Legal Defense Association ( prior to contacting your local school district. HSLDA members can speak with their region's special needs coordinator for additional suggestions, including homeschool-friendly specialists and consultants in their area.
4. If you personally know someone who is trained in an area that your child needs help, think about an exchange of services. What do you have to barter with? I saw a friend's child for speech therapy in exchange for her watching my children for a few hours now and then. It was worth it for both of us! More recently, I had two friends with sons in need of some speech therapy. I tried to persuade them to drive with my daughter (who has her permit and needs more hours of practice before getting her license) in exchange for speech therapy. They didn't go for the idea, but because they were friends I saw their sons anyway. Try not to take advantage of your friend with professional training, but instead think of something that won't bust your budget that you could offer in exchange for their professional expertise. They should be able to give you ideas and show you how to implement strategies at home.
5. I don't have personal experience with this organization, but I came across this website some time back and thought it might be helpful for a family feeling buried under medical bills with ongoing expenses and no end in sight. It's called "NeedyMeds" and has information on medicine and healthcare assistance programs. There is more information on the website and if you are a low income family or are uninsured or under-insured this organization may be of help.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Crossing Midline

If you've had a child in speech, occupational, or physical therapy you may have heard about the importance of "crossing midline". When my children were younger, I heard from therapists that it was very important for babies to spend time on their tummies. In addition to helping the brain make connections as the child views things from different perspectives, changes in positioning provides different proprioceptive and vestibular input. Being on the tummy encourages a child to push up with her arms, which strengthens the upper body muscles. This is important for a growing child so she can develop the muscle tone and strength needed to reach over her head or move the arms outward and across the body with a good range of motion. Without such development, the child will have difficulty sustaining a physical posture or repeating motions without rapidly fatiguing. Therapists also work on helping a child to "cross midline" in a number of ways. When a child can reach her right hand across to the left side of her body and vice versa, she is crossing her midline with her arms. In addition to these large movements, a child crosses midline when reading as her eyes move from one side of the page to another without moving her entire head as she reads. The tongue crosses midline as it moves food from side to side to position the food onto the molars for chewing. When any of these activities occur, information is transferred from one brain hemisphere across the corpus callosum to the other brain hemisphere. The corpus callosum is a fibrous band between the two hemispheres and allows for the exchange of information between the right and left hemispheres of the brain. This side-to-side sharing of information is important for fluency in processing and acting on information received. When information is not readily crossing from one side of the brain to the other, there is usually a learning glitch or struggle. In the picture above, you can see that this child tended to paint in the same area, primarily on the right side of the paper. This same child, when the paint utensil was placed in his left hand, painted primarily on the left side of the page. This was just one indication that he was not readily crossing midline and might need some help to develop in that area. One of my favorite resources for addressing this and other brain processing issues is the book Brain Gym. It provides descriptions and illustrations of simple exercises that promote crossing midline, increasing alertness, improving handwriting, readiness for reading, and more. The exercises can be done by both children and adults in just a few minutes prior to a specific task. I have used the "brain buttons" and other exercises from Brain Gym to increase my alertness when feeling the fatiguing effects of a long car trip. With my AD/HD children, I had them do some exercises between school assignments to ready their brains and bodies for focused attention to the task at hand. Such simple exercises are easily implemented and help the brain develop pathways across the midline of the brain, resulting in more efficient processing and learning.

Monday, April 05, 2010

Social Skills and Proximity Friends

My son, Josh, is an introvert. In many ways, this is a blessing. It means that he’s not necessarily lonely just because he is alone. He is comfortable being with himself, and by himself. He also likes people, and enjoys spending time with them. It’s just that socializing is not a pressing need for Josh, and it drains his energy after awhile. From a very early age, Josh struggled with social nuances. He didn’t feel the need to make eye contact, and his facial expressions often gave no clue as to what he was thinking or feeling. He had to work to learn to read body language, tone of voice, facial expressions, etc. It did not come naturally for him, and the effort he exerted often yielded small returns. Here is just a glimpse of what he experienced as he grew up.

Imagine trying to say the right thing, and using the correct words, but still being rejected because somehow you said it wrong and offended someone. Imagine going up to a group of children and asking if you can play with them, only to have them ignore you and run away to play with each other. Then watch as within moments another child approaches the group and is instantly included in their play. You don’t know what you did wrong. You tried to do as you had been taught. You realize that somehow others know things about interacting and making friends that you don’t know, and these secret rules are frustratingly out of reach. How should you proceed? An adult shows interest in you and says you are friends, so you invite her over to play and she gives you an odd look and goes to talk to your Mom. Other adults seem to do that a lot, and Mom just looks sad and kind of baffled. Doing what came naturally to you didn’t work. Using the social skills you rehearsed and practiced with your Mom didn’t work. Your Mom seems to be the only real friend you have, and while you’re appreciative it’s still hard not having friends your own age. Real friends, not like the forced ones in the group your parents have to pay for you to attend, with other kids who don’t really get the unwritten rules of social skills any better than you do. You want friends, so you try and try again. You’d like to think of yourself as optimistic and resilient, but others view you as a pest who can’t take a hint. What hint? They never actually came out and said anything, so how are you supposed to know what you are doing that bothers them? Or maybe it’s something you are not doing, that they think you should be doing. It’s all so confusing. People say you are too blunt, but you say things as you see them and are truthful. Others talk around the point, but never just come out with it. Maybe they don’t want to hurt your feelings, but it hurts more when things build up and you don’t even realize it until it’s too late and you’ve lost another potential friend and truly don’t understand what went wrong. Sure, you have proximity friends. Those people who say hi to you and ask how you are. By now you’ve learned they don’t really want to know how you are so you just tell them “fine”. That’s how people do it, right?

You join a small group of other guys at your church, thinking the smaller group might help you actually develop relationships. You care about these guys. But although they spend time with each other throughout the week, you are rarely invited to join them. You plan something at your house and invite them, but they all have excuses why they can’t make it. You’ve been told you are intelligent, kind, caring, and creative. But somehow a “weird” or “quirky” vibe seems to trump all that. Gradually you come to accept that the true friendships you develop will be rare, and you will treasure them at a deeper level than those for whom relationships come easily. You will enjoy your proximity friends during those brief interludes when your paths cross. You will continue to make attempts at speaking the social language of those around you. It will always be something of a mystery to you, why some reject you and others will be friends. You learn to appreciate the friends without having to understand the reasons why.

You have a lot to offer.

Some people allow you to show just how much.

Thursday, April 01, 2010

Homeschooling the Challenging Child

This is an interview with Christine Field, author of Homeschooling the Challenging Child. Christine has wisdom and experience that she shares freely to help those who are facing learning and behavioral challenges with their children. Though years may pass between our meetings, it is always wonderful to reconnect with Christine. We were able to grab a few minutes during a recent conference to do this video interview. You can see Christine's book here: Homeschooling the Challenging Child
I hope that you enjoy the interview, and I encourage you to visit Christine's web site for more resources at

-Melinda L. Boring