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playtimeThe summer months allowed for an abundance of free play but that doesn’t have to end just because school is in session. Recreation is a very important part of every child’s life and needs to be maintained. Don’t let the new demands of a school schedule rob your child of playtime.

It is possible to maintain opportunities for free or structured play within a school schedule. Learning to juggle school, play and sleep for your school-age child can be done and I will tell you how in a minute.

First, let’s talk about why leisure time is a so important to your child’s wellbeing and why it needs to continue despite the structure of a school day.

The importance of active play for children, by themselves or with others, should always be taken seriously. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) “free and unstructured play is healthy and – in fact – essential for helping children reach important social, emotional, and cognitive developmental milestones as well as helping them manage stress and become resilient.”

If your goal is to help your child maximize his potential, then you need to encourage and provide him with numerous exploratory play opportunities. If your child had a job description, playing would be it.

Typically, play is not something you have to teach young children. It comes naturally to most but some can always use a little bit of guidance from parents. Children with an Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) often need more help learning how to play depending on where they are on the spectrum. The brain of a child with ASD is often wired differently in the social skills/communication skills department. Many children with autism shy away from social interaction, not because they don’t want to play but because they don’t know how to.

Learning to interact socially is a skill that can be acquired but it needs to be taught and can never be practiced too much. Guided and instructional play, whether with parents, therapists or teachers, is important for acquiring social skills that work. And practicing these skills over and over again through free and exploratory play is crucial.

Yes, children do have recess time when at school. Unfortunately, it is often less than adequate. And for a child with autism who thrives on structure, the commotion of unorganized play in a big crowd can make any playground an anxiety-provoking place. With the sensory issues your child may have, the noise and unpredictable activity can easily send her into sensory overload or cause him to shutdown.

So, how does a parent balance the amount of playtime with the demands of a school day?

Here are some ideas that will help you maintain a schedule for your child that allows for ongoing free and exploratory play once school begins:

– Get your child outside after school. Being outside, as opposed to being indoors, places your child in different surroundings that offer unique possibilities for creativity and investigation. Both atmospheres are good for recreation but the outdoors has the added advantage of fresh air – it’s good for the brain. Outdoor exercise and activity is great for the body and combats obesity. The natural wonders of nature are soothing to the soul. The great outdoors will also reduce stress and induce sleep. The benefits are many!

– Set up a home environment that invites play. If possible, transform small areas of your house into easy and safe play stations. Create an area with developmentally appropriate exercise and sports equipment. Consider adding a source of music to encourage creative movement. Arrange an arts and crafts center that is user friendly and easily accessible to your child. You can even try converting a section of the kitchen into a science laboratory.

– Do homework in small chunks. If homework is being assigned to your child, breakdown the time spent on it into very small and doable steps. Two math problems at a time, followed by a period of fun will prevent overload to your child’s brain. It will also address sensory issues and make returning to the task easier with neurons ready to make new connections. A young child’s brain learns best when refreshed and relaxed as this previous post explains Relaxed Kids are Smarter Kids: 5 Tips to Enhance Learning

– Communicate clearly. Always make sure the homework/play schedule is clearly communicated to your child, verbally or visually, before you begin. When your child does not understand what is going to happen it decreases the potential for cooperation. Also, if your child struggles with transition, you may want to use a timer to clearly define and prepare for transition times.

– Mark playtime on your calendar. Always make an effort to ensure that various types of play are included in your child’s daily schedule. Highly structured adult directed playtime needs to be balanced with free and unstructured playtime. Whether your child’s play style is aloof, passive or active, finding opportunities to encourage play with you or typical peers will help foster spontaneous and reciprocal play.

– Don’t forget solitary play. Many children with autism find it easy to be absorbed in a play activity all by them selves. But some don’t and it’s important that your child learn to engage in a variety of self-play endeavors. Choose activities you know your child is interested and have them available for solo playtime. If verbal, ask your child for ideas of what he would like to do when playing by himself. If your child has a passion, focus on it! Discover various ways to explore all the possible aspects her special interest could take shape.

– Limit time spent in front of screen machines. An excess of television, video games and computer, for recreational purposes only, can steal precious opportunities for expanding your child’s cognitive ability through play and exploration. Dependency on screen technologies as a source of recreation needs to be carefully monitored. This does not include the use of assistive or adaptive technologies that have been recommended by speech therapists or teachers. Technology can be very helpful to your child but it’s use needs to be managed well.

– Take an active part. At what point in your life did play fall off your radar screen? Allowing your self to play and have fun with or without your child is great self-care. It’s a quick way to relax, melt away stress and put a smile on your face. It also sends the message to your child that one is never too old to play. Making it part of your daily routine will benefit you and your family in more ways than one.

Play is great medicine for all ages! We all have this medicine available to us whenever we choose. When you engage in fun and laughter with your children and other loved ones, you amplify the effects of this medicine. In return your child may have something fun to share, and the joy and laughter will continue to spiral in our lives and out into the world.

They say ‘all work and no play’, makes us dull. And we all know that, ‘all play and no work’, is not realistic. Staying well-balanced is key, for us and our children. Play is a legitimate need that can make it more pleasurable when it’s time to settle down and focus on the work at hand.

Now go play and have some fun!


To make school a more positive experience for your child click here to learn more about my book,  AUTISM PARENTING: Practical Strategies for a Positive School Experience – Over 300 tips for parents to enhance their child’s school success.

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– Label vs. Content

labelHas your child been given the label ‘Autism Spectrum Disorder’?

There are more labels given to individuals than there are cereal brands. Have you been down the cereal isle of your local grocery store lately? New brands and flavors seem to pop up overnight. And at what seems to be the same rate, society continues to assign labels that can put individuals into boxes.

Labels do play a role in informing us. The name on a cereal box will typically give us some indication of what we will find inside. Cocoa Puffs yells chocolate, and Corn Flakes is self-descriptive. Yet some are more mysterious, such as, Captain Crunch, Trix, and Crazy Cow, until you read the ingredients.

Is that what is missing when it comes to people? A list of ingredients?

Someone may be referred to as a ‘nerd’, ‘loser’, ‘bi-polar’, ‘special needs’, ‘difficult’, ‘crazy’, ‘blind’, ‘transgender’, ‘Republican/Democrat’, or ‘autistic’ but that does not tell us what is inside. Until we stop and take the time to discover what characteristics and gifts make up the whole person, they may be thought of as just another ‘sugary’, ‘processed’, or ‘healthy’ cereal box on a shelf.

Children and the instructions on how to parent them do not come in cereal boxes. So instead of shopping for the new flavor of the month in your attempt to care for, teach, and seek treatment for your child, consider the following:

– Dig for the jewels. Always be curious enough to dig what is deep within. Once you do, you will unearth the prize that the box of cereal holds. Like the detailed ingredients on the cereal box, your child contains many parts that make up his entire being. It is very likely that your child has the ingredients for a gourmet recipe. If you dig deep enough you will uncover the buried treasure.

– Labels aren’t always all bad. Labels usually carry a negative stigma that can lead to stereotyping or discrimination. But in an educational setting a label can be a valuable piece of information. A label, or diagnosis, will help teachers and school staff prepare accordingly for a new student, especially when the label is for a rare disorder, like Williams Syndrome or Tay-Sachs disease. In this case, having a label enables school staff to look up and access important knowledge that will help meet the needs of the student as quickly as possible.

– To tell, or not to tell. There may be a time when your child wants to know what her label/diagnosis is. So begin now to lay the groundwork for the day she requests to learn, or you decide to tell her, what descriptor the medical community has given her. If you desire a blueprint for laying this foundation, you can access this article, Autism Diagnosis – Telling Your Child, to help prepare you to handle this in the best way possible.

Remember, just because your daughter has been given a label, it does not signify she is entitled to less. It’s important to think of it as a means to:

  • truly understand your child, as well as a way for your child to understand himself,
  • advocate for and receive the services your child is entitled to.

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To learn how to make your child’s diagnosis work to her benefit in the school setting click here to access my new book, Autism Parenting: Practical Strategies for a Positive School Experience – Over 300 tips for parents to enhance their child’s school success.

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Why Did You Do It?

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bookI know you’ve been asked this question before. Why did you do it?

My mother posed this question to me many times throughout my teenage years. It may have been asked in reference to a poor choice I had made or something good I decided to do like learning how to knit.

Of course, parents are forever curious about how their children feel or what they choose to do. But curiosity is not just for parents.

“Why did you do it?” is a popular question from people who have a curious mind. As long as the question doesn’t border on invading my privacy, I really don’t mind answering it.

– Why did you go back to school at the age of 30?
– Why did you become a social worker?
– Why do you practice yoga?

I like the occasional question, “Why did/do you . . . “ for two reasons:

  1. It forces me to take time to reflect, which is always a good thing.
  2. It tells me that someone is taking an interest in me, which is always gratifying.

So when I was asked, “Why did you write this book?” I was happy to answer.
bookI wrote Autism Parenting: Practical Strategies for a Positive School Experience to help parents and caretakers like you acknowledge the true power you have to positively impact your child’s educational experience. My book affirms your role as leading educator for your child. All parents possess the tools to be great teachers but these skills are often buried deep within a sea of confusion and doubt that has accumulated over time. This book guides you to unearth and refine your teaching ability to benefit your unique child and deliver her to school ready, willing and available for learning.

Throughout my consulting career I have shared the information in this book with hundreds of parents. Autism Parenting: Practical Strategies for a Positive School Experience is my attempt to expand my reach to all parents to “make school better” for their child. The strategies presented, over 300 of them, address ways to:

  • help your child overcome school and social anxiety,
  • create positive transitions in and out of school, as well as early morning routines,
  • understand and survive the special education system
  • and more!

When I was a new parent I was overwhelmed and often felt lost and lonely. I became a mom early in life and I struggled with a very premature infant that had special needs. Gratefully, I crossed paths with a woman I called my SOS, a Supportive Objective Someone, who guided me to grow and thrive as a parent and become an effective teacher for my child. This connection had such a positive impact on me, and my child, that I decided I wanted to give back some day. Ever since then my mission has been to help parents do the same. This book is one more way to provide support and guidance to you on your parenting journey, especially when it comes to your child’s education.

My vision from the very beginning was to create a book that was very user-friendly. I wanted it to be a resource that doesn’t waste your precious time when you are searching for helpful information. So I created this book with distinct Parts, Chapters, and bold bullet points that make it easy to find what you’re looking for.

I also wanted to encourage you to go beyond just reading another book. I wanted to make it easy for you to put what you read into action. That’s why I added interactive checklists at the end of most chapters. These checklists are designed to help you implement the strategies you read to generate the changes you, and your child, desire. You can download these printable documents to use as visual reminders for maximum results. Displaying them in a place you frequent will keep you focused and provide you with a feeling of accomplishment as you check each item off.

In short, I wrote this book to be able to reach all parents with quick, easy to refer to, practical strategies that have a positive impact on their child’s school experience. The Special Education system tends to use a cookie cutter approach for most children with an Autism Spectrum Disorder. It is a system that places most of the emphasis on fixing what a child isn’t able to do compared to his or her peers, rather than on enhancing and celebrating what the child is capable of doing. I wanted to help you change that for your child.

Most of all, I want you to experience the joy that comes from seeing your child feel good about school. And, I want that to be your answer when others ask you –
“Why did you do it? Why did you buy ‘that’ book?”

 


Click here to learn more about the book AUTISM PARENTING: Practical Strategies for a Positive School Experience – Over 300 tips for parents to enhance their child’s school success.

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labelYour child is unique and the way she learns is also unique. All children have skills they are good at and skills they find challenging. Therefore, why do we say, “He has this label, so we’ll place him here and give him these therapies?” Or, “She has this diagnosis so we will teach her this way.”When it comes to a child’s educational experience, ALL children need to have lessons tailored to the way they learn best. Whether the instructor is the teacher at school, or the parent at home, lessons need to be customized.

If your child has been given a label, it’s important to think beyond it and:

  • zero in on your child’s distinctive abilities, and areas of difficulty,
  • gather information about the way your child relates to and experiences the world,
  • detect if your child is a visual, auditory, or kinesthetic learner,
  • take into consideration your child’s sensory issues, and
  • determine what triggers your child’s anxiety, and causes your child stress.

Look at the world through your child’s particular lens and how he experiences the world around him. Use that exclusive perspective—autistic or not—to customize your parenting and teaching to it. This is extremely important to help your child blossom!

– Your child may have a Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD), yet she can learn how to master a new skill if her sensory issues are considered when trying to teach her.

– Your child may be diagnosed as autistic, but he can overcome social challenges with a customized approach to help him learn how to make friends and keep them.

– Your child may be identified with ADHD, but she can acquire strategies to help her stay focused with some tailored assistance.

– Your child may be labeled with an anxiety disorder, but he can learn to manage his anxiety with the time and patience required to master specific coping skills that will work for him.

Any child can experience successful learning regardless of the label assigned.

Yes, labels give you information about what is going on. A diagnosis should also get your insurance to kick in and pay for therapies. Coverage depends on the state or country you live in. Unfortunately, benefits will vary from state to state. The best way to help a child maximize her potential and become the person she is meant to be, is to focus on her skill set and build on it. Always take into consideration her challenges, yet find ways for her to conquer or compensate for them as well.

Parenting is less about ‘what to do’ and more about ‘how to be’ with your child as you parent.

Concentrate more on ‘how to be’ with your child – how to relate, how to really connect – then on the label your child has been given. That will set the stage for security which leads to life long learning and success. Your child may turn out to be very different but if you have customized your teaching and your connection, your child will feel safe and secure in who he is and confident enough to effectively pursue any path he desires, regardless of abilities. What could matter more than that?

Never allow the labels others place upon your child to determine who she is. It will never sufficiently encapsulate the intricacies of her amazing and magnificent human potential – the possibilities are limitless.

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Cover_jpgThis article is an excerpt from my new book Autism Parenting: Practical Strategies for a Positive School Experience – Over 300 tips for parents to enhance their child’s school success. To read more about helping your child blossom in his or her educational setting, simply click here to access my book.

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(c) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/User:Jonathunder

Dr. Temple Grandin (c) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/User:Jonathunder

Dr. Temple Grandin and Carol Stock Kranowitz will be headlining a program slated in Columbus, Ohio Oct. 28 on autism and sensory issues, two of the largest disabilities that are affecting up to one-in-six children in the United States today.

Temple Grandin is one of Time magazine’s “100 Most Influential People in the World,” serving as an inspiration and role model to thousands of people who are on the autism spectrum or are their caregivers.  She frankly and candidly describes how she faces and overcomes the obstacles involved in being on the autism spectrum, based on her experience and evidence-based research.  Since her first book, Thinking in Pictures, to her newest book, The Loving Push, Temple has been changing people’s perceptions on the autistic brain and how to raise a child on the spectrum so he can become self-sufficient and productive.

Carol Kranowitz is author of the groundbreaking bestseller, The Out-of-Sync Child, celebrated by The New York Times as “the parents’ bible to sensory integration dysfunction “ (no known as Sensory Processing Disorder or SPD.)  In the book, she identified SPD, an extremely common but frequently misdiagnosed problem the can cause the senses of touch, hearing, vision, movement, and more to feel overwhelming.  With her background in music, dance, and drama, Kranowitz brings a joyful but functional approach to integrate sensory-motor activities into everyday life at home and school.  Her newest book, The Out-of-Sync Child Grows Up: Coping with Sensory Processing Disorder in the Adolescent and Young Adult Years, deals with young adults’ activities, relationships, and acceptance. She is popular speaker and considered the “go-to” author in the field of sensory issues.

Joining them will be Cara Koscinski, who has her Master’s degree in Occupational Therapy and is the author of The Special Needs School Survival Guide.  She currently provides occupational therapy services, advocacy, and consultations as The Pocket Occupational Therapist. She specializes in autism, Sensory Processing Disorder, behavior, and social skills training. Cara has appeared on CBS on Anderson Cooper Live and has been published in numerous magazines, including the Autism Asperger’s Digest.

CEUs are offered at the conference.  To register, go to www.templegrandin.com or call 800.489.0727. The venue is the Greater Columbus Convention Center, Rooms D130-132, 400 North Street, Columbus, OH 43215.

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Book review: The Special Needs School Survival Guide: Handbook for Autism, Sensory Processing Disorder, ADHD, Learning Disabilities, & More! by Cara Koscinski

guideGuidebooks are great! They keep you focused and prevent you from losing your way. That’s exactly what The Special Needs School Survival Guise: Handbook for Autism, Sensory Processing Disorder, ADHD, Learning Disabilities, & More! by Cara Koscinski does. This book is written from the professional perspective of an Occupational Therapist and the personal perspective of a mom with children on the autism spectrum. It is a wonderful compilation of tactics and techniques for teachers and parents to employ. The book focuses on the ‘in’s and out’s’ of Individual Education Programs (IEPs), working with school personnel and how the various special education diagnoses (identification categories) are interpreted and handled.

The author’s expertise as an Occupational Therapist provides the reader with 185 pages of activities that will help a child be more successful in the school environment. Teacher’s that follow this guidebook will easily meet the needs of their students so they can experience success. It is something teachers will reach for many times throughout their school career. The book is written in Q & A format, which makes it easy to navigate and find what you are looking for. The content presented by the author will also assist any parent in their capacity to be an informed and highly effective advocate.

The vast array of resources listed throughout the book – websites, products, agencies and associations – are all very helpful tools that will provide extra guidance to professionals and parents. This book will empower the reader to truly maximize a student’s potential. Despite the fact that most of the content is addressed to teachers and occupational therapists, this guidebook will enhance understanding for anyone caring for a child on the autism spectrum.

To get your copy of The Special Needs School Survival Guide at a discounted rate, simply click here to get to the Future Horizons website. Then use my code PARENTCOACH in the coupon code box upon check out to receive your 15% discount and enjoy!

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transitionIn a few weeks, schools across the country, and elsewhere, will begin closing their doors for summer break. As you know a transition like this can be difficult for a child with an Autism Spectrum Disorder. Thoughts of transitioning to a summer schedule can also trigger mixed emotions in you as well, depending on your situation.

You may be relieved to get a break from the morning rush to get everyone out of the house and to school on time in the mornings or the struggles of getting your child to do his homework. On the other hand, you may be worried about the lack of structure and keeping your child appropriately occupied. You also may be fretting about finding quality childcare if you are a working parent.

Would you like to know a way to make summertime enjoyable for both you and your child?

What if I told you it required some work on your part but the results would be well worth it?

I know you are busy – there is no other way to be when you have a child with autism. But it is possible to use the time you have differently in order to get a better outcome.

Here are your choices:

1 – You can do nothing and spend x amount of hours per day this summer dealing with boredom, whining, meltdowns or other challenging behaviors

OR

2 – You can minimize all that by spending a few quality hours right now to create a plan that will eliminate most of that negative energy.

You do the math – hours every week OR two to three hours total. What do you choose?

If you are saying, “I don’t have the time to do this.” then you definitely won’t find the time. Instead, believe that it IS possible and make an appointment to sit down with your spouse/partner soon to discuss, brainstorm and schedule what you want your summer to be like. Then communicate the plan to your children and implement it.

Remember, ALL children thrive on predictability. Children with autism and sensory issues thrive better and experience less anxiety when they have a clear picture of what is expected. If they know what is going to happen and when, life will be calmer for everyone.

Here are some guidelines to consider when preparing for the upcoming transition into the summer school vacation months.

– Have the conversation. Discuss ideas with all other adults in the household before summer break begins. Talk about what a good summer routine would look like. What fun activities or excursions might be possible? What chores are to be completed? What will each family member be responsible for? What will the daily routine be like?

Staying positive is important but take some time to also voice the possible obstacles that might get in the way, then problem solve if necessary. One of the biggest challenges may be how to find the best balance between structure and routine with fun and flexibility. Preparing in advance is one way to increase the chances that summer will unfold, as you would like it to.

– Present your ideas. Go over summer plans and expectations with your children. Hold a special family meeting to go over what the summer months will look like. Depending on your circumstances or if your plan is not yet final you may want to allow your children to have some input. Whether you are brainstorming or presenting the final version, take the time to write everything down. Visuals are important for children on the spectrum and will prevent any possibility for confusion later on!

– Maintain a sense of routine. Some parent schedule ‘free time’ into the calendar, which does not sound like a structured routine. It is possible to have some structure to ‘free time’. To address spans of time when nothing in particular is planned guide your child with choices such as daily time for reading, individual hobbies/special interests, and play time with others. Don’t forget quiet time for self. Thinking of ways to self-entertain is a skill all children need to learn. You can even create a ‘free time’ jar with all your ideas. Although you don’t need to create a routine for every minute of the day, creating a summer routine that replaces the school-time routine will help your child feel more stable and less anxious and stressed.

– Create a family calendar. Having a large calendar hung in an area where everyone can see it is a great visual for everyone to focus on and stay informed. This helps to keep track of the activities that are going on, whether it is a family vacation, summer camp, organized summer sports, or “do nothing” days. This way, when something new comes up you can refer to the calendar and know whether it will interfere with something else that is already planned. Such a calendar will not only inform your children about what to anticipate but it will help them prepare for transitions.

– Continue therapeutic and educational activities. Maintaining your child’s therapeutic program is usually a given but older children should maintain an academic component as well. Continuing to challenge your child’s brain during the lazy more flexible days of summer can avoid the summer brain drain and save you time consuming work come fall. When a child’s mind is not educationally challenged for one to two months or is allowed to run on idle for more than usual, it is easy to slide back academically.

– Engage your children. If you are planning any family trips or outings make it a learning experience for all. If appropriate, have your children map out routes, make lists of what to bring, and help shop for the items needed. Inviting their participation in a way that acknowledges their usefulness will help instill ownership into the activity and defray any resistance that may be harboring within. It will also provide your child with autism more time to adjust to the future plans and transition better when it’s time to leave.

– Always have a plan B. Know that life happens and schedules will be upset. Learn to roll with the punches and role model appropriate ways to deal with disruption. If you have to make adjustments to unanticipated schedule changes, see it as an opportunity to inject fun and humor into the situation. “If life gives you lemons – make lemonade. Whether you are a working parent or stay-at-home mom or dad, your goal to reduce summer time stress is achievable if you are mindful of the things that trigger anxiety for your child.

Remembering to plan ahead, anticipate challenges and pay attention to what works best in meeting the needs of all family individuals will increase the possibility for a pleasant summertime experience. Enjoy!

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friendsFriends Are…? by  Ymkje Wideman-van der Laan is not just a good story to read to a child, but also a fantastic educational tool. The author touches on fourteen very important social skills in the form of friendship rules that are easily reinforced and recalled through rhyme. Because they are all set to verse, these rules can be reviewed in many forms, as a poem, song or chanting the lyrics to create a rap tune!

Written by a loving grandmother to help her grandson on the autism spectrum make friends, this book and the previous five others in this series, are a true labor of love. The content for these informative children’s books was generated by the author’s desire to help her grandson with the questions he posed or a challenge he was experiencing.

What is great about this book is that it can be read to any child, on or off the autism spectrum. These friendship rules apply to all! And the beautiful illustrations by Jennifer Lackgren really make the book enticing–how can anyone not be drawn to those most adorable and colorful characters!

Each friendship rule has it’s own title, making them stand out and easy to find. At the end of the book each rule is listed again on a checklist that encourages active participation from the parent and child to practice them. The Friendship Rules Checklist is my favorite, because this interactive aspect of the book challenges the child to master these skills in real life.

Wideman’s book has three other extras that make this book more than just a story.

–       She includes a Note to Parents at the end to remind them that these skills often do not come naturally to a child on the autism spectrum, and repetition in many forms is crucial to have them take hold. The mention of her grandson, and the history of how the book evolved, give the book an authenticity that other parents can relate to.

–       For children who may not understand some of the words used in the book, she added a word list/glossary at the back. These bigger words are listed in alphabetical order just like in a dictionary. Looking up words at the end of a book that the reader may not grasp is a great pre-teaching tool for using an actual dictionary or researching words online.

–      I’m happy to see the continuation of the “Where’s Waldo” theme that was included in the previous five books in this series. It invites the reader to become a detective and engages them in looking for items hidden within the illustrations. The other precious tidbit that I am privy to is that the hidden red sports shoe you find throughout the book was drawn by the author’s grandson himself. Now how unique and endearing is that!

This book is such a great learning instrument because it speaks to various learning styles–all reinforcing the other for optimal learning. It appeals to the visual learner, the auditory one, and the inclusion of the Check List adds a kinesthetic component as well. And as previously mentioned, the musical could be addressed as well. This is what I call a fun way to learn!

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sensory issuesThis 151-page journey provides a wonderful glimpse into the world of an individual with sensory issues. We all have sensory issues to some degree or another yet everyone’s experience is different. This difference is what the author, Rachel Schneider, makes clear throughout her book, Making Sense – A Guide to Sensory Issues. When sensory issues challenge a person’s ability to cope with daily life it is called a Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD). Reading this book will certainly enhance the reader’s perspective of what it is like for a person living with SPD.

Making Sense does a great job in showing that everyone with a SPD is unique. You just can’t put all people with sensory issues into the same category. Two individuals may both struggle with their sense of sight yet it will manifest itself differently in each person. The brain of one will interpret the sensory signals differently from all the others.

Schneider takes you down a path that allows you to peek into what it was like for her growing up with SPD. Her shared experiences provide a good baseline for understanding how someone else with sensory issues might be experiencing the world around her. What she does best is encourage parents to go beyond a one-size-fits-all description and tune in to the nuances of the child they have before them.

The author’s writing is witty and her analogies are helpful to get any mind to understand the basics. If you are a visual thinker the comparison of SPD to “audio technicians with a soundboard” they can’t regulate is priceless. Comparing SPD to a “neurological traffic jam” (a term that originated with Dr. Anna Jean Ayres), in Chapter 5 provides the reader with a visual description most anyone can understand. She presents many studies that back up the hypothesis that the brains in individuals with sensory issues are structurally different and often unequipped to handle the incoming traffic.

Any sensory issue is likely to continue across the lifespan, in different degrees at different times. Schneider notes three factors that determines the challenges a person experiences at various stages of life and she includes a very creative visual equation – it may look like algebra but it’s not – to explain this concept.

Like many others in the field, the author advocates for early detection, which can make a huge difference in a person’s progress and self-image. Left undiagnosed, other labels and mental health issues may be acquired that can complicate treatment and stall progress. Despite this, Schneider loaded this book with hope and a list of excellent tools for improving an individual’s sensory experiences.

This book culminates in a great two-page guide for “Putting It All Together”. Here the author presents fifteen of the most current and important things to keep in mind when it comes to understanding sensory issues.

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To get your copy of Making Sense – A Guide to Sensory Issues at a discounted rate, simply click here to get to the Sensory World website. Then use my code PARENTCOACH in the coupon code box upon check out to receive your 15% discount and enjoy!

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Q & A post #6. This is a series of posts that answers questions received from parents.

learningQuestion: “Does anyone have an idea how to initiate a desire to learn in an autistic preschooler?”

Answer: Sparking a child’s motivation to learn is a challenge that many parents can identify with. Here are some Do’s and Don’t’s.

 

DON’T get into the trap of relying on external rewards (toys, candy, money) to motivate your child. These do work but at a price.

– Children will become too dependent upon external rewards.

– You risk creating a “What’s in it for me attitude?”

– Rewards ignore the underlying reason for the behavior.

– Rewards discourage risk taking and dampens the creative process.

– Kids lose touch with their interior/authentic self and desires get shut down.

 

DO motivate internally. When a child’s motivation comes from within he or she will:

– feel that learning is fun

– think – “I like to try new things.”

– persist through challenges.

– discover, connect and contribute to the world.

– Think – “What I do matters.”

– be excited about life!

 

Strategies:

  • Become your child. The first step is to get into your child’s mind and wear his skin to see what it is like to be him and get to know and understand how he experiences the world. This will answer a lot of questions. How does she learn best? What is his learning style? What sensory issues might get in the way? What makes her anxious? This important information will help you learn a way of relating that works best and it will guide you to customize your teaching approach.
  • Use your child’s special interests. Always try to tie in one of your child’s favorite activities or pastimes into the experience when you are gently nudging him to learn something new or work towards a goal. If your child loves Matchbox cars and you want him to learn math, use them to visually add and subtract. This will help stimulate her internal motivation to stretch herself as much as possible. When your goal is to reduce a certain behavior, distracting your child with another activity or task that she favors is helpful.
  • Go slow, take baby steps. Finding a rhythm and intentionally pacing your child is important, an autistic child’s brain processes information more slowly and requires more time to respond. Breaking things down into small and attainable steps is always wise. If you want your child to become more social, then gradually expose her to small chunks of time in a social setting. Start with five minutes, and then add one or two minutes more after each success.
  • Use effective praise. Praise needs to be specific: Avoid global statements such as, “You’re a smart boy.” or “You’re a good girl.” It needs to be thoughtful, meaningful and sincere. When praise is doled out automatically its value is often diminished. Praise more for the process than the outcome. Acknowledging effort and persistence teaches a child to keep trying and will help him/her rebound from future failure.
  • Ask, “What If?” or “What else?” Asking your child to take their thinking one step further will certainly help develop and expand their brain’s neural pathways and capacity for learning. Asking “What would the birds do if it snowed today?” could lead your child to respond in many ways. Any answer should be validated and followed up with “What else might happen?” or “Why”. In prodding your child to establish new ways of thinking, you are modeling a joy of learning and discovery. Just remember, the focus is not about getting the correct answer but more about continuing the conversation.
  • Develop strategies for handling failure and mistakes. It’s important to discuss mistakes out in the open in order to normalize them. Mistakes need to be acknowledged so we can learn from them. If you failed once, what did you learn from it that can be employed for next time? Being a good role model by discussing some of your own mistakes also lets children know that failure and mistakes are part of life and therefore vitally important to learn how to cope with.
  • Create new adventures from everyday outdoor experiences. Make being outside an enticing learning experience. A walk in the park can be transformed into a treasure hunt or scientific laboratory that is ripe for promoting new learning. A child who explores their natural environment benefits from using all five of their senses, which stimulates brain development in more ways than one.
  • Make it fun! Who doesn’t like fun? Find a way to keep things light and humorous. Not only will your child enjoy the process more but the contagious nature of laughter will spread throughout your child and help create a positive and powerful energy that is bound to increase his stamina for learning.

For more strategies to make school a more positive experience for your child with autism click here to learn more about the book AUTISM PARENTING: Practical Strategies for a Positive School Experience – Over 300 tips for parents to enhance their child’s school success.

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