Dating?!? Oh boy…

GG’s biggest struggle with her peers is not making friends, it’s keeping them. She is a very popular girl at school! Everyone knows her and is extremely kind to her. Yet she never gets invited to hang out with them outside of school. Like I said before, this would be complicated to arrange making sure she had the supervision she needs, but we’ve never really had to worry about it because she doesn’t get invited.

She is starting to see that as she gets older, the gaps are getting larger. She is realizing that the kids in her special ed department are pretty cool and she feels so much more comfortable with them. They understand. They accept her for who she is. Being “cool” isn’t what’s important now (sometimes). It’s having friends that genuinely like her.

The only problem now is, most of her friends are all in the same boat. They all want friendships or a partner so badly they go from meeting each other one day, being best friends within 5 minutes, to either dating or hating each other the next.

With the dating comes holding hands, kissing and you know the rest of the stages of a relationship. The problem with our kiddos is they go from 0-10 in a nanosecond. And don’t quite understand the boundaries and privacy. We are trying to explain that she  needs to learn how to keep a friend before she starts a dating relationship. Again, this is why it’s so important she still have supervision so they can help her navigate this part of her life. I’d do it if I could, but I don’t think she’d want her mama following her to school everyday!

With hating each other, it’s usually due to a misunderstanding. Someone could be giving her a compliment but she takes it as an insult. Or if she wants someone to like her so badly, she gets extremely anxious and her coping strategies come out. She laughs hysterically, blurts out words (usually in someone’s face), asks a gazillion questions and in all honesty, just annoys the heck out of them. Some of her peers have sensory issues too, so you can imagine how this goes.

We’re just going to take things as they come. Keep talking and working through it. Role play if needed and keep teaching. All I wish is for her to find a lasting friendship. I know it will happen. We just keep hoping it happens sooner, rather than later.

If you’re at the same stage as we are, feel free to connect! We can help each other out!

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Gift Ideas

Shopping for your child may be a hard task. For GG her clothing has to be the right comfort and fabric, not scratchy or too tight or too loose. She has never really done the pretend play with dollhouses or cars and trains. Craft supplies and cooking/baking supplies require that I am available to assist her with these projects. She never liked to build with blocks or lego, play sports or and she’s not into video games.

As she’s gotten older, it’s getting easier to buy for her. She now has an idea of what she wants and doesn’t want. She loves Roots clothes (I swear we should own a share in this company since it’s all she would wear for years). She is very much into Apple products/electronics and she is still obsessed with elves and christmas itself. I can’t share what I got her this year, at least not before Christmas but I can share with you some neat toys that your children might like.

Here are my favourites:

The Tranquil Turtle is a night light turtle that projects and under water effect and also plays the sound of the waves and a melody.

They also have other turtles and ladybugs that project the constellation on the ceiling.

Trampolines are always great fun! You can get many different types of mini trampolines instead of just this basic one. There are some with handles or you can even get one with a net around it.

Hanging chairs/swings can also be hung in your house if you have the room. We even got a chin up bar that fits between the door jam so we could hang it up and take it down whenever we wanted. I don’t remember the name brand of the bar we had, but this gives you an idea.

Ikea has a well priced tunnel and tent that can collapse down so you can tuck it under the bed or behind a dresser. I’m pretty sure you can find these at Walmart as well. Ikea also has a circus tent and play kitchen with soft fabric food with your child would prefer this (and doesn’t put everything in their mouth). They also have real looking miniature size kitchen utensils and dishes. This is great for teaching them how to cook and serve in the kitchen.

Bean bags are a nice gift too but check out these Crash Mats! I haven’t bought anything from Hippo Hug, but I’m loving that it’s Canadian based and there is a video about the benefits of weighted blankets. They are pricey but if your child or adult calms with deep pressure, check it out! I love their mermaid bracelets and chewlery too!!

National Austism Resources share a whole bunch of ideas! It’s an American company but just google any toys that peek your interest. You can get just about anything online these days.

I hope this helps! Have fun shopping!!

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IEP – Individual Education Plan

An IEP – Individual Education Plan is a LEGAL document that states what your child’s needs are and how the school will address these needs. This document has to be completed within 30 school days and developed with the input of parents and students if they are 16 years or older. Here is a link to our government website that explains the legalities of it.

I very rarely am invited to help develop the IEP. Some teachers have sent it home with the request of a signature only. When that happens, I read the entire document and pencil in where I would like changes or additions made. I DO NOT sign it! I leave a note saying I will sign it once the changes have been made. Sometimes, I get it sent home to me asking to review it, make changes and sign it. I still DO NOT sign it until I have the original hard copy.

This year, G is in high school and this process is new to me. I have had to send a few (several) emails to the SERT and/or teachers regarding different things and I hope that once the IEP is done, my emails will decrease. All staff have been so great with me and have been encouraging me to email or call anytime with any questions or concerns! I am so grateful for this!!

Gracie had a quiz or test in religion before any IEP was mentioned. Now I certainly don’t expect the teacher to hold off on doing any tests until our IEP is complete, but I had to share with her how she learns, how she may need someone to scribe the test for her (if she isn’t being tested on her printing skills) and how the language of what was being represented had to be simpler in order for her to understand. This test was on the 10 Commandments and the original language that this is written in doesn’t make any sense to my daughter! I’ve had to rewrite the notes she has taken in class into a way that she will understand it. I shared this with the teacher and she was very understanding! She sent me a sample test with the original word box (it was fill in the blank) so Gracie could study at home. Working together is what makes our children successful.

So my advice to you is, communicate with the school in the nicest way possible! Be honest. Be kind. Let them know you would like to work together. Ask to have a meeting to help develop the IEP. And go to that meeting with a list of strategies that you know work for you child and explain how it will help them at school as well to avoid any meltdowns and anxiety. Know your legal rights by reading the information on our government website. Until then, if your child is starting a new school, and/or starting high school where she will have more than one teacher or EA, send her to school with a little cue card for each teacher and EA that has some quick information on it about her that she can give them.

Here is a sample of Gracie’s card:

Feel free to put your child’s name and/or picture on it! You can also put your contact info. on it so they can text, call or email you with any questions they might have.

I hope some of this information helps you. If you need more guidance, please feel free to email me!

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Classroom Management

There are so many different fun and creative ideas out there. A quick google search and they are all at your fingertips! Here are some of my favourites!

For a younger chatty class or anytime you want to get their attention try some of these.

Here is the link to the blog post I got this picture from. We’ve used some of these phrases in our class and the kids love them!

Another teacher I’ve worked with allows the kids to grab a healthy snack first thing in the morning and they take a few minutes to rate their morning on a number scale. Each child says how they are feeling by picking a number between 1 & 5. This gives the teacher an idea of what they may be going through, good or bad. It probably only takes 10 mins. tops.

Chris, a teacher and creator of Special Books by Special Kids, who now travels around far and wide interviewing families, had videotaped his morning greetings to his students. It went viral and for a good reason. Starting the day like this allowed them to feel good about themselves. Who wouldn’t have a good day starting like that! Check out his viral video here and it’s worth the time to watch as many of his interviews as possible!

The classroom environment is important in classroom management. Read this blog post I wrote for more information.

Another teacher I’ve worked with uses a marble jar filled with marbles. She has two jars. One is empty, the other is full. Any time the kids are on task, she moves (or allows a student to move) anywhere from 1-5 marbles into the empty jar. I like the marble jar more than other reinforcements because she doesn’t have to say anything. There is no raising her voice to talk over the kids so they can hear her.  The kids hear the marbles dropping into the jar. If they are not on task and she has had to ask one too many times for them to follow direction, she just stands there and removes the marbles from the jar she is trying to fill and drops them back into the original jar. The kids hear this and stop fairly quick. When they are on task, they get extremely excited when they see the marbles have almost reached the top. Once the jar is full, they vote on different activities such as extra gym time, outside play, pajama day etc. This gets turned into a math activity with graphing.

These strategies work well with most of the students I’ve worked with one on one. Yet all of these strategies can be incorporated into the class so our children don’t stand out. Even incorporating their physio and occupational therapy programs within the class DPA (Daily Physical Activity) or phys. ed. is also great for the entire class to get moving around! Sometimes our kiddos act out because they feel so different from the rest of the group. This helps with that.

Lastly, check out Goldie Hawn’s MindUp website. There is science to back this up and there is great information on how meditation affects students learning.

Good luck to all the teachers and support staff starting school Tuesday!! You’ve got this!!

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First Day of School

The first day of school is just around the corner! Most of our kids are probably ready to get back to a routine. Unless you’re one of those parents who are able to have a very scheduled day. I’ve always wanted to be like that, but our planned day changes minute to minute!

 

There are a few things you can do to prepare your child/teen for their new school year.

  1. Most schools are open a week or two before school starts. Call your school at the beginning of the week to ask for a meeting with the principal and to bring your child for a tour. This way, you should be able to find out who their teacher is (most schools don’t share this information before the first day of school, but if it will help your child with the transition, most are pretty good about sharing that info.) If the teacher is at the school, the child can meet them and at the very least, go see their new classroom.
  2. Take pictures of the class, gym, library, halls, sensory room, washrooms, etc. if this is a new school for your child. You can create a social story or comic strips. If you are new to social stories, you can learn about them by clicking on this link. They were developed by Carol Gray and you can visit her website if you want more in-depth information. There are some social stories already created online and a google search should direct you to some.
  3. Read the social stories at home each day or before bed. The more you talk about it, the more comfortable your child should become.
  4. If your child is starting high school, check out this book Middle School: The Stuff Nobody Tells You About – A Teenage Girl with High Functioning Autism Shares Her Experiences by Haley Moss. I originally purchased it from Amazon but it was taking months (which is very unusual). I cancelled that order and went to Chapters online and it came within a few days. It is written for middle school if your child goes to a new school in grade 7, but works just as well for high school. We’ve been reading it every day and it has a ton of great tips for her!
  5. If your child is starting kindergarten and you aren’t already connected with the preschool services in your area, make sure you call them. We are so fortunate to have One Roof in Midland. The direct number to the Community Living Huronia preschool services is 705-527-7022, Ext 327. But One Roof has many many services all under “One Roof”.  If you don’t live in Simcoe County just Google Preschool Services for children with special needs. If you are having a hard time finding services in your area, ask your family doctor. Check out the information on the Ministry of Child and Family Services Special Needs Support. If you still need assistance, shoot me an email and I’ll see what I can find.
  6. Be positive!! Don’t let your fears of past experiences, or the thought of leaving your child with someone new scare you. Your child will sense it! The staff at the school should be well trained and want what is best for their students! They will do everything they can to keep them happy and safe.

Good luck!! This is just another one of the many progresses to come! I’ll post more throughout the year on specific issues that may arise at school and will update this post. If you or your child is struggling with something school related and need some help, send me an email and we can chat!

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Behaviour or Symptoms?

The definition of behaviour in the dictionary is “the way in which one acts or conducts oneself, especially toward others” and “the way in which an animal or person acts in response to a particular situation or stimulus.”

The key phrase that makes “behaviour” so challenging is the part that says ‘especially toward others.’ It makes things so hard for parents, siblings, caregivers, teachers, EAs, peers etc. because we feel that it is directed at us. But imagine being the child or adult who is losing control! No one wants to feel that way.  Nobody wants to feel out of control!

I love the way Jeff Noble from FASD Forever puts it…FASD (or insert diagnosis here) is forever. Frustration is not. He also opens our eyes to the fact that behaviour is a SYMPTOM. Just changing the word BEHAVIOUR TO SYMPTOM will help you be a little more understanding and less frustrated. Because ultimately, that’s what it is! A symptom of being over stimulated, tired, challenged, unable to communicate desires, etc.

There are many reasons why a person acts out either verbally or physically. And it’s not easy. But if you are able to figure out what is causing it, you may be able to prevent it. And remember, as your child grows, they may grow out of it. With your help of course. For others, it may be a lifelong challenge, but hopefully with growth and learning different strategies over the years, it will get somewhat easier.

Here is information on what an ABC chart is.  There are links to an example of one and a blank one for you to document the Antecedent (what happened right before the “behaviour”) Behaviour (what was the behaviour) and Consequence (what happened right after). Documenting allows you to see whether the cause is ESCAPE/AVOIDANCE/ATTENTION SEEKING OR SENSORY.

There are different strategies for different symptoms. It is important to be proactive as much as possible instead of being reactive.

  1. The number one place to start is the ENVIRONMENT. What can you do right now in your home or class to avoid any outbursts. How can you make your place a safe and calming area. Can you get rid of clutter in the room and on the walls, paint your rooms a calming colour, put sharp objects out of sight, make a “calming area” with lights, bean bags, weighted blankets, noise reduction headphones, soft music/sounds, books, fidget toys, etc. For small children a box, tent, or sitting under a table with curtains to close off the world might help. A small room for older kids and adults or even a corner of a room with a divider can be a great place of comfort.
  2. The second thing I like to do with my daughter and my students (no matter how young or old) is INTERVIEW THEM. If they are able to communicate, ask them…What makes you angry?  What makes you happy? What is hard for you? What is easy for you? What do you like? What do you dislike? How can I help you be successful? What kind of activities or treats do you like? What helps to calm you down? I can’t believe how much information I receive! They know what helps them or hurts them! So why try and guess when the best information you can get is right at your fingertips? Knowing that my student just needs 5 minutes to sit quietly or needs to go for a walk to get a drink or even just go to the washroom and put cold water on his face to calm himself down makes the day so much easier than him yelling and hitting and running out of the room. You can gain so many strategies with this information! And you’re teaching your child/student to advocate for themselves. It gets them thinking about what they need. And it shows them that they matter to you. Their thoughts and feelings are important.
  3. Using the answers from your interview or observations, you can develop visuals, choice boards, reward charts, schedules, etc. to use at home and school. Communication (or lack of communication) is one of the main reasons for challenging behaviour. So visuals around the home and school are very important! There are software programs such as Boardmaker that you can purchase (ask your speech pathologist about it) or even just using Google Images. You can get photos of just about anything! Place pictures around your home. Put pictures of food on your fridge so your child can point to what he/she wants. Make a board that says MORE and ALL DONE on it so your child can point to one or the other instead of throwing their finished plate across the room. Use a visual timer to show them how much time they have left for an activity. A time timer is great because it visually shows them with colour, but you can also buy the timers at the dollar store or use an app on your phone. There are so many strategies for every challenge. It’s just a matter of figuring out what works and what doesn’t through trial and error.

If you have specific questions or are in need of help, send me an email! I’ll do my best to guide you in the right direction 🙂

And remember, the calmer you are, the easier to it is to diffuse a situation. Take deep breaths, tell yourself this isn’t personal. This behaviour/symptom is based out of fear, frustration, anxiety, needing attention, etc.

Together we will get through it! xo

 

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Advocating

Advocating can be a challenge! It is a fine line between advocating for your child and being the crazed mom who everyone tries to avoid. I’ve been on both sides of the table as a mom and as an EA. I also understand how frustrating it can be as a mom when you feel like your child’s needs aren’t being met or as an EA when you feel like you are doing everything in your power to help your student succeed and yet it just isn’t good enough. I never ever like to assume things or judge a parent for how they are parenting their children. But I do need to mention that if you are going through the grieving process or if several different teachers and professionals have told you that they feel your child should see a paediatrician, please, please,  please trust that they know what they are talking about and only want what is best for your child. As an educator, we don’t speak to parents about an issue unless we feel very sure and strongly that it will help the student.

That being said, as a parent, we need to make sure that our child’s needs are being met. When we aren’t in the school day in and day out, we have no idea what is going on and we need to trust that the professionals know what they are doing. Communication is key! Here are some suggestions to help you be in the know:

1. Communicate!! Ask questions! Don’t be afraid to discuss any concerns with the EA, teacher, principal, group home worker etc. Having consistency between home and school will benefit your child greatly.

2. Have a communication book or agenda that goes back and forth. But make sure to read and write in it! If your             child is non-verbal, provide the school with a visual schedule that the EA can go over with your child at the end of the day. They can circle or stamp the activities they have done that day.

Better yet, ask the EA if they already have a visual schedule/daily agenda made that they could send home. Many schools have the Boardmaker software that they use in the school already. This also will allow for consistency with the photos between home and school. Click here for more information on Boardmaker.

3. Request a meeting. Before school starts, a month or two after school starts, and again in the spring. And any other time you feel you need to meet in person to discuss issues/concerns that can’t be written in the daily agenda.

Having a meeting before school starts each year allows you to go over any changes the summer may have brought. Strategies that work and strategies that don’t. A lot of growth can happen in just a couple of months. Meeting a month or two into the school year will give you a good idea of how things are going and where they are headed. It is so much easier to deal with situations that arise right from the get go instead of waiting months where the symptoms or behaviour become a habit. Being proactive is much better than being reactive. Make a plan together and follow through with it!

4. Check out this website that has specific issues needing intervention. Lindsay Moir was an incredible advocate who sadly passed away and is greatly missed by his family, friends and special needs community. Scroll down to the bottom and click  ‘View ask Lindsay Archive’

5. Bring in an 8×10 photo of your child to your meeting. Tape it to the chair beside you. Any time they start talking numbers (because let’s face it, it usually comes down to money) just point to the picture.  Remind them that your child isn’t just a number. It may have been Lindsay who suggested this at one of his workshops I attended. It was pretty powerful. (I would only use this strategy if the school board and I had been trying to see eye to eye for some time).

6. BE KIND. Always be kind and thankful. No one purposefully tries to sabotage your child’s learning. No one purposefully tries to be difficult to work with. We are all doing our best. Working as a team is how your child will succeed.

There is so much more information, but this is a start. It is hard to suggest something to you when each one of you will have a different concern. If you have a specific issue that you need help with, send me an email and I’ll see what I can do.

In the meantime, here are some links to help you know some of your rights!

Learning Disabilities Association of Ontario has a Parent’s Guide to the IPRC & IEP process

IEP (Indivual Education Plan) Resource Guide by the Ontario Government

ABC Ontario has an IEP guide for gifted students

Disability and Human Rights Brochure is located here

 

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Anxiety

I’ve had my fair share of helping my kids deal with anxiety. And this isn’t a small fear of the first day of school or performance at a music festival. This is constant worries and fears that get in the way of daily living. It’s real. And affects every single moment of the day sometimes.

Here are my “Top 3” resources that greatly helped our family:

AnxietyBC – This is a website is a small non-profit organization based out of Vancouver, BC that provides self-help resources on anxiety.  It has so so many tips, tricks and strategies that your child, teenager and even adults can benefit from! I cannot say enough good things about this website. It is FULL of fantastic information! The link will direct you to their youth section but if you hover your mouse over the “Self Help” section, you can then go to the parent, child, youth, adult and treatment page. Check every section out because it is amazing!!

Horses Are Magic – This is a farm out in Orr Lake, Ontario where you can go to work with Alla and her horses to help you with grief, anxiety, confidence, etc. Alla was wonderful with my children! She provides a very calm, safe and supportive environment. My children would journal, paint, talk and work with the horses. It is one thing to go to counselling and talk about your feelings and fears, yet your body can still stress physically. Even when your mind seems clear. Working with the horses while receiving counselling works both mind and body together. Check out her website for more information, but if your child is an animal lover (even if they aren’t), this is a great place to be!

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy – A guide for parents and their children written by Dawn Huebner. These books are AMAZING!! There are a few different topics but wow they are all fantastic!! A great visual for facing fears, dealing with OCD, worries, dealing with a bad temper, bad habits, afraid of going to bed, etc. Click on the link above and it will bring you to amazon.ca where you can read the description and reviews. These helped our family TREMENDOUSLY!

I hope these help you like they’ve helped us!! If you need anything else, send me an email at wellbalancedlife@rogers.com and I’ll see what I can do!

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The Importance of Acknowledging Adoption

 

We adopted our GG when she was a year and a half. We didn’t know if she would walk or talk. Fortunately she doesn’t stop doing either one! For years, we learned all we could about autism and immersed her and ourselves into that world. She had so many physical, emotional and medical needs when she was younger, I have to admit, adoption stuff got put on the back burner. We had read all we could before she came to us but once she was here…nada. The year she turned 8 years old we were at our wits end. My husband and I didn’t get any sleep for about 8 months. In the past, if one of us were too exhausted, the other one was full of energy ready to take over. Not the summer she turned 8! We were both sleep deprived, frustrated and had lost our patience. Gracie was screaming every night and would give us one look and turn around and go back to sleep once we went to her room to check on her. She was our alarm clock every morning once we did finally fall asleep. She was waking up her brother and sister most nights too because she was so loud! We couldn’t figure out what was going on. She also had to be with us All. The. Time. One day I was going to get something out of our van. I ran out without announcing it to anyone because I was just going to be a few seconds. As soon as I ran out the door, I heard GG yelling out her window! “Don’t leave me! Come back! Don’t leave!” All of a sudden, it all made sense! She was worried we were going to leave her. That is when the adoption stuff came more in to play. I came inside, held her and we talked about how we were never going to leave her. We spoke about our forever family. We also realized that every night when she would scream until we went in her room, she was just making sure we were still there.

So, we role played. If she wanted to make sure mom and dad were still there, she could get out of bed, tiptoe to our room and peek inside, then go right back to sleep. She’s done it every night since! That lasted a few years and now she doesn’t need to check on us anymore. Most of the time.

If your child is adopted AND has special needs, don’t forget the trauma they have gone through. Even if your child was in a loving foster home or came directly to you from birth. Losing the sounds and feeling of their birth mom’s heartbeat that they’ve only known for 10 months is traumatic.

For some tips and resources on adoption, please click here.

 

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