The SPED Classroom: COVID-19 Edition

As an academic, I find comfort in relying on the expertise of others. Facebook is filled with teachers, mothers, and therapists with wonderful, color-coded ideas. But, we are in crisis. I need more. I need high-level experts with a following that traverses over space and time. Right now, I’m looking to the muses:

  1. Mr. Rogers, the social-emotional muse, is famous for his tagline: look for the helpers. That’s no help for me. I live with one who is a great help to the community as a paramedic but not the most helpful co-teacher for e-learning. What is helpful is the decrease of anxiety that comes from Mr. Rogers’s habits of greeting me at the door, changing his sweater and shoes, and starting the day.
  2. Maria Montessori, the educational muse, created an entire system based on naturalistic learning.
  3. Tim Gun, the creative muse, motivates amateur designers to tap into their creativity in order to figure out how to use the unconventional materials of plant fronds and chainmail with chiffon to make a red carpet look. His tagline: make it work!

Mommy Title Mash-Up

I have written a lot about being a working mom and having a special needs child to keep it interesting. When the days all run together, and my time at home is also my time at work, I need to find ways to have more impact while doing less. Here are some ideas that help satisfy SPED goals that relate to occupational therapy (OT), speech/language therapy, and social work.

  1. Post-it Note schedules: you can get as colorful as you want. You can designate yellow for foods to eat, pink for outdoor activities, green for Daddy’s tasks, etc. The goal is for each family member to participate by writing words, phrases, or pictures of what needs to get done on a daily basis. Older kids can arrange their “sticky schedule” while grimacing through brightly colored additions parents include.
  • OT: writing/drawing, pulling off one post-it note for fine motor, rearranging post-its to cross the brain’s mid-line
  • speech: “wh-” conversations to understand what goes first? why? where does the post-it go? where should the schedule go? where should the work get done?  
  • executive functioning: organizing the day, prioritizing activities
Jacob cleaning the kitchen floor at 3!!!

2. Household chores: anything that makes my back, neck, and shoulder ache is a great new task for Jacob. At an early age, we recognized the need to keep his engine running in a productive direction. He works the products in the Swifer family like an Olympic curling champ. He also learned to put clothes in the hamper, bring it down to the washing machine and load it. Now that Jacob is older, he helps unload the dishwasher and puts his clean clothes away. Frankly, little orphan Annie had it easier. I joked I was making him earn his keep, but it turns out I have been a closet Montessori teacher. The nice thing is how all of these chores target Jacob’s IEP goals in some way or another.

  • OT: pincer grip required to empty the dishwasher or pull one sock at a time from the washer builds the hand muscles needed for writing , cross the brain’s mid-line by requiring him to reach across his body to grab the silverware, forcing kids to put things away top left to top right and then progressing down mirrors how the motor plan for their eyes for reading
  • speech: more “wh-” conversations to understand what goes first? why? plus sequencing what to do first, sweep the floor before attaching the wet wipe to mop, is needed to develop skills for reading, 
  • executive functioning: putting the silverware away categorizes the brain
  • social work: whose turn is it? how do you cope with the frustration of not being able to get your fingers and arms to do the right thing?

3. Dance! If you have read my blog before, you have come to understand that our mental health is rooted in relishing our childhoods while embarrassing our children. You have also read my growing fascination of neurobiology and how music does more “than save our mortal soul” (pause to love Don McClean’s “American Pie”). So many of our SPED kids get movement breaks in school, but we limit them to Cosmic Yoga or painstakingly slow breathing exercises. Moms, it’s time to break out the bar mitzvah videos and Electric Slide (boogie, woogie, oogie). Then, Cha-Cha Slide before you level up to the Cupid Shuffle and dare to judge your physical health to see if you can Tootsie Roll. (Reward yourself with many candies of the same name if you pull that off without pulling a muscle.)

  • OT: motor planning is key to all of these dance moves, plus they repeat giving kids a chance to practice a motor plan over and over
  • speech: a receptive speech challenge for sure, but with corresponding video or Mommy-model resources, kids are using a real life Boardmaker app. 
  • social work: modeling it is okay to look and feel silly is key for our kids who struggle with nuanced emotions like embarrassed or uncomfortable

Spark Note Summary

The COVID crisis has given us more questions than answers. My goal is to let that discomfort be okay. The beauty of everything being different and new is everything HAS to be different and new, like a “make it work”moment with Tim Gunn. E-learning is not education. Shelter in place is not an opportunity to try being a stay-at-home mom, Pinterest mom, or mom who masters the work-life balance. Shelter in place means to accept YOUR place. Continue to do the best you can, with what you have, at any given time. I’ll follow Mr. Rogers in creating the habit of sending you ways to live and learn…

A Couch Mommy’s Guide to COVID-19

Over the last 3 days, Americans were informed we would have to live like shut-ins. True to our American nature of passive-aggression (like sending mean Tweets or anonymous Facebook posts judging everyone who invades our space), we issued one last collective rebel yell and took to the stores. We spit in the face of social distancing and flooded the grocery stores like it was Thanksgiving and Target like it was Black Friday.

In addition to being a blogger, I’m a professional counselor and recovering grades 6-12 English teacher. I have none of the craft skills that ooze out of my elementary school colleagues. Plus, I love my couch! I love bingeing the Real Housewives of Wherever You Come From. I love figuring out the best place to arrange myself with the heating pad on my aging back, notebook, and laptop to complete treatment notes. I am woefully ill-prepared to spend the next few weeks, maybe months, giving my child a proper education. So, instead of planning for him, I am reaching out to the multiverse with my version of tips and tricks to help parents like me survive the COVID-cation.

Snarky, Yet Satisfying

Timon and Pumbaa were wise beyond their species as experts in DBT, the psychological theory that asserts two opposite things can both be true. In the case of our friends from the Lion King, slimy was satisfying. In my case, snarky is survival. 

  • Run errands like you are training for a marathon. Supporting local business doesn’t have to mean shopping in your locality. If the only thing we are permitted to do is shop for groceries, why not sojourn to the grocery store 50 miles away? That time in the car can be spent torturing your kids with 80’s music, which helps YOUR mood. It also kills 3 hours of the day so you can join the rest of the Facebook mommies in bragging that your kids didn’t have screen time for the whole afternoon.
  • Exhausted muscles can’t fire, so to keep anxiety away, go nuts on your kids once a day. My sister-in-law is brave. After hoarding toilet paper like the rest of America, she bought pool noodles. The kids can fight and exhaust themselves. The parents can join in and save their sanity by thwapping kids. An occupational therapist in my office teaches families how to sock wrestle. (Basically, you roll around on the floor trying to get someone’s sock off.) We pillow fight and wrestle in my house, but you get the picture. The picture is Thunderdome.
  • Dress up to sit down. I promise you nobody’s mental health is improved when spending more than 2 days in sweatpants and a 20-year old Dave Matthews Band concert shirt. (This isn’t just a clinical opinion, I’ve performed extensive self-research.) Kids love to play dress up, and you need to see what fits before you spend time purging their closet. My husband and I are celebrating our 9th anniversary during our lockdown. We had plans to escape for the night, go to a fancy dinner with foods never before tasted, and forget other people existed. Well, 1 out of 3 isn’t a good grade for an overachiever like me. So, we are planning to wear formal attire for random meals. Grilled cheese for our little lord and a one-pot Chef Amy original creation for us while family Slutzky is adorned in our finest.

Spark Note Summary

My crew and I have been surviving in different homes, in different states (physical, emotional, and mental), with 7 children amongst us.

My crew and I have decided THIS is the face of COVID-19. Winter isn’t coming…winter is here!

We have sent links to free resources and recent articles from trusted sources. We have shared funny pictures of our kids at Mom School. We have been honest about our fear and the size of our stockpiles. Most importantly, we have been taking care of each other like we have for 25 years. COVID-19 may have forced Americans inside. But, it doesn’t have to take away our communities. Stay safe. Stay sane.

 

 

Validation in the Carpool Lane

Tuesdays are my market days. They are also the days my husband catches up on sleep from Monday’s day job before Tuesday’s night job. I try to sneak some quality time in with my husband by convincing him there will be a delicious home cooked breakfast lovingly prepared once I bring back the groceries.

First confession: although mostly true, this deal is to make sure I have help unpacking the car and the groceries.

Second confession: this week, I lied about breakfast. By the time I got home, it was much more like lunch.

school drop off

I know, it was a white lie. But, this week, I’m not talking about the many shades of lies. I want to explain WHY I lied. You see, I was late with the routine of food shopping and breakfast making because I was chatting with the three moms I see at drop-off every morning.

You know the scene: the same group of parents (can be moms or dads) pulls into their usual parking spaces, can be overheard using the same pleas and cheers to get their children out of the car, and gives you the same nod or smile or quip of understanding. Solidarity. I wouldn’t call us friends. We don’t socialize outside of the few minutes we have after the kids go inside of school or while we are waiting for them to come out. Those few minutes, however, are not gabbing about recipes or weather. These mommies and I are engaging in group therapy about the trials, tribulations, and emotional upheaval of parenting special needs children.

Traditional Group Therapy

Group therapy is an essential part in the treatment plan for some mental illnesses. Struggles with addiction and anger, for example, depend on the dynamic of group therapy. In grad school, our textbook for group therapy was The Theory and Practice of Group Psychotherapy by Irvin D. Yalom. Since there are not SparkNotes (believe me, I looked), I can sum up some of the major benefits of group therapy that are discussed:

Group therapy doesn’t always occur like this…
  • Hopefulness:Therapy groups contain members at different stages of the treatment process. Seeing people who are coping or recovering gives hope to those at the beginning of the process.
  • Universality:Being part of a group of people who have the same experiences helps people see that what they are going through is universal and that they are not alone.
  • Information sharing:Group members can help each other by sharing information.
  • Self-esteem:Group members can experience a boost in self-esteem, confidence, and self-efficacy when they share their strengths and help others in the group.
  • Cohesiveness:Because the group is united in a common goal, members gain a sense of belonging and acceptance.
  • Catharsis:Sharing feelings and experiences with a group of people can help relieve pain, guilt, or stress.

(There is a great article that details more of these positive outcomes on VeryWell.com for anyone who wants to learn more.)

DIY Groups

Feeling more hopeful, emotionally stronger, and more connected seems like a dream. There are all kinds of ways to join a traditional group in order to chase this unicorn, MeetUp, Facebook groups, and PTOs. Our school district even has a monthly meeting where my mommy group is invited to listen to speakers and get information on our kids’ challenges while the district provides babysitting. How dreamy, right? How many times have my carpool friends and I attended? None. Top down groups like the ones offered by districts, community agencies, or advocacy groups often miss the mark for those of us in the grind. The times never work for our work or family schedules. The topics may be poignant but not the help we need on the day we need it. I don’t need to know the benefits of occupational therapy or the latest changes in disability law on the day my son decided to throw a fit and stare at the sky in the middle of the parking lot.

Spark Note Summary

No man is an island. It takes a village. Whatever motto makes sense to you as long as the message is clear: you need help. We all do. Your support circle is right in front of you…smiling and mouthing “I know” in the next parking spot over.

Driving Tips for the Self-Love Expressway

Happy New Year! Another year, another chance for me to remind all of my readers that you don’t need to change. Last year, I worked to dissuade you from making resolutions that only serve as self-flagellation. As a reminder: you are enough and don’t need to list sins of self-doubt and shame when the calendar and gym salespeople demand you to do so. Now, we are going to raise the bar. This year, the goal is to work on radical self acceptance. You can use the same seasonal self-reflection to embrace, not replace, who you are!

Radical acceptance is an element of Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT). The term was popularized by Marsha Linehan to help people stop fighting themselves when they ran out of “the other hand” that perpetuates indecision. It is used most in addictions treatment to explain how life changing it can be to “accept the things we cannot change.” (Pun intended; I have often joked about DBT’s real translation should be “double talk therapy.”) The key to radical SELF acceptance is control, like the kind of control it takes to stay in your own lane.

Life Is a Highway

I’m competitive. Thanks to my Driver’s Ed teacher, who also delighted in telling us he was the tester and we were the testes, I learned to merge on a highway. His strategy when accelerating to thrilling and scary speeds? Either you will beat them or they will beat you. Radical self acceptance forces you to make sure you know yourself well enough to not let YOU beat you.

  • “There are going to be cars driving at you.” More wisdom bestowed on my 16 year old mind. Roll your eyes with me folks. Then, regret it. There was no way to prepare for the fear and hope that several inches of yellow paint were enough to prevent death. But, you get used to it and learn to read the drunks and crazies. The same exists for new people coming at you. You need to learn where to put up healthy boundaries, your own “do not cross” signs when you are traveling on the same highway. I don’t care if they are your best friend/brother turned stranger/sibling. Protect yourself by being more worried about YOU than them. 
  • Lane changer or slow creeper? I’m a lane changer. I’m the annoying woman in traffic who knows Murphy’s Law and doesn’t seem to care. I know I’m the woman in traffic you mock, the one who changes lanes every 12 seconds based on the delusion that I’m getting further than I was before. My husband isn’t. He will wait in his own lane monitoring the blue mini van to make sure we are all moving at relatively the same pace. He not only knows how to pick a wife, he knows that we will all get to our destination (roughly) at the same time. Therein lies the problem and solution. (See? DBT!) Faceplant, Instashame, and Snapshark lure your eyes off the road, off YOUR path. Maneuver your way through life’s traffic, YOUR way.

Spark Note Summary

I get it. The first of the year is helpful in embracing change. I would love to change my double-digit jean size and single-digit bedtime. I’m excited for you to decide that change starts now. My New Year’s hope is that your new year starts with radically accepting the woman staring in the rear view with a smirk and a plan to use the self-love expressway for all 2020 travel plans.

A New National Holiday

Special Lesson: Professional counselors are careful with self-disclosure. Only when the benefit is to enhance the therapeutic relationship is the boundary crossed. This blog is personal, but the hope is the conversations that ensue help enhance all of our relationships.

I have a vivid memory of being a child and asking my parents where they were when Kennedy was shot. It was a common assignment for children of Boomers. We had it easy! There was ONE major event noteworthy enough for all students to explore. If replicated today, my son’s assignment is more like a multiple choice test, the Challenger‘s explosion or the fall of the Berlin Wall. As I publish, today is September 11. My TV and Facebook are littered with memes telling me not to forget or always remember. As I’m told to be respectful and solemn, all I can feel is frustration that there is no “lesson learned”.

Never Forget….

My 9/11 story starts with a routine drive to my job as the HR manager of Borders Books. I heard a snippet on the radio with key words “plane” and “New York”. I changed the channel and shook my head.

La Guardia has two runways, each 7,000 feet long, compared with those at JFK Airport, which are up to 14,000 feet, and Newark Airport, where they are up to 11,000 feet.

I grew up in NJ with the Manhattan skyline outside of my window. It was common to hear a broadcaster in Chicago appalled about a plane crash in New York; they simply didn’t grow up knowing how short the runway is at LaGuardia. So, I went back to the offices and started to count cash for the registers while brainstorming a snarky comment to deliver to a coworker with whom I bet on Monday Night Football. As I started wheeling the cash drawers to the register, that same coworker was walking towards me asking me if I heard what happened. Nope. I was not going to let him beat me to the punchline. I quickly quipped some friendly antagonistic comment and tried to wheel to the front of the store. This coworker was a better friend than I gave him credit for because he took me by the shoulder, took me to the stockroom, and put me in front of the TV we use to sneak peaks at football games. I sat on two crates grasping at a box of tissues watching in disbelief with the rest of America for the next few hours.

Me and my big brother

I wish watching the landscape of my childhood be destroyed was the only way I passed the time that morning. It took me an hour or two to realize that neighborhood that I watched crumbling was where my big brother went to work daily. Thankfully, he was late to get off the subway that day. Not too late, however, not to be stuck in a nearby building watching the day become soot-covering night. The cell phones weren’t working as everyone with loved ones trying calling out or calling in. I learned from my mother that he had reached his then-pregnant wife just long enough to say he was safe but stuck. I remember musing that my brother, who is 6’1″ with a personality twice the size, must be going crazy thanks to a small case of claustrophobia. He made it home safely hours later, but I don’t need a running news story to remind me what it felt like to watch in fear that I was going to be the oldest one in my family if those terrorists won.

Always Remember…

Shortly after the building were cleared, the next line of heroes went to Ground Zero. In the same breath, our country banded together and started the two decade trip of falling apart.

EMS salary info from the Bureau of Labor
  • I remember how the Patriot Act went after my library card in case I recently checked out the Catcher in the Rye.
  • I remember how while saying “thank you” to EMS and firefighters with our mouths, we let them collect government benefits to offset the poverty that defines the working poor.
  • I remember how my best friend’s stepfather (who through time and space has always been an extra parent to me) grabbed his old pipe fitter tools and went to help adding mesothelioma to Agent Orange on the list of unreimbursed lethal consequences of his patriotism.
  • I remember how the prevalence of children experiencing PTSD from the perpetual news coverage hit record highs as parents accidentally traumatized a generation who didn’t understand that planes weren’t constantly flying into buildings.
  • I remember how we reached into our country’s history of ethnic hatred to be afraid of Muslims, or anyone we thought looked like one.

Spark Notes Summary

My husband and I are friends whose son, one of their four, was born on September 11. He is the living symbol of what we should remember. Barrett is always happy and optimistic. He loves to spend the morning with his mother dancing to Britney Spears with freshly painted nails before taking the afternoon to go fishing and learn gun safety with his dad. To truly honor and respect what was lost, we should make September 11 National Barrett Day. The holiday would be centered around celebrating our best selves and accepting the beauty of seemingly contradictory ideas. Feel free to decorate your home with pink dollhouses and fishing poles as you carpool with your neighbor to the EMS parade featuring the men and women whose pay has met their esteem.

The Feral Children of Fortnite®

I confess. I’m a gamer. Not WAS a gamer…AM a gamer. I didn’t grow up this way (unless you include a stubborn determination to beat Mario Bros on Nintendo). In fact, it wasn’t until college that I fell deeply in love with computer games. Picture this: it’s a hot summer day in Chicago. My boyfriend, his crew, and I hit the sand beach volleyball courts of the North Shore park districts for hours. After a quick round of showers, we all gathered in an apartment lugging 90’s Apple computers, an ethernet hub, a duffel bag full of cords, and a 6-pack. That is where I was when the Bulls grabbed championship after championship, and I watched live coverage of the deaths of Princess Di and Mother Teresa. Needless to say, when families try to convince me that gaming is ruining their children, I work hard to remember I’m an objective professional. Fears of Grand Theft Auto® and Call of Duty® have come in and out of my practice without a mental note much less a blog. Fortnite® is different

Out of the Mouths of Babes…

My husband and I still sneak in some gaming time, but neither of us has ever played Fortnite®. So, I conducted some field research to learn about the basics of the game. Here is what I’ve learned from a 14-year old expert gamer and a 25-year old social gamer. Fortnite® resembles what children of the 80’s would call a Wrestlemania Battle Royal combined with the Hunger Games.

Wrestlemania’s Battle Royal

Players are randomly placed on a map with resources. These resources can be cool, high powered guns, or lame, pile of wood.As the timer signifying the outer layer of the world disappearing ticks down, the player must gather resources to survive. Resources can only fill 5 slots of a player’s cache. Concurrently, a player can erect structures or barriers while trying to kill their way to the center. Confused, yet? I’ll give you the cheat sheet: poor randomized placement on board? DEAD; poor randomized gift of starting resources? DEAD; poor strategy balancing defense and offense? DEAD. This is how our children are having fun.

Out of the Mouth of a Family Therapist

The mental health profession studies the effects of gaming constantly. But, the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), which is used by mental health professionals to diagnose mental disorders, DID NOT add gaming to its latest version in 2013. Research continues investigate whether excessive video gaming has the same effect on developing brains and neurotransmitters as substance abuse (making gaming an addiction) or obsessive compulsive behaviors (making gaming an anxiety disorder. When the experts’ research comes in, therapists will know how to help families navigate this modern maladaptive behavior. Let’s not wait for them.

What Gets Lost When Your Kids Try to Win

I mentioned some basic ways a player’s game can be cut short in Fortnite®. Here is what MAY be happening to your player when that happens.

  • Self-efficacy: Sometimes used synonymously with self-esteem, self-efficacy is the belief that you are a powerful individual who can solve problems and accomplish tasks. It is also the best way to combat anxiety and depression. The random placement of player and allocation of resources work in direct opposition to healthy development of a strong sense of “I can do it!”

    The final straw…

    This randomness also feeds the “It’s not fair” button vital to moral development.Children playing Fortnite® cannot be talked out of their honest assessment that falling off the shrinking map after the game placed them on a board with no good resources making fighting to stay alive harder than peers is unfair. They are right! It is unfair. But, providing more examples of how the world (fictional or real) is designed against them sends the message that tweens and teens are powerless.

  • Empathy: Despite the amount of hits on Google, Empathy Deficit Disorder, is not a real, psychological condition. Empathy is a learned skill. It is developed over time organically, as the brain branches out, and behaviorally, as you increase your social interactions. (This would be a great transition to a rant about social media or acceptable amount of screen time for children, but that’s for a different blog.) What makes Fortnite® dangerous, is it’s design that attributes tremendous amount of value to everything..and nothing. Let me explain. A player starts the game with some level of advantage or disadvantage of location and resource randomly. There is no skill or strategy, no concrete or intrinsic value, from the moment the game starts. Trying to win means determining how to blend building defensive structures while attacking other players. The immediacy of conjuring a wall or detachment of killing an opponent make it impossible to build value into using those methods to win.
  • Emotional regulation: Do you know why you can’t explain to your child why to accept the loss that came in 4 minutes when they lasted 4 hours in the game yesterday? You are talking to a feral animal. Yes, they know nobody is really dead. Their brains, however, do not develop the ability to put things into perspective until they are in their college years. (Talk about unfair!) Their brains are being fed stimuli from the game that trigger survival responses. “Hurry or you will die!” is the message of the game. Are you surprised when your sweet little boy or girl cannot interact like a human after gaming? Their brains are still on high alert! You may be offering to cook dinner, but their primal brain is thinking you ARE dinner. When Katniss won the first Hunger Games, she got to live in a fancy house away from the poor village. That wasn’t because she was a winner. It’s because even in fictional worlds, survivalists aren’t expected to return to normal life.

Spark Note Summary

The treatment plan for Pervasive Fortnite® Personality Disorder (not a real psychological disorder…unless my colleagues use it for future research), is ironically what makes the game so dangerous, TIME MANAGEMENT. Help your tween and teen transition back into the real world by giving them tasks that are designed to be routine and control breathing. Chores like setting the table, activities like jigsaw puzzles, or completing their reading minutes for school will bring the humanity back to your home.

Parenting Inside Out: Raising a Child on the Spectrum

North Shore Moms. Working Moms of the North Shore. Mommy Needs Vodka. My Facebook feed is a mini-map of my top priority, surviving motherhood. It’s hard for everyone. We question every decision we make starting from the first labor pain! Natural labor or C-section? Breastfeed or bottle feed? Stay-at-home or working mom? We face all of those life-changing decisions before we even see our precious baby’s face.

My favorite pastime is now my only exercise.

So, we put up human bumpers to give us comfort that our parenting decisions won’t send our kids to the gutter. Our mothers, our friends, pediatricians, and the entire parenting section of  Barnes and Noble give us peace of mind that we are not alone in our parenting paranoia. There is a comfort in our mommy networks; we are all following the same path. Until, of course, your child catapults you to a whole different kind of path.

Turning Things Inside Out

Going UP the slide. Autism or silliness? Neither. It’s Jacob!

First, he stopped saying, “Bless you,” after we sneezed. Then, he flicked lights in every room and stared at the ceiling. I didn’t need to compare Jacob to his peers to notice he wasn’t a typical two-year-old. The diagnosis of autism wasn’t a shock. But, since there are countless shades of the autism spectrum, the shock comes from a constant bombardment of experts, and those with expertise, getting it all wrong. You know who gets it right most often? The dynamic duo of Mommy and Jacob! Jacob has always had an incredible, creative way of combating the overwhelming sensory noises and challenges expressing himself. It just took me some time and education to translate those skills. The trick: balancing the world inside and outside.

The Pull Inside

Many autistic kids spend their lives in their own world in fierce opposition to our drive to drag them out. (Insert anecdote about Jacob’s lack of interest in being born in direct contradiction to my need to evict his 8 lb., 4 oz stubborn body.)  It turns out that Jacob’s insistence on crawling under a table or in my lap was his way of coping with a stressor from the outside world. My job wasn’t to drag him into, what he perceived to be, a dangerous place. I learned that I just needed a passport into his world to assure him he would be safe, so he could grab my hand, and join my excitement into our shared world.

But choosing which world is safe, the inside or outside, is not easy or consistent. Parents with autistic children tend to sequester ourselves in our homes because there is a tremendous amount of emotional pain when we give in to our natural tendencies to compare our children to the others. Jacob and I love the playground! But, it’s hard to maintain focus on his shining, smiling face when he is only swinging for hours to get his sensory needs met. It’s also hard not to wince when there is a toddler baby-splaining the design of the playground to his parent when your four year old has yet to tell you his favorite color.

There is also an autistic insider’s secret world of experts with strange language and letters after their names. Suddenly, a typical kid’s demand for cookies is an autistic child’s goal of “manding for a specific item” that must be graphed and documented. (Truth be known: the autistic kid is always going to get the cookie because they have impressed you by asking for “cookies in the blue box” when the speech goal is still trying to use 3-word sentences.) Sadly, the secret language of autism and ABA therapy, added to the specialized school staff and rules governing an IEP make you feel like YOU, the most intimate warrior for your child, is the outsider. It’s hard, but it is precisely in those moments when you have to use your Tiger Mom roar to get through to those on the outside.

Giving the Outsiders Inside Information

It doesn’t take long to remember that, diagnosis or not, you are the expert on your child. It does, however, take a long time and an unrivaled well of emotional strength, to make sure that message is received. You spend hours cycling from angry tears to irate emails trying to get the world to see YOUR child. On good days, I joke that at least I have a reason for my son’s behavior where other moms just roll their eyes and blame their child’s poor decisions on paternal DNA.

Jacob’s memories are in movies and music.

Now, I challenge everyone’s conclusion that my son’s behaviors are “because he is autistic.” The common autistic behavior of scripting, medically defined as echolalia, was a great example of a teachable moment for Team Jacob. Singing during nap time got Jacob kicked out of his preschool. The outside experts in early childhood became concerned that Jacob’s inability to stay quiet while peers napped was a consequence of his autism requiring a level of care the facility did not feel they could offer. I confess: I deferred to their outside expertise. Then, I listened to the songs and movies my son was scripting. They were all about Jacob’s thoughts and feelings! When he wasn’t singing songs like “Happy and You Know It,” he was changing the lyrics (of “Down By the Bay”) to “If you ever see a Jake, eating some cake.” A typical kid may have been babbling aloud about being happy at a recent birthday party. My son sings about it!

Spark Notes Summary

You know how they say you become a new person every 7 years because you  shed a layer of skin? We look the same on the outside, but we have grown immeasurably on the inside. Jacob is only 6 years old (I’m an overachiever), but  I’m a new mom. I’m Jacob’s mom. Yes, Jacob is autistic. He is also a huge fan of Blaze and the Monster Machines, can identify each planet by picture, and enjoys a dance party with his mother every day after camp. If you want to know anything else about my autistic son, ask me. I’m the expert.

A Reaction to Another Tragedy

Despite my better instincts, I have been reading a lot of the posts about yesterday’s school shooting in Florida. The posts are the same as they have been for every awful violent event that we have watched. The ones that shock me the most are the ones that echo the reports on television that blame the school and the parents for not intervening before it was too late. As a teacher with 15 years experience and a professional counselor with extensive experience treating kids who had behavior problems in school, here is my plea….

Understand that this shooting is nobody’s fault.

Nobody could have known that this child would become a mass murderer. Getting in trouble at school, to the point of expulsion, is not an indicator of the capability to commit horrific acts of violence. As someone who ran an alternative school for students that were all considered “undesirable,” I can honestly say that “bad” kids are not de facto terrorists or mass murderers.

“If you judge people, you have no time to love them.” – Maria Teresa

The shooter in Florida is protected by confidentiality. So, we will never know what the school or his parents did to help this boy. You may not like that protection for him, but it is the same law that protects you. I worked as a court mandated counselor for juvenile delinquents. We worked with the kid, his/her parents, and their peers to help heal the traumas that enabled poor decision making. We were lucky their treatment was court ordered because it was difficult for well-intentioned parents to get past internal shame and external judgmental communities to get help for a child who was headed in the wrong direction.

It’s natural to demand answers. It’s admirable to spin our wheels to find out what we can do to prevent such tragedies. I share your anxiety about sending my son to school every day. I implore you:

Smile, don’t spy, at your neighbor.

Support, don’t shame, those who act differently and need help.

For more help about how to talk to your children about these issues, check out our blog post, A Minute of Action.

You Don’t Need a New You for the New Year

If you have been frustrated that “Lessons Learned” is not loading fast enough on your iPhone, it’s not my fault. The Uber Powerful Wizards of Technology, see also Apple, recently confessed they were deliberately slowing down our “old” iPhones. This announcement seems tonally appropriate for the time of year where we all take a harsh look at who we are and what we did over the past 365 days to make resolutions to be a newer, better, smarter version of ourselves when the clock strikes midnight on December 31. Umm…why?

The calendar gives us several excuses to create a brand new you: the Jewish New Year, birthdays, or my favorite, the beginning of the school year. Somehow New Year’s Eve cornered the market with the invention of New Year’s Eve resolutions. But, it is just a gimmick capitalized upon by gyms, weight loss programs, the vitamin and supplement industry, and well-intentioned Jewish mothers. Resolutions are a premium form of self-shaming. You spend valuable psychological and emotional energy asking yourself, “What did I do wrong that I need to change RIGHT NOW?” Save your energy for dealing with your kids who are STILL on winter vacation. If someone could make up resolutions, I thought I would invent my own New Year’s term, “the resolution cycle”.

It’s a Vicious Cycle

A perfect example of the “resolution cycle”

The “resolution cycle” starts with a time period of emotional self-flogging, harshly judging yourself for a series of decisions you have made. Then, a boost of optimism! This year will get different! With a tweak of your attitude here and some changes to your outward appearance there, you will be much happier in the days to come. It all ends when life does its thing and lands you on a chute instead of a ladder causing you to run back to the old you who knows how to survive those events. This cycle is the reason I prefer not to see clients this time of year when they seemingly need help the most. Who wants to shake up your coping mechanisms, your survival skills, when you are about to spend the next few weeks back in the family jungle that made them necessary?

Good For You, Good “To-Do”
It is easy to beat yourself up regardless of the time of year. The new year should be about celebrating you and setting goals. 2018 will be your best year ever by remembering what you did in the past and setting a path for the future.

  • No task is too small to applaud: There must have been days this year when you finished the laundry without several cycles of wrinkle release. (I can’t think of those days, myself, but I have much more faith in you, my dear readers.) How about the other small victories: getting your child to complete homework without a fight, getting praise for a project completed at work, getting to enjoy a date night with your partner. These events are all worthy of a celebration. You need to remember these magical confluences of events were actually possible because of you! You figured out a new way to prioritize your time or tapped into a new source of patience. Your 2017 self had some great moments! It is that YOU, not some holiday imposed version of a new you, that will get you through the next 12 months. So, when 2018 bites you in the butt or slaps you in the face, you have the skills necessary to react like a setback is more of a tickle than a trauma.
  • Vegetables aren’t the only things to finish: Our parents never had to succumb to hiding vegetables in desserts. They simply gave us a choice, eat your vegetables or you don’t get your reward (dessert). While rewinding your internal home videos to applaud yourself, make a note about things that you started but didn’t finish. I’m not talking about things you never started, like past years’ resolutions that are on your internal “Empty and Broken Promises” shelf.

    I love Reader’s Digest! This gem is entitled, “I will be happy next year if I can…”

    I mean the books you started to categorize and alphabetize but didn’t make it past the first cube in your bookshelf. (Come on, that can’t just be me…) I mean the photos you started to organize in your computer and send to Walgreens or Shutterfly to print but still have your son’s diaper free lap around the kitchen amidst his first day of kindergarten picture. Then, choose which one or two to complete in the upcoming year. Like our beloved iPhone batteries that are drained by background apps, we are drained by the anxiety produced by unfinished tasks. (It’s also a great cheat for next year’s “‘Atta Girl” list.)

Spark Note Summary

We know we should say, “I Love You” as often as possible instead of waiting for Valentine’s Day. Well, we don’t need to wait until New Year’s for healthy introspection. Like switching lanes in traffic, change is never easy and not always good. Change needs to start from a place of strength and proceed in baby steps. Sometimes that even means looking back in order to plan how to move forward. You know, just like how I’m going to have make sure to back up my old iPhone before giving into my husband’s resolution to get the new one.

Why Does It Still Feel Like High School?

Based on a high level of interest and comments on social media, this is the first of a THREE PART series of articles on bullying.

For years, I thought it was just me.

My fellow teachers and I would gripe to each other that we felt the faculty ACTED like the kids we taught.

Gossip? Check

Body shaming? Check

Bullying? CHECK

Forbes recently published an article which shared the research from the Workplace Bullying Institute, 75% of workers are the subject of bullying in the workplace. One of the reasons bullying in the workplace occurs is because the office is physically and socially designed the same way our schools are.

Schools Teach Offices How to Judge Others

  • Location, location, location: School tracks, advanced placement or remedial, is a well-known example of institutional bullying. Kids’  labels on their schedules and transcripts easily translate to “dumb” or “gifted”. But, as someone who has walked the halls of dozens of schools, there is also geographical bullying. Special ed classrooms are most often clustered at the end of a wing on the bottom floor while the AP classes enjoy the natural light and open windows of the top floor. Anyone think offices are different? Who doesn’t mentally decorate the CORNER office or the one on the top floor, the offices synonymous with power and status?
  • Darwin Did It: Strength, agility, and strategy help predict who wins in a fist fight. Friendliness and sensitivity seem to predict who loses that fight. Not according to Social Darwinian researchers who concluded that personality traits of bullies were adaptive skills of survival just as much as physicality. Researchers gave children identified as bullies, students involved in three or more referrals for name calling, aggression, or defiance, the Eysenck Personality Inventory — Junior. Results showed that bullies had pro-social traits like friendliness and sensitivity. Not a surprise when you consider that bullies are only successful if there are bystanders to cheer them on. Bullies were also measured as passive aggressive, dependent, and “histrionic”. (Histrionic on this personality inventory is defined by suggestible or easily influenced by others.) Climbing up the corporate ladder calls upon the skill set of the bully.

Spark Note Summary

The reason there is bullying at work is because your offices are designed the same way your schools are. Bullying is not “boys will be boys” that have a slug fest or “girls will be girls” that tease and exclude. It is literally a social construct. Schools and offices are designed to feed into our natural instincts to compete for survival. The good news is trite but true: knowledge is power. You can take a mental ride in a Dolorian, armed with the information gained here, and choose a new, better way to navigate the halls of life. The best way to survive and be the fittest, is always to live the lessons you have learned.