Help for Haiti

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

Sunday, October 16, 2011

The Hyperactive Slug

Here is a phenomenon that I think I understand until it happens in front of my eyes again and I find myself baffled anew despite what I know. Two of my children have ADHD and the hyperactivity component is strong. My son, Josh, is a fidgeter and a tapper. When he was younger the phrase "ants in his pants" seemed pretty accurate. By the way, if your child is a literal thinker like Josh was, do NOT tell him he has ants in his pants unless you want said pants removed in a panic while the child hops around screaming "Get the ants off! Get the ants off!" Same thing for telling a child that he needs to get his head on straight. I'll never forget the look of confusion and dismay on Josh's face as he slowly reached up to his head to see just how crookedly it was placed on his little shoulders.

My ADHD daughter likes to run across the room and then slide as far as her momentum carries her on my hardwood floors. This is a fun pastime for her and one of the ways she expends excess energy. This behavior has been going on for years, and since she is now legally an adult I'm thinking she may not outgrow this hyperactivity. I can picture her in advanced years, gray hair pulled back in a pony tail, attaching waxed wheels onto her walker and scooting across the nursing home floor. Over and over.

So, okay, as someone who struggles with fatigue problems I admit to being envious of the energy that hyperactive people seem to have in spades. But here is the baffling part - my hyperactive children can go from full-speed to sloth-speed just like that. During our homeschool day, Josh would wiggle and squirm until we took a break. Then he'd run around like a cyclone until I called him back to the table for our next school subject. After reluctantly returning to his chair, Josh would go from full-on energy to extreme lethargy in a matter of seconds. He would slouch and prop his head on his hand as if it took too much effort to hold his head up without support. Often, this child who needed way less sleep than I did would begin to yawn. He appeared to be anything but hyperactive. What's going on?

I've also observed that despite obvious hyperactivity much of the time, when I actually need Josh to move quickly he seems incapable of doing so. In fact, the more Josh is urged to hurry up, the pokier he becomes. Despite encouragement (and some yelling and begging) with increasingly desperate exhortations that we need to leave right away or we will be late, Josh doggedly has one speed, and that speed is slow. Slow, methodical, and plodding are not my idea of hyperactive. The more pressured and hurried Josh feels, the slower he seems to move. Even telling him to "Run!" doesn't work. He might trot a few steps at most and then return to his set pace. It's aggravating, but Josh isn't being deliberately obstinate or difficult. Again, what's going on?

Josh, like many children with learning challenges, had difficulty regulating his state of alertness. He tended to manifest extremes - high energy or slug-level energy, with not much in between. Josh couldn't explain what was happening, because it was all he ever knew so it was his "normal". I tried dietary interventions, thinking he was experiencing some kind of physical crash. Except it was only happening when Josh was asked to engage in tasks that demanded sustained attention and a relatively still body. My dietary interventions had no effect with Josh. I tried having him sit on a hard wooden (uncomfortable) chair so he couldn't get overly relaxed. This, too, had no effect. I offered ice water for him to sip, an inflatable cushion disk or therapy ball to sit on, fidget toys, and other sensory strategies, and over time we were able to find some things that helped some of the time. I'm still looking for anything that actually helps all of the time. It is my dream and quest.

For parents and teachers, it may be helpful to take a look at the "Take Five" Alert Program. It will help with identifying states of alertness and ways to promote regulation of the attention state. In addition it is a useful tool in helping your students understand themselves and how they can make adjustments to meet the needs for both calming and increasing alertness.

God bless our amazing children, who force us to become better teachers than we ever wanted to have to be! But we are better teachers now, because these struggling learners have stretched us far beyond what we thought we knew. We are so much richer because of them.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

10 ways to recycle your old tablecloth

I love the look of wood floors. I also have a dust allergy and since rugs and carpets tend to retain dust the wood laminates and flooring seem to help. I use a central vacuum system so the dust is not recycled back into the air, leaving me a sneezy mess for hours after I've finished cleaning the floors. After vacuuming, I whip out my Swiffer to finish up the cleaning. It looks great until it rains. Let me explain.

My 95 pound goldendoodle doggy, Slapshot, is active and playful and his big paws get very dirty. I keep old towels and rags by the back door to wipe his paws when he comes in from my backyard. Neither of us is very proficient at getting the dog to stand on 3 legs while the fourth gets wiped off. At the first opportunity, the dog trots off and inevitably I've missed some of the mud on his paws and it gets distributed on the floors.

Then we added another goldendoodle doggy, Daisy Mae, to the family and the dust and mud seemed to increase exponentially. With two dogs, they tend to wrestle and chase each other around the back yard. My back yard is fenced in, but it's not nearly large enough for these dogs to run freely. They have a kind of running circuit they've developed, which has resulted in paths that have worn the grass away leaving only dirt.

Every time it rains, the dog-worn dirt paths turn into mud. This was messy enough when I had just one dog, but with the two of them they have expanded their dirt paths into mud pits. They romp around and cover themselves and each other with mud as they play. When they come back into the house, they smell like swamp things. Since the paw wiping attempts can't eliminate all the dirt the floors tend to get filthy and the dust increases.

In my dream house I now include a shower stall in my laundry room so I can spray the dogs and wash them off every single time they come in. Maybe, since it's my dream house, I can rig something up kind of car wash style so the dogs have to pass through that and the bathing occurs automatically when they reenter the house. I definitely want to include those swishing cloths at the end and the blow drying, so by the time the dogs emerge they are both clean and dry.

Since my dream house doesn't exist, and I like to recycle and save money, I was pretty happy with myself when I thought of putting an old vinyl tablecloth just inside the back door. Those flannel-backed tablecloths are easy to clean but not especially long lasting. A few mishaps with the scissors while working on a homeschool project can leave holes pretty easily. A cat jumping onto the table can leave claw perforations and sooner or later the table cloth needs replaced. It seemed such a waste to just throw it out. When we had a rainy spell, the inspiration to use it as a floor mat hit me like a mud pie in flight.

It didn't eliminate the mud that the dogs tracked in, but it contained some of it and I could just toss the tablecloth into the washer as needed. It worked better than my previous attempt to contain the mud by layering newspapers across the laundry room floor. The dogs tore the paper up, and then the cat peed on them. Enough said about that.

Then my inspiration kicked up a notch and I realized that the tablecloth would actually absorb some of the wet mess if I put it on the floor upside down so the flannel back was facing up. Please don't ask why I didn't think of this until several days into my tablecloth floor mat idea, because I don't have a good answer. It seems so logical in retrospect.

Now when I let my muddy dogs in from the mud pit known as my back yard, I keep them standing on the flannel for a few minutes. It seems to help wick away some of the moisture on their paws so there's not as much to try and wipe away. It doesn't get rid of all the mess, but it does lessen it considerably. That got me thinking about other uses for my tablecloth, and you can add your own ideas to mine. Here's what I came up with:

If you have an old flannel back table cloth, you could cut it into large pieces and use them for:
  1. changing pads
  2. art smocks
  3. under messy painting and art projects
  4. muddy boots and shoes parking mat
  5. car floor mats
  6. camping mats to keep your seat dry
  7. drying pad for hand-washed items
  8. under pet food and water dishes
  9. seat protectors in your car when kids and pets are wet or muddy
  10. under bowls when cooking with children (anti-slip and drip catching)
By the time my old flannel-backed tablecloth is worn out, I'll have another one with holes and rips ready to replace it.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

I Need Eleven!

Have you ever been baffled or surprised by something your child says? You may be certain that you heard the words correctly, but they don't make sense. Having children with learning struggles, I often found that I needed to clarify both what I said to my children and what they were communicating to me. With a combination of ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder) and auditory processing difficulties, communication was often a challenge. First, I had to obtain and keep my child's attention long enough to convey a message. Then I had to determine if the message had been accurately received. If distractibility and impulsivity didn't interfere, we could have a good conversation.

Children with learning disabilities often have unusual ways of expressing themselves. My son Josh had some word finding difficulties, so he would refer to the ankle as "that wrist part of your leg". Likewise, the elbow might be "the knee of your arm." Once when Josh wasn't feeling well I asked him to describe his symptoms. He often used vague and nebulous words to tell me what he felt. I felt like a detective who needed to ask just the right questions to get my suspect to tell me what I needed to know.

One time, though, Josh told me his throat was sore and described what he was feeling in this way, "I feel as if my uvula has been acided off". (I like the "uvula" part - true son of a speech therapist!) This description, although no doubt atypical for most children, painted a clear picture of the location and degree of Josh's discomfort and indeed it turned out that Josh had strep throat. "Acided" may not be a real word, but it sure got the point across. Josh usually sailed through illnesses with little response to pain, so when he complained I knew it was serious.

When children are infants, we fret because they are not able to tell us what is wrong or where they hurt. We think how nice it will be when they are able to talk and tell us more exactly what they feel. If a child is a late talker, nonverbal, or has difficulty with expressive language we have to continue interpreting possible meanings to whatever communication attempts our child is able to produce.

My daughter Beckie was a big talker, and it was easy to tell that when she wanted "lunch fries" she meant "french fries" and that her "Valentime" was a "Valentine". Since she had auditory processing issues, she said things the way she heard them and I continued in my role as communication detective to determine what Beckie was trying to convey. This was somewhat complicated by the fact that Beckie chattered a lot and was not always looking for a response but rather was processing her experiences by speaking out loud.

When she was a preschooler I noticed a frequently occurring phrase, "I need eleven!" Eleven what? I tried to figure out if she was trying to practice her counting skills, trying to collect something, or was just repeating something she had heard. But where had she heard it? Beckie was always a cuddle bunny, and was frequently snuggled up in my lap while we read books or talked. I tried to become aware of the context when she "needed eleven", but couldn't narrow it down. She said it contentedly when she was climbing onto my lap or getting a hug. She said it when she was physically hurt and when her feelings were hurt. When I asked her if she wanted to count to eleven together, she happily replied in the negative and wrapped her arms around me for a tight squeeze.

One day Beckie had been visiting one of her best friends for a play date, and I went to pick her up. She and her friend were sad to have to part ways, and the other child's mother offered comfort by asking her son if he needed a lovin. I realized that "Do you need a lovin?" was a common phrase in that household, and in Beckie's young mind had been translated into "Do you need eleven?" It had nothing to do with numbers, but had a strong connotation to comfort and the expression of affection. Since I had responded in ways she needed despite my lack of understanding about what she was saying, Beckie was inadvertently effective in her communication with me.

This is just one more reminder that love can make up for so many things. We all make mistakes with our children. We realize after the fact that we erred in our approach to teaching some students. We feel the pressures to convey the right amount of information at the right times while helping our struggling students develop skills to help them be successful. Our curriculum isn't always a match for what we need. Our children may not be progressing at the rate we desire. We lose it. We yell, we apologize, and then catch ourselves being impatient again. We feel inadequate to meet all the needs we face on a daily basis. The stakes are so high.

You've heard it before but it bears repeating. What our children will remember the most is the relationship we have with them, not the specific things we deliberately taught or the strategies we used to help them learn. I blew it with my kids sometimes, and I knew it. I truly believe that my relationship with them is more important than any school subject and thus needed remediation before we could proceed with our official homeschooling. I find it very humbling, yet restorative, to apologize to my children when I have wronged them. They have always been very forgiving and amazingly resilient, a picture of God's grace to me.

Showing grace and respect runs both ways in a relationship. It builds character and will outlast the school years as a child grows into an adult. Have you been focusing so much on getting the school work done that you've lost sight of the importance of relationship? Don't let standards and benchmarks keep you from seeing the individual child who is right in front of you. Teaching a child is a great aspiration, and teaching in the context of a relationship is powerful. Children may not remember everything you've taught them, but they will remember you. Do you have the kind of relationship you want to become part of their lifelong memories? Let's give our children lots of "elevens" and protect our relationships as they grow.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Calling All Homeschoolers! Buy Yourselves Some Flowers! (Encore post)

It's time for an exhortation, my friends! This is a call for all homeschoolers. If you are starting a new school year, on your first day back to school go buy yourself some flowers. I started this tradition for myself years ago, and since then I have been urging my fellow homeschoolers to join me in starting out right each new school year by buying some lovely fresh flowers to commemorate the onset of another year of homeschooling. Please join me in this tradition even if it is your first year of homeschooling or you are an “empty desker” with grown-up homeschooled children. All are welcome!

I began this tradition to help myself get excited and enthused for another school year. Having a son and daughter who struggled with numerous learning challenges, school was never an easy time for us. I have friends whose children basically taught themselves to read. That sure never happened in our home school. As the "Back to School" specials and commercials increased in frequency during August and school supply sales had started as early as July, I found I had to take deep breaths and tell myself, "It's going to be all right, Melinda. You've made it this far. You know this is the right thing to do, and you can do it. One day at a time. One lesson at a time."

While other moms in my neighborhood were counting down the days until school started again and were making plans to meet for coffee the first morning school was back in session, I knew that my work would just be picking up again at that point and I would not be included in the neighborhood back to school social gatherings. In my community, very few people choose to homeschool. In fact, in all the years I have been homeschooling there have only been a handful of other homeschooling families in our area. I made up for this by talking to myself while drinking my coffee as we started our homeschool day. You can call it a parent-teacher conference if it makes you feel better!

I actually homeschool year round, but we have a much lighter schedule during the summer months. The onset of a new school year meant getting back up to a full schedule, and I admit if I thought about it too much it was more overwhelming than exciting to think what the next year would bring. It didn’t seem right to begin the homeschool year feeling a bit sorry for myself, so I made myself coffee and decided to celebrate the new school year with my own homeschool style kickoff.

I started buying myself flowers on our first official day of school for the year. I would select a nice bouquet and a card for my children to sign for me. At this point I have to confess that one year I was especially dreading the onset of school because the previous year had been so rough. If you have a struggling learner or family challenges and you homeschool long enough, you come to realize that not only will you have “on” days and “off” days, you sometimes have “off” years. During one particularly hard year, my son hit a growth spurt and grew two inches in about six months. Unfortunately, it seemed like that was all he did, because the physical changes affected him so greatly that as far as we could tell all we had to show for our time was his big feet and dangly arms but not much had happened in the academic realm.

The coming year held no guarantees that things would be any less challenging, so when I picked out my flowers I selected a "With Deepest Sympathy" card for my children to sign. With their impulsivity issues, it wasn't until after they had scrawled their names on the card that they noticed the "With Deepest Sympathy" part at the top of the card. Then I heard cries of "Mo-om!" and we all had a good laugh together. I think it's o.k. for our kids to know that sometimes homeschooling is hard for us, too. It’s absolutely worth it, but we do make sacrifices and face challenges at times.

One year my daughter who graduated from our homeschool in 2006 bought me the flowers and picked out a card. Perhaps this will lead to an even better tradition where the children mature and decide to buy you flowers! In the meantime, please join me in buying yourself fresh flowers and having your children sign the card for you. Be sure to share this idea with your homeschooling friends as we embark on another school year. I’d love to hear about your “Back to School” flowers.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Dear Slapshot

Slapshot has been a certified therapy dog since February 2011. He loves sharing his doggy love with people of all ages, and enjoys his fan mail and the pictures children draw for him. Recently an organization invited Slapshot to have his own column in their newsletter. Slapshot is happy to answer any questions he can (I type for him since he has a little difficulty with the act of writing!) and here is the first installment for the column, "Dear Slapshot" as dictated to Slapshot's handler, Melinda.

Dear Slapshot,

What is a therapy dog? Can any dog become a certified therapy dog?


Curious in Columbus

Dear Curious,

A therapy dog has to love people of all ages and want to visit with them. I kept showing my owners that I was a dog meant to be shared by greeting everyone we met on walks. When I showed them how much people liked visiting with me, they took me to an evaluator for Therapy Dogs International and I passed my test. Any breed of dog can be evaluated to see if therapy dog work is for them. A dog has to be at least one year old, but training can start earlier than that and I was 2 years old when I became a certified therapy dog. I am almost three years old now and I love my work. Therapy dogs have to have a great temperament and tolerate other animals. I actually like most animals, too! Not to brag, but I think I’m a natural at this therapy dog stuff. I’d like to meet you, too, and your family and your friends, and your neighbors, and your pets – well, you get the idea!



Dear Slapshot,

What kind of dog are you?

Wondering in Westerville

Dear Wondering,

Well, I am a very good dog, for one thing. And people tell me I am handsome. But I guess you are wondering what breed I am. I am a goldendoodle. My Dad was a 55 lb. standard white poodle and my Mom was a 75 lb. golden retriever. Guess how much I weigh? 95 pounds! I was no runt of my litter! Goldendoodles are considered “designer dogs” because they are intelligent, have good temperaments, and don’t shed as much as most dogs. Honestly, I still shed some but my goldendoodle sister doesn’t shed much at all. She also only weighs 53 pounds and we look very different even though she also had a white standard poodle Dad and a golden retriever Mom, but not the same parents as me. I’m pretty big for my breed, so some people are a little intimidated until they get to know me. One patient I visited told me I was as big as a calf, whatever that is. I guess she likes me, though, because she still pets me and even told me she loved me. I love her, too.



Wednesday, July 27, 2011

iPad Grant for kids with autism

When it comes to technology, I have way more ambition than skill. Getting an iPhone a couple years ago helped me see how even a novice user could find and use great apps. Diving further into the utility of technology for my personal enjoyment as well as my speech therapy practice, I was drawn to the iPad2.

Last spring my wonderful husband bought me an iPad2 (I may have given him a few helpful hints) and I dove into technology and apps with the aforementioned ambition. In addition to educational apps and therapy tools, I am impressed with the potential of the iPad2 to be used as a communication device.

One big drawback with most communication devices is that they are bulky and heavy, therefore the children may not drag their devices with them wherever they go. I've also seen devices that are used primarily by adults who know the child well and can "read" them enough to select the page or icon needed. Basically when this happens, the child is communicating to an adult who then communicates with the augmentative communication device.

The iPad2, I think, will be (and already is for some of us) the Augmentative Communication device of the future. Thin and lightweight, it's already ideal for portability. There are more communication apps becoming available daily, and they can be customized for individual needs. iPads are significantly less expensive than traditional devices and some insurance companies are catching on and starting to cover some of the costs.

Then there's the cool factor (spoken like a true nerd still longing for coolness) that the iPad offers. LOTS of people have iPads or would like to, and children using them have devices that don't look like "tools" but are appealing and versatile, and, well, just plain cool. On the spot, pictures can be taken and added to a communication app. Aides will not need extensive training for iPad use, because it is so user-friendly even a novice with technology (ahem, like myself) can easily learn to implement apps.

I came across a site,, and saw that the iTaalk Autism Foundation is giving away an iPad a day until December 31, 2011 for children diagnosed with autism. There is an application online at their website, along with more information about Check out the resources and training for parents and professionals after you read about the grant at the link below.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Homeschool Flashback #5 Executive Functions

Ahhh, executive functions. We love them, and when they are lacking we long for them. Children with AD/HD struggle to develop vital executive functions such as organization and planning. Students with learning disabilities and struggling learners (officially identified or not) often have some degree of executive dysfunction.

Any experienced teacher can look at a student's notebook and tell if that student is able to organize and access the information and materials they will need. Intelligence plays a part in academic success, sure, but the organized student typically comes out on top. Executive functions help students to show what they know. If they have completed an assignment but can't locate it the teacher has no way to assess their performance. A very bright student who forgets about an assignment or fails to complete the work even though he has the capacity to do so will be out-performed by an average student with the executive functioning skills to complete tasks accurately and on time.

Children with learning challenges work harder and longer to get results and deficits in executive functioning impact all areas of life, not just the academic realm. Consider, for example, the child who forgets he made plans with one friend and is off with another when the first friend comes calling. Or the child who struggles with time management and is chronically disorganized causing her to be late for practice again because she can't find her mouthguard.

Some children just naturally seem to develop executive functions as they mature. Others need much more direct instruction than our modeling alone provides. In the picture above, you can see the rudiments of Josh's attempt to develop some executive function skills. He has written out the date and the tasks he needs to accomplish each day. He put a check mark next to completed work. Josh's system is far from sophisticated, but it reflects his burgeoning attempts to incorporate some organization into his day.

Is Josh's method acceptable? It wouldn't be what I would choose, but Josh is a unique individual. I had shown Josh various organizers and examples that I would use but he had to find something that worked for him. The picture shows what he came up with, and although there are many things I would do differently the idea was for Josh to find a system that worked for him.

It's too bad executive function skills can't just be absorbed by spending time with people who excel with them. The good news is that executive skills can be taught. It may take awhile, but they are so important that it's worth the investment of time to help your children develop in these areas. Experts say that executive function skills continue to develop into the twenties, but don't wait to start working on them until your child is already floundering. Help your young child to develop strategies to keep track of his possessions. Assist your older children in using calendars and organizational aids. Help your child write a list of what needs to get done for the day. When executive skills don't come naturally, even the most primitive progress is just that - progress.

Thursday, July 07, 2011

Homeschool Flashback #4 Discipline

Discipline is not fun! The example above shows just what my daughter thought about having to practice her spelling words and then use them in a sentence. She became especially frustrated if she missed the same word several days in a row and had to go through the practice exercises. I thought of this discipline as a training technique to improve and develop her spelling skills and character. My daughter viewed it as punishment for being young enough that she was forced to learn to spell words and live up to adult expectations for her education.

How many of you teachers and parents would give in to your child at this point and not push them further? No one? That's what I thought. We push our kids to greater levels of achievement, not out of some malicious sense of payback for what we endured as children but because we know that giving up is rarely helpful. Learning to stick with a task, even one that is hated or just not fun, is something that everyone must come to terms with sooner or later. As adults we understand that hitting the wall a few times until we accomplish something makes the success all the sweeter. Likewise, giving up leaves a lingering sense of failure that is hard to eradicate.

In the example portrayed above, you probably noticed an unenthusiatic attitude about doing schoolwork. I did talk to my daughter both about the need to persevere and the need for self discipline. These two things generalize far beyond the academic realm and into many aspects of everyday life.

As I talked with my daughter, I tried to help her see that working at mundane tasks was just a part of everyday life. As a child, it might include her school work and chores. As an adult, it would encompass caring for a home and completing whatever work she had committed to do.

Here's the rub: if a person does not learn to discipline himself or herself, there will be others who will gladly discipline them. If you don't like being told what to do, don't wait when you see something that needs to be done. Take initiative, and no one will have to tell you what to do because you've already taken care of it. Learn to think for yourself and develop your own convictions, because if you don't there will be plenty of people who will gladly tell you what to think and how to act on their beliefs.

Your child may think learning to spell and do schoolwork is a pain. But it is a character growing kind of pain with a bigger purpose beyond mastery of an academic skill set. As it says in Hebrews 12: 11 "All discipline for the moment seems not to be joyful, but sorrowful; yet to those who have been trained by it, afterwards it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness."

Monday, June 20, 2011

A Mom Like You

In the last six weeks, I've had the opportunity to speak at three different state homeschool conventions. At each conference I attend, I share information about learning disabilities, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, Sensory Processing Disorders, and Auditory Processing Disorders. More important than the facts I pass along are the real-life stories from my own family experiences. I share what didn't work as well as what worked at least some of the time. I share some of the failures and frustrations as well as our hard-won achievements.

When my first two children graduated from our homeschool in 2006, we declared our school colors to be black and blue. We were the homeschool of hard knocks! Not only did my children struggle with learning, but I struggled to try to find better ways to teach them. One of the biggest benefits for those attending workshops for children with various special needs is to look around and realize they are not alone. There are others striving to teach children with challenges, and others who understand the difficulties families face when their child has to work harder than most for every small gain they accomplish.

What has always amazed me is how God has prompted me to share some of the hardest, most unimpressive movements of my life and that is what people are blessed by in my workshops. Sure, I offer lots of tips and practical strategies, but what people connect with is hearing a speaker who admits to not having it all together but never gave up trying. My son is a young adult now, and he comes to conferences with me. People look at the two of us as survivors, who dealt with a lot of learning challenges and came out intact. Now Josh can share his perspective, and give parents insight into why their children may act the way they do.

I've never had all the answers to the challenges my children faced. What I did have was a commitment to help them grow into the unique individuals God intended them to become, equipping them as best I could. Sometimes I was out of ideas for how to teach a given topic, and my kids still weren't "getting it". All I had to offer was reassurance that I would keep trying to find ways to help, and would not give up on them. I would be the knot at the end of the rope that they could hang onto. The message was: Mom doesn't have all the answers but Mom will always be there with you, coming alongside until we figure something out.

Don't underestimate the power of just being there for your children. You don't need to know all the answers, but your kids need to know you haven't given up on them. It's in the safety of knowing your love is unwavering that your children find the courage to try again, fail or succeed, and try some more. Our children are far more than what they can or cannot do, and they each have something to offer. This overall supportive attitude has a far greater impact than the best teaching strategies in the world.

Years ago I had a man in his 30's come up to talk to me after I presented my workshop, "Helping the Distractible Child". I don't remember which conference it was, but I will forever remember what he said to me. He explained that as a child he always had difficulty paying attention, and was constantly getting in trouble as a result. He thought he was smart enough, but couldn't sit still and had trouble completing assignments. He tried hard to comply with the demands put on him, but always felt like he was a disappointment to his parents no matter how hard he worked. "I wish I'd had a mom like you," he said. "One who could see the strengths and work with me."

One day all of our children will be adults. I challenge you to be that Mom, the one who never gives up on her kids no matter what. Be that Dad, who is consistently there for his children regardless of their struggles. Be that husband or wife who sticks around during the hard times. Be that person, so that one day your adult children will be able to say, "I'm so glad I had a Mom (and Dad) like you."

Thursday, June 16, 2011

My Beckie, Homeschool Valedictorian 2011

1993 was a monumental year. It was the year I started homeschooling and the year that my youngest child, Beckie, was born. Beckie was the kind of baby who quieted as soon as she was picked up. She always seemed content just to be with people. As an infant, Beckie was perfectly happy with attention from any adult or child. By the time she was a toddler and on the move, she enthusiastically joined in play with other children.

Her brother and sister (Josh and Beth) were crazy about her and wanted to include her in all their activities. They loved to teach her about whatever they were learning and when we were out and about Josh would hold one of Beckie’s hands and Beth would hold the other. Beckie was a very versatile playmate. She loved tea parties, dress-up times, Legos, and playing in dirt. Josh says Beckie is the best little brother he could ever have wished for.

I can still picture Beckie’s beaming smile as she grew up, and remember thinking how very loved and confident she always looked. More than once I thought I could have aptly named her “Joy” instead of Rebecca, because she typically seemed so joyful and brought it to others. It was hard not to smile when Beckie was in the room.

Like her brother, Beckie has dealt with attention challenges (ADHD), sensory processing difficulties, and an auditory processing disorder. Despite these struggles, Beckie has faced them with grace and determination and has experienced success. Today she is a second degree black belt in karate and at the time of her high school graduation she has already completed her first year of college.

Beckie has grown into a lovely young woman. She is compassionate, optimistic, funny, and strong. Her sense of humor and quick-witted observations are delightful. Beckie’s enjoyment when she is with animals and children is contagious. She is a loyal friend and a defender of the underdog. I think Beckie is amazing, and it has been a privilege and a blessing to be her teacher and Mom.

Beckie graduated from our homeschool, the Family Home Academy, on May 22nd, 2011. Congratulations, Beckie!

Wednesday, June 08, 2011

Cooking and Sensory Processing

My son Josh is not a picky eater. He's always been good about trying new foods. If Josh resists eating something the problem he has is not usually with the taste or texture of something, but the smell.

As a young adult Josh now manages most of his sensory problems with ease. He has discovered that he enjoys cooking and decided he needed to expand the number of recipes he knows how to make. I've taught him the basics of meal preparation, and I compiled a list of easy-to-prepare recipes that I thought Josh would enjoy making and eating. One such recipe was "Easy Lemon Chicken". Josh would gladly consume the final, baked version of this dish. Unfortunately, and I didn't know this about Josh, he can't stand the smell of lemon juice.

He's fine with lemonade, lemon-scented soaps, cleaning wipes, and lemon jello. In fact, I can't think of anything lemony that Josh reacted negatively to as a child. This experience revealed that there is something different and acrid for him about lemon juice and it was so hard for him to smell that concentrated lemon scent that he had difficulty just measuring it out to make the recipe.

Adding to the challenge was Josh's tendency to be impulsive, which of course is consistent with his ADHD diagnosis. With all the ingredients, even very common and frequently used ones, Josh automatically gives them a sniff before adding them to a recipe. He tells me he needs to check to make sure the smell is consistent over time and that things should smell exactly the same way each time or something seems wrong and he feels suspicious about that ingredient. In any case, sniffing food items is a well-developed habit by now, though thankfully not in public anymore.

Josh gave the lemon juice a whiff, and had an immediate nose-wrinkling response followed by thrusting his arm as far from his nose as he could extend it. Blinking incredulously, Josh proceeded to...take another whiff from the bottle of lemon juice. Why? Partly due to impulsivity and partly due to his sensory system demanding consistency over time. He had to check again just to make sure it smelled as noxious to him as it had the first time. Yep! It still smelled awful to him, but at least he knew what to expect the second time.

Predictability is comforting to the sensory-challenged. It helps to know what to expect, even if it is still an unpleasant sensation. Better the bad sensory experience you know than the unexpected sensory experience which could prove very unsettling merely by the unpredictability factor. Josh powered through the olfactory assault as he prepared the recipe, although it wasn't as "easy" for him as the recipe name implied.

Thursday, June 02, 2011

Can Dogs Have ADHD?

I walked in the door after a busy day and was greeted enthusiastically by my two goldendoodles. They wiggled and wagged their tails frantically around me, my husband, my daughter, and son as if they hadn’t seen us in days. In reality, it had only been a few hours, but it’s always nice to be welcomed home by those who are always thrilled to see you.

After greeting the dogs and saying hello to the cat who watched calmly from across the room, I noticed that there were bits of debris strewn on the dining room floor. Uh-oh. There were chewed up bits of paper along with other items that had been in the trash can when I left home. There was also a trail from the kitchen into the dining room, and it looked like the dogs (or at least one of them) had been pretty busy making a mess while we were gone. I put the dogs in the back yard so we could get things cleaned up without their helpful interference.

Slapshot, who is 2 years old, at least knows how to act like a dog in trouble. He avoids eye contact, tucks his tail a bit, and slinks a little. He takes himself to the back door and waits to be let out, darting down the steps as soon as he can squeeze his 95 pound doggy self through the opening door. He doesn’t bark to be let in until we come and call him or he feels he has paid his penance.

Daisy, on the other hand, is just over a year old and is totally clueless as to what it means to be in the doghouse. She gives the same toothy grin when she’s getting her leash on to go for a walk as when we discover she has chewed up a shoe and scold her. If she is put outside so we can clean up after her, she eagerly heads out and looks over her shoulder to see if we are coming along to play with her.

I’m not sure, but if there is a doggy ADHD I think she may have it. Some of the signs are there. Let’s see. She’s definitely hyper, and enjoys jumping on and off my furniture. Multiple times. She persists despite correction and redirection of this behavior. This is consistent with the hyperactivity my two ADHD children displayed when they were young.

Impulsivity? In spades. I have to be on the alert when I walk her because if she sees something interesting she will take off on a moment’s notice and try to drag me along behind her. I suspect that dragging sensation she feels is the only way she even remembers I am with her.

Distractible? Daisy excels in this category as well. I have been training her in basic obedience skills, starting with the command to sit. At first, she just gave me that toothy grin while lunging for whatever treats I had to give her incentive to learn to sit. Then she would sit just long enough for her tail to hit the floor and she’d be back to the lunging. It would have been great if I had been trying to teach her to bounce her hind end on the floor, but I actually wanted her to sit and stay put for a little bit. I should probably mention that I also had this experience with my ADHD children!

At this point, Daisy can sit with Slapshot by her side providing a strong role model. He’s in it for the treats, but that’s o.k. After I give the command to sit, I give the command to stay. I step back and maintain eye contact while giving the hand signal for “stay”. Slapshot is an old pro with this command, and he sits still as a statue while never taking his gaze from me. Daisy watches me intently for about two seconds, but if there is a noise or movement nearby she has to look in that direction. She just has to, she can’t resist the urge. Again, not unlike my distractible kids. Yes, she wants the treat. But sometimes it’s not worth missing out on something else.

ADHD children have difficulty completing tasks. Once again, this is true of Daisy. What tasks could a dog have to do? How about eating her dinner? Slapshot is a big dog, and gobbles his food down as fast as his specially-designed-to-slow-him-down dish allows. Daisy, while not as large as Slapshot, is also a large dog who forgets to finish the food in the bowl right in front of her. While Slapshot greedily inhales his food, Daisy has trouble initiating and dawdles around her bowl. (Another executive function skill my children struggled with growing up – but never when it came to food!) After a minute or so, Daisy begins to eat. She is genuinely hungry, but will abandon her food for almost any competing stimuli. If she hears another dog barking outside, someone at the door, or even if I take a few steps away from her, she lifts her head and goes to where the action is – even if it means that Slapshot will try and finish her food once his is gone.

I’ve always said a label can be useful if it helps you find information and get support for what you are experiencing. I already live with three individuals with the ADHD diagnosis, so I am recognizing Daisy’s symptoms early on. Daisy is a delight, even if she still has to learn that being cute doesn’t cut it. My family members can be pretty delightful, too.

In addition to the scattered trash in my dining room, Daisy had pulled a box of dryer sheets off the shelf in my laundry room and had chewed up the box and scattered the sheets around the room. She did not ingest any, just spread them around. As we cleaned up the mess my son suddenly commented, “Hey! It smells pretty nice in here!” Immediately the other two ADHD individuals stopped what they were doing to take a moment to enjoy the fresh aroma caused by Daisy’s chewing and all agreed that the room smelled wonderful. Way to live in the moment, guys!

Slapshot and Daisy came back in the house once we had the mess cleared away. Daisy trotted up to me with her usual enthusiasm and toothy doggy grin. I bent over to pet her, and as she gazed lovingly up at me I realized that her typical doggy breath had been replaced by the lovely fabric softener scent of Clean Rain.

Friday, April 29, 2011

Homeschool Flashback #3 Writing Skills

Take a look at this paper. What kind of information does it tell you? Right off the bat you can see that this child, my son Josh, has difficulty with writing tasks. His letters stay on the lines pretty well and he is doing a good job of leaving spaces between words. Margins are still a bit challenging. He remembers to capitalize the first letter at the beginning of a sentence. His spelling needs to develop. But look how hard he is working just to get the ideas out of his head, through his hand and onto his paper. Some of the letters are darker from the force of his pencil on the paper. Others are lighter, indicating an inconsistency in his ability to grade the force of pressure he uses when putting pencil to paper. Sometimes the letters or entire words have been traced multiple times. Why would he trace some letters several times but not others? Could this be indicative of a neurological issue? Is he even aware that he is perseverating on some of the letters? If you could observe him during the process of writing you would see that he does not form the letters consistently from one word to the next. Sometimes his "i" starts at the top and is drawn in a downward motion. Other times he starts on the line and writes with an upward motion. When he is in tracing mode, he might write it both ways several times. Imagine if you were writing and had to stop and think how to form the letters because you didn't have an established pattern. Josh was dealing with multiple challenges just to get a few of his thoughts down on paper. Here's how I tried to help him. I did some of the Brain Gym activities to help information flow more easily between his right and left brain hemispheres. I had him use mechanical pencils, which kept the degree of sharpness more stable than other types of pencils. He tried different pencil grips to see if they would help his hand to relax so the writing could flow more easily. I made sure Josh had adequate arm support and was using his non-dominant hand to stabilize the paper. He tried writing with a slant board. I wondered if his letter and number tracing could be due to anxiety or OCD, but that was ruled out. Eventually, Josh was able to tell me that he was processing and trying to internally organize himself as he traced. I stopped trying so hard to get him to write in cursive, and decided to be satisfied if he was able to sign his name easily and could write in cursive if it became necessary. I also wrote him occasional notes in cursive writing to be sure he was able to read them. For the most part, though, we concentrated on printing. With all of these interventions, I did see improvement in his writing. It became more fluid and automatic, but if he concentrated too much on making his printing very neat his writing became laboriously slow. When I introduced keyboarding, he greatly preferred it to paper and pencil writing. Although I tried multiple typing programs to help Josh learn touch typing, he resisted them all and has his own method of typing. It works for him, and today as a young adult he is a prolific writer. He is planning to start a blog, and I hope to be able to share that with you soon so that you can be encouraged by the growth of this previously-struggling writer.

Saturday, April 09, 2011

"My Ball Died"

When I heard the words "My ball died" coming out of the mouth of a preschool boy I was seeing for speech therapy, I tried not to show alarm. "Tommy" didn't seem to be too upset, but he was clearly trying to tell me about something that mattered to him. I had not heard of any recent loss in this boy's life, but then again I only saw him once a week for speech therapy and didn't know about every single person in his life. I wanted to be compassionate and allow him to talk about what was on his mind. Tommy already had a very hard time expressing himself due to speech articulation (pronunciation) errors. Even to those familiar with Tommy's speech patterns, his speech intelligibility was poor. When I repeated his words back to him for clarification, he responded vigorously with head shakes and repeated insistently, "No. My ball died." Some children, when hearing their incorrect speech production repeated back to them, will recognize that what they are saying does not match the message they are trying to convey. As a result, some children will alter how they are pronouncing words in order to increase their intelligibility. Tommy was not one of those children. He kept saying the same thing in exactly the same way, over and over again with no change. Tommy still did not appear distressed, but was making eye contact and eagerly awaiting my response. As a speech therapist, I have been asked how to respond when you just don't understand what a child is trying to say. I think the correct response is usually dependent on the situation. If the child is just chatting to make a connection with another person, then it may be more critical to be responsive and caring than to determine exactly what has been said. Sometimes asking the child "Can you show me?" helps them use nonverbal means to get their meaning across. This is limited to messages that can actually be pointed out or demonstrated, though, so much of the time it isn't a very effective strategy. The strategy of pretending to understand the child can backfire, because you may be consenting to something you don't intend to or the child may try to continue the conversation and sooner or later the fact that you are faking comprehension will become obvious. Could this affect your relationship with the child? Another option when a child is clearly trying to convey a message to you is to begin asking questions to see if you can narrow down the possible topics the child is talking about. Even with barely intelligible children, knowing the context of what they are talking about makes it easier to discern what they are attempting to say. In Tommy's case, I started by asking him if someone in his family had died. Tommy looked uncertain, so I started naming possibilities by using yes/no questions since Tommy was able to respond accurately to them. "Did your grandpa die?" "Did your dog die?" and so on. Tommy continued to shake his head "no". When this line of questioning lead nowhere, I tried asking about his toys. "Did you lose a ball?" "Did something happen to your ball?" Again I was met with repeated head shakes and the verbal assertion, always pronounced exactly the same way, "My ball died." Tommy wasn't giving up on me, but continued to make eye contact with a hopeful expression on his face. I was feeling more and more inadequate to help this sweet child who apparently had some kind of loss to grieve. Through the open window of the room we were using for speech therapy, we could hear the sounds of children playing. Following a particularly loud vocal outburst from one of the children outside, Tommy cocked his head, grinned, and happily pronounced, "My ball died!" He certainly didn't look upset about a death, but instead looked at me in triumph as if he had just proven a point. Given the context, the words, and Tommy's speech sound error pattern, things began to fall into place. Hesitantly, I asked another question, "Is your brother outside?" Tommy responded with enthusiastic head nods, repeating once again with a look of utter satisfaction, "My ball died." Okay. So no one died and nothing was lost or irreparably damaged. What a relief! For whatever reason, it was very important to Tommy that I acknowledged that his brother was outside. Although it had to be frustrating for him when he couldn't quickly or easily convey his message, he was eventually rewarded for his persistence and I was relieved to discover that in fact, no ball had actually died.

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Say What?

I love talking with my son, Josh. He has such interesting perspectives and the way he verbally expresses himself gives me insight into how he thinks and processes information. When he was young, Josh had some difficulty remembering words so he would use descriptions to get his point across. He once described his ankle as "you know, that part that's like the wrist of your leg". He tended to use vague words such as "thing" and "that" rather than specific word labels. Despite the circumlocutions, I could always tell what Josh was talking about. Since Josh struggled to recognize many nonverbal signals and had to be taught how to use appropriate body language when he interacted, I could never take it for granted that Josh would just pick up on social cues and be able to express himself adequately. He could learn how to interact with other people, but he had to be taught specific discrete skills for social interactions. For my daughters, social skills came naturally and they just seemed to intuitively know how to relate to others. For Josh, it was like being in a foreign land where everyone else seemed to know the language but he struggled to learn basic communication and was vulnerable to being frequently misunderstood. I did speech therapy with Josh to work on conversational turn-taking, topic maintenance, and nonverbal ways to let a listener know he was interested. Unfortunately, Josh often was not interested in what others wanted to talk about, so then I had to teach him about being polite and a good friend by sometimes letting someone else take the conversational lead. Once Josh had some of the basic skills for social interaction and was able to express himself more effectively, he continued to practice and fine tune his communication exchanges. I noticed that Josh often did not respond when given a compliment. Outside of the family, Josh didn't get many positive comments so he didn't really know how to respond when it happened. I talked to Josh about possible responses and we role-played several situations together. After our practice session I reminded Josh that he had lots of strengths worthy of compliments so it was good that he was learning how to respond to them. Josh informed me that "Vanity was never my strongest weakness." Say what? After some probing (they don't call me the Momster for nothing) I was able to help Josh expand his message so that I could understand what he meant. His intention was to indicate that although he was aware that he had many significant challenges, being vain was not one of them. Therefore, he needed some help in learning how to respond to compliments. Even today, Josh comes up with some unique responses that catch me by surprise. Just this morning our dogs were playing and one of them ran over and stood next to me. I said, "Look, Josh, she's on base." After a brief pause, Josh jokingly said, "Then I'll be lead guitar." Say what? Translation: "base" sounds like "bass" as in a type of guitar. What's a band without both bass and lead guitars? Josh was making a play on words, and at least now he understands what I say and makes a deliberate choice to joke and say funny things.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Picky Eaters

If you have a picky eater, you’ve probably heard comments such as “Don’t worry, she’ll eat when she’s hungry” or “All young children are picky eaters.” While these statements may be true of most typically-developing children, some kids take picky eating to the extreme and mealtimes are miserable for all involved. There are some children who can refuse foods indefinitely, long past the point when most would respond to hunger signals. Others eat such a limited number of food items that their diet is extremely restricted to just a few accepted foods. Some children insist on using the same plate and cup each time they eat. Many children with feeding aversions often resist even a change in the brand of foods they will eat. Is picky eating just a normal part of childhood? For some, it is far more than a developmental stage and can become a serious concern for the family.

A friend of mine went into a panic when she learned that the only brand of frozen waffles that her son would eat was being discontinued by the manufacturer. In desperation, she went to several stores to stock up on that particular brand of waffles while feeling anxious about what her son would eat when one of his regular, accepted foods was no longer available. This little guy had multiple allergies and would only eat a few different foods. His parents were obviously very worried about his nutrition, and the more they pushed their son to eat, the stronger the resistance they encountered. Mealtimes, which his parents had hoped would be an enjoyable time of togetherness, instead became a battleground fraught with stressful interactions.

Feeding aversions and extreme picky eating can have a number of underlying physical causes. A child who has been on a feeding tube may not have developed the muscle coordination needed for eating. They may have to be taught how to bite and chew foods. Without adequate feeding skills, children may resist foods that seem too challenging to them. Some children stuff their mouths with food or just mash food using the tongue instead of moving the food to the molars to chew. These children may experience gagging and choking, which can lead to avoidance of foods in the future. Swallowing large pieces of food can also lead to physical discomfort after meals.

Prematurity, allergies, aspiration, reflux, and other physical issues can all contribute to extreme food selectivity in children. Many children, such as those with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), have difficulties processing and regulating input, including the taste and textures of a variety of foods. Sensory processing dysfunction (SPD) can cause a child to become squeamish just at the sight or smell of certain foods. Some children will only tolerate foods with specific textures. Children with feeding aversions may eat chicken nuggets from a certain fast food restaurant but refuse chicken nuggets prepared at home. It is puzzling and frustrating when children refuse to eat or have strong reactions just at the mere sight of a food that they don’t typically consume.

One mother told me that her son’s feeding aversions made it difficult to go out to a restaurant or another family’s home for a meal. His limited repertoire of accepted foods left his devoted mother trying to explain to others about her son’s strong reactions to smells and textures of foods. She worried about his nutrition and was baffled by his refusal to try new foods. She tried strategies that worked with other children, but her son seemed impervious to them all.

When is it time to seek help for a picky eater? One indication is when a child consistently refuses food or only eats a limited number of foods. For example, a child who eats no fruits or vegetables is missing entire food groups and may have difficulty getting adequate nutrition. Some children do not drink enough fluids and are poorly hydrated. A child with repeated respiratory infections may be at risk for aspiration, with food or liquid entering the lungs. Over time, a child with feeding challenges may develop behavior problems related to eating such as crying and gagging when offered a meal or snack. When eating problems are interfering with a child’s health and family activities, it can be helpful to consult with a feeding specialist or feeding team.

A feeding team consists of a group of professionals with expertise in the various aspects of feeding and nutrition. It may include some or all of the following: primary care physician, dietitian, gastroenterologist, psychologist, speech/language pathologist, and occupational therapist. At a feeding clinic, the initial evaluation will gather information through parent interview and observation of the child when presented with a variety of foods and drinks. These professionals work with the child and family to determine ways to meet nutritional needs and expand the child’s diet to include a greater variety of foods.

Feeding aversions and extreme picky eating are far more complicated than mere childhood whimsy. Feeding problems can interfere with a child’s health and affects the entire family. When every meal becomes an ordeal, there’s a problem. Treatment usually progresses slowly, but over time feeding aversions can be lessened, diet expanded, and health improved.