Don’t Forget to Listen

I had a conversation with a parent the other day regarding some struggles they were having with their child. The first advice I give to parents, caregivers and educators is to ask their child/student. Talk to them. Ask them what they are struggling with and what they feel they are doing well at. What are their likes and dislikes? What makes them happy and what upsets or angers them? Especially as a teen, it is good to let them know that you see they are struggling and you support them no matter what. The question, “How can I help you?” or “What do you need from me? I’m here,” can go a very long way sometimes. Instead of us telling them what they should be doing (don’t get me wrong, I feel like I’m telling Gracie all the time how to do things), we can ask them what they feel they need right now. In this very moment. Just letting them know that you are there for them, and allowing them to make some of their own decisions (as long as they are safe) empowers them to make the right choice and you just might be surprised! All of those things you’ve been harping on your kids for, might just sink in. We tend to forget sometimes that our kids, no matter what age, can be very insightful to what they need. Obviously this is more difficult for some. Some of your kids may be non-verbal, or give you one word answers or a grunt. They may say things are fine when they aren’t. But just letting them know you are there for them, can open up the doors to communication. If you child is non-verbal but can point to yes and no or nod their head, get creative and come up with some things you think might be triggering them. Look at what they are playing with or what they are watching. Sometimes if your child is watching the same episode over and over, it might be on topic with what they are going through. Sometimes the answer is right there in front of us but we are too busy to really see it. And don’t feel bad about that! Just remember, the answer could be the knowledge your child/student already has. They are pretty amazing.

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Developmental Age Is My Saving Grace

Patience. We either wake up with it or we don’t. Some say we choose it or we don’t. I like to think I’m patient, but I know I run out of it sometimes. I’m only human. As parents we have a lot going on in our lives. Regardless of whether we work full time, are a single parent or if we are a stay-at-home mom or dad. We all have our own busy lives.

The last post I wrote was on our child’s developmental age vs. their birth age. That post had more to do with how to teach and treat our children. One thing I didn’t add but wanted to share was how seeing your child’s developmental age can help us as parents, caregivers and teachers to have more patience.

Gracie will tell me she loves me a hundred times in a day. Seriously, I use a counter to track how often sometimes! It feels like a million times! She wants to hug me just as often. She wants me home. She follows me around. She is learning but still interrupts conversations to say what she wants to say. She gets excited over the smallest things. Christmas and Santa and the Easter Bunny and all other magical beings are the most exciting times in her world. She loves candy and anything sweet and always wants the first and biggest piece of cake. She wants to cuddle (and would get on my lap if I let her). She watches Treehouse TV and cartoons galore. She is completely innocent when it comes to sex, drugs and alcohol. She is emotional at times. Up until recently, she had meltdowns like a toddler. Imagine that in an adult body.

On the flip side, she listens to rap music. Has her sister do her makeup some days. Is able to have very mature conversations at times. She is very tall and grown up physically. She says swear words (limited to her bedroom only). She deals with all the same hormonal changes girls her age go through. She likes some name brand clothing and wants to fit in with others (although she seems to have gotten past that and is happy in her own skin). But, she posts selfies, some that include that duck face pose and likes the comments she receives! She has a boyfriend and best friend. She wants to be like every other teenager in the world.

Now here is what I mean by “her developmental age is my saving grace”. When I look at Gracie as her young 4-8 yr. old self, when I see the child inside her, I have much more patience when dealing with certain things. When I see her developmental age instead of her birth number or size of her body, her symptoms make complete sense to me. When I don’t realize that, it makes it much more difficult for me to understand and be patient with what she is doing. So give it a try. The next time you are starting to lose patience with your child or student, try seeing them at their developmental age and see if it makes a difference to you. How would you react to a 3 yr. old vs a 13 yr. old?

As I just explained to Gracie, she is a teenager but still has that “small kid inside her”. One that she is so blessed to have! How many of us have grown up wishing as a child to be an adult? We couldn’t wait to grow up and our parents would tell us not to rush it. She has the luxury of growing up, but still has the innocence, excitement and magic of a child we all wish we still had. That is something she is so fortunate to have! And we as her family and friends are so fortunate that we get to see life through her eyes. Her excitement, energy and belief of magic is contagious. Holidays will always be exciting because she will always hear that bell ring, because she will always believe.

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What is Your Child’s Developmental Age?

What is your child’s developmental age compared to their birth age? This is something that I think is important to be aware of and remember. They usually aren’t the same or in our case, Gracie is 17 in birth years, 17 in some developmental stages, yet can seem as young as 4-8yrs of age, give or take a few, in other developmental stages.

I know I was taught in College to treat everyone I worked with at whatever birth age they were at. To make sure they didn’t stand out and help them fit in as best they could. To hide their visual schedules in a binder or even more creatively in a CD case, back in the day. We were also told to not let them carry around their favourite stuffed animal in high school or as an adult out in public, and so on. But is this really fair to them? How do we balance teaching them to be proud of who they are and wanting them to fit in and not be made fun of? It’s a tricky thing. But over the years, I think we’ve managed to balance both ways. It certainly hasn’t always been easy. Gracie loves certain things that most teens her age wouldn’t enjoy or would be very embarrassed for anyone else to know about.

I remember when Gracie first started listening to rap music as a teen. Her playlist included songs with bad words that made me cringe and the next song would be The Wheels on the Bus! She was in this middle stage that we all go through of wanting to grow up and yet not wanting to lose the innocent things that bring us so much joy. She was made fun of in elementary school for liking Treehouse TV. Which by the way, she still loves and watches to this day! (She did give me permission to share this with you and I’m so very proud of her for getting to this point of loving herself just the way she is). She still does struggle with the fear of someone making fun of her for what she loves. But she holds her own, and doesn’t hide as much as she used to.

I think part of the reason Gracie has accepted herself is because she allowed herself to get to know others who have special abilities and they accept her for who she is. I think I’ve mentioned before that Gracie didn’t want any part of the special ed. department at school or the people in it when she first got to high school. She wanted to hang out with the “popular” kids. But she just couldn’t keep up with their conversations, couldn’t fit in and couldn’t be herself. After talking to her about the great qualities many people have and what it takes to sometimes be popular, and the importance of being herself, her whole life changed. By accepting the other kids in her program, she began to accept herself. The friendships she developed are filled with acceptance and this unconditional love that I’ve never really witnessed before. And I have to say, she is extremely popular at school!

I believe what my professors taught me was what they thought was best at the time 20 years ago. We are constantly learning and finding new ways to teach our kids and students. The way some things were done many years ago, we wouldn’t even attempt today. But if we teach with a kind heart, open mind, creative ideas and most importantly, accepting our children/students for who they are and allowing them to be themselves is the most important gift we can give them.

I find that seeing Gracie’s developmental age helps with my patience level as well. I’ll write another blog post and link it here when I do to explain more of what I mean. But for now, ask yourself what your child’s developmental age is. Can you meet them there? What are your thoughts on this? We’d love to here from you! Feel free to share in the comments section.

Wishing you a wonderful night!

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Study Tips!

Exam time is upon us! If you have seen Gracie’s video on Facebook about being stressed and you aren’t alone feeling this way, you know it’s a pretty stressful time in our household. If you haven’t seen it, make sure you follow us on Facebook at Well Balanced Life.

Here are a few study tips from Gracie and I:

Make or buy cue cards. Write the word on one side, definition on the other. If your child is a visual learner, write each card in a different colour. They may not only remember the definition but the colour it was written in! (The colour helps them remember).

Take your child’s favourite song and change the lyrics to teach them the topic! You don’t have to be a great singer!

Use bitmojis, favourite characters or whatever they are obsessed or fascinated with and be creative! How can you incorporate the one thing they think about the most into a learning experience?

Practice writing a test. Don’t forget to include, and teach if needed, the different types of questions – multiple choice, matching, short answer and essay questions.

Here are some things to think about and discuss with the teacher:

Does your child need extra time, less questions or a quiet space to write?

Can you chunk the test/exam into shorter “mini tests” and write it over more than one day?

If your child/student gets overwhelmed just by seeing so many questions on one page, can you cut the paper into strips and allow them to do a few at a time, with short breaks in between if needed?

Does your child do better writing their answer, having someone scribe for them or verbally giving the answers?

Can they write with their favourite writing tool whether that is a pen, pencil, markers, technology, crayons, etc?

Can your child have an open book or “cheat sheet” for more difficult tests?

What happens if they fail or do poorly on their test/exam? Can they have a rewrite opportunity?

If your child is creative, can they do an art piece to show what they know?

If your child/student is able to get their knowledge known to you, does it really matter how they present it?

If you are unsure what works best for you child/student, ASK THEM! If they can communicate… ask them! Some kids are great at knowing exactly what they need and how they learn best.

And if the school can’t accommodate them, ask them to create an IEP (Individual Education Plan). If they already have one, go over it and gently remind them what needs to be accommodated or modified.

Wishing you all the best on your studying and exam writing! As Gracie says “YOU ARE NOT ALONE!” And as I say “YOU GOT THIS!”

Mel & Grace

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How Do You Connect?

Ever wonder how to connect with your child or student? Do they seem to be in their “own world”? Will they not make eye contact with you, hug you, play with you?

One thing that I have used with my own daughter but also several students of mine is the Floortime Method. And I have to say, it has worked each time! Keep in mind, every person is different and I’m not saying that this will 100% be your strategy to finally connect. But, it’s worth a shot isn’t it?

The Floortime Method/DIRFloortime was created by Dr. Stanley Greenspan. On his website you will find a free assessment and parent course. I purchased one of his books many years ago and if you’re interested, you can purchase it on Amazon.

I don’t want to make this post too long and there is so much to explain, but if you go to the websites, there will be a wealth of information there for you to read. BUT, I know how busy you guys can be!! So to make things super easy and simple, in a nutshell, you literally just get down to the child’s level and start engaging in the activity that they are doing. Is she spinning? You spin with her. Is she banging cars together laughing? You bang cars and laugh along with her. Is he flapping his hands looking at an object with his head at a certain angle? You do the same! Every time I’ve done this, the child has connected with me in some way. They have always smiled and seemed thrilled that I was joining “their world” and doing something they love to do! After connecting in this way, you up the stakes a bit by not just joining their world, but literally going in their world. If Gracie was throwing bean bags down the stairs, laughing, I would run down before her to grab the bean bag, run back up the stairs as quickly as possible and throw it down again, laughing my head off! If a student was rolling a car down a track fast so it could crash, I would start by stepping in front and saying “my turn” and I would roll the car down the track fast and react in the same way he did when it crashed. At first, the kids were like “Whoa, what do you think you’re doing?” but very quickly when they realized they had a turn next, they would join me in play. They seemed excited to play with me.

This method of play therapy is very specific with a certain amount of time during the day, a certain step by step process in a sense. But for me, as a parent at home who just wanted to connect with my child as quickly as possible? I started with what I’ve mentioned above. I took their idea and did what I could.

That’s what we do with EVERY professional we saw. Take their advice and use what we thought would work best for our family. I’ll do a video on this soon and will link it here.

I hope this helps you and your family!

If you have any other questions, feel free to email me at wellbalancedlife@rogers.com

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Waiting For the First Day of School

Every year our G goes through a bit of a rough time a week or two before school starts. This year we got her school supplies at the beginning of August and she thanked me because she had been worrying about that for a month (which would be the beginning of July) but she knew I would say that was way too soon to worry! lol I had know idea she was worrying for that long. And I guarantee you she has worried like this every year of her life! She just didn’t show it until a week or two before school. Or maybe she did show it. Looking back, our summers were a big struggle. She would have meltdowns ALL the time! I remember going camping in Ottawa over the July 1st weekend. I  had to put her in the car and drive around while she screamed and kicked the windows so she wouldn’t disrupt the other campers trying to enjoy a relaxing time. We used to think it was the change in routine. And maybe it was. But now I think we can add in the unknown of the following school year for her. Not seeing her “people”, her teachers and peers everyday. For a child with adoption issues, this can be traumatizing in itself. People coming and going in her life.

This year has been one of huge success! Instead of crying and screaming and laughing, she has directed all of her anxieties into singing and playing her guitar. She makes up songs as she “plays” (she strums incredibly well so we’re going to start guitar lessons in the fall). Her songs are all about her starting school, who her EAs and teachers might be, and how she would like the year to go. Right now, she’s singing about how it will be ok. She had a good year last year and this year will be the same. She is singing whatever she needs to in order to feel better about it. The guitar is going non-stop, ALL DAY LONG. I wanted to take it away yesterday, but that is when I realized, she is directing her anxious fears in a healthy way. I can’t take that away from her. I would much prefer to hear her playing the guitar and singing, rather than screaming and laughing hysterically. And when I can’t take it anymore, I leave. I go for a walk or a drive. Some might think she should do something else in her day. Wonder how I can let her do this all day long. Well, for G, she needs to let all of this “out” before she gets to school, otherwise, it will all come out AT school. She told me she had her big cry yesterday too. She’s like a volcano ready to erupt and she will. I would just prefer she do it at home instead of at school where she would be embarrassed. A couple of days playing guitar in her room is the healthiest thing for her at this moment.

So whatever your child needs to do to prepare themselves for their new school year, especially if they are starting a new school such as high school, let them do it. In a safe and loving environment. Trust that they know what they need. If it’s still aggressive behaviour like it used to be for us, it will pass. You will get through it just like you did the last meltdown. And the one before that. And the one before that. You just need to do what you need to do to keep them safe.

You aren’t alone. Several families are going through similar situations as you are reading this.

So to you, I am sending a big hug, strength and love! You’ve got this!!

 

Mel

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Friendships

Well this is a tough one! In all honesty, I think that certain skills can be taught on how to be a good friend, how to have conversations with people, play skills, how to connect with non-verbal children who seem to prefer to play independently etc. etc. But what it really comes down to, in order for all of those teachings to work, is for your child to find someone who accepts them for who they are.

GG has always connected more with adults than children her own age. The adults seem to enjoy her enthusiasm and even more, her honesty. Not all teenagers can handle that kind of honesty.  I would say her biggest struggle right now is not understanding the conversations that her peers have. Plus developmentally, they are at a different stage than she is. She is wanting to go to parties or hang out with friends on a Friday night yet still loves treehouse tv. She listens to the typical rap music her peers listen to and then mixed in with those playlists she has the wheels on the bus, etc.  She can’t be unsupervised so this makes things very difficult! She can be easily manipulated to do something because she wants to fit in so bad. She’s been in tears over this.

I know some of you have children who continue to struggle with peers and developing friendships. My advice to you is to keep working through them as they come along, but also throw in some teaching moments whenever possible.

*Disclaimer! LOL  I haven’t researched this in a long time! We learn as we go. So most of my suggested book list is probably outdated! However, they still worked for us so that is why I’m sharing them. If and when I come across some new material, I’ll let you know! 

Here are a list of books and programs we have used and love:

The Asperkid’s (Secret) Book of Social Rules: The Handbook of Not-So-Obvious Social Guidelines for Tweens and Teens with Asperger Syndrome written by Jennifer O’Toole. This book is written for your child to read themselves. They have to be able to comprehend it and it is a bit on the challenging side. It was too complicated for G to read so I read it myself and explained some of it to her in a way she would understand. It’s a great way to really understand where our kids are coming from and how they see the world. It was written by a woman with Aspergers. Who better to learn from than from someone who has lived with this struggle!

More Than Words: Helping Parents Promote Communication and Social Skills by Fern Sussman. This book was given to us at a workshop for parents. It was suggested for parents whose children were non-verbal. It was a good program, especially to meet and connect with other parents. Ask your speech pathologist for a course near you. (If they still run them)!

I am a huge fan of the Pivotal Response Treatment manuals from the Koegel Autism Consultants. They have books and manuals on their website that I highly recommend.

Pivotal Response Treatment® is a highly acclaimed research-based intervention for individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD). PRT® is a naturalistic intervention model derived from Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) *

Space Travellers: An Interactive Program for Developing Social Understanding, Social Competence and Social Skills for Students with Asperger Syndrome, Autism and  Other Cognitive Challenges: Space Guide Manual. This is a program that can be done in school with their classmates in a fun space theme.

The Circles Program teaches social boundaries. Your school or school board should have a copy of this program. Ask your Special Education Resource Teacher (SERT) if they have one available and if they can incorporate it into their school program.

The American Girls Care and Keeping of You Books are great for teaching hygiene and body changes, etc. Let’s face it, hygiene is a big factor in whether or not our kids make and keep friendships! The Feelings Book is also another great one to check out!

The Greenspan Floortime Approach website has a free online course and resources for parents. It’s been years since we incorporated this method in our home or with some of the children I’ve worked with and what I remember is putting myself in “their world”. If a child was spinning in a circle, I would join them. If they were flapping their hands and making noises, I would join them. If they were lining cars up, you guessed it, I joined them. This allowed the child to see that I was interested in what they were doing. I was amazed at the eye contact I received and the smiles because I was joining their play instead of trying to direct their play. We connected which eventually led to trust. I could then add to their play. It was incredible! And very rewarding.

Throughout the years, we have met some pretty incredible people and families. Especially in our autism community. If you ever get the chance to go to any social groups through Autism Ontario or other programs, take the leap and go! Even if you have hesitations. I promise you it will be worth it! The parents get it! They will support you and offer assistance. You won’t get the stares (even if it is just out of curiosity and not judgement), and you and your children will connect with other parents and siblings and friends that can possibly last a lifetime!

We have gone on some overnight trips through Autism Ontario and they have been some of my favourite moments that provided some of my favourite memories. If you are in the Georgian Bay area, check out the Kinark Outdoor Centre. Look under Autism and see their family respite weekends (definitely one of my favourites) and family camp programs. We attended the Family Respite Weekend and it was incredible! Hubby and I got about 2-3 hours a day to ourselves to do what we wanted while G was with a one on one worker and her siblings were off with a group doing activities with other siblings. It was amazing!!

Again, this is just a small list of books/sites and I could go on and on but each child is different and only you will know what works best for them. This will hopefully get you started! If you need more specific strategies, send me an email. We’ll help each other out!

 

*Koegel Autism: Pivotal Response Treatment (PRT) Training and Services.

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It’s Common Sense, Right? Wrong.

I was at a conference a few years back and heard a woman speak about living with autism. Some of the things she said that I found so interesting revolved around her perception of things. She had told us that the first time she came to present at this conference, she was asked to put her speech on a disk or USB stick. She had no idea how to do that so she threw the computer across the room. She wasn’t trying to be defiant. She wasn’t trying to be aggressive. She just felt that if the computer was broken she wouldn’t have to do what she didn’t know how to do. Completely innocent in her mind. Completely unacceptable to everyone else around her.

She also mentioned that while she was looking out the window high up from her hotel room, she saw something across the street she wanted. In her mind, the quickest way to get there was to go out the window. Luckily she had people to stop her, but this was her way of thinking.

This was an adult who was capable of standing in front of hundreds of people explaining why she does what she does, even letting us know that she is obsessed with skating or gymnastics and trampoline so if she goes off topic, make sure one of us let her know, yet the most common sense things were not so common to her. As she stated, what makes the most common sense to us, are the hardest for our kiddos to learn. The more common sense it is, the more you have to teach it.

I’m not saying putting a speech or document on a USB is common sense, or even easy to do for some people. But what would come naturally to us is asking for help. Whether it’s with words, body language, gestures, sign language, etc. Communication is extremely important. In whatever way your child communicates. Did you know that 80% of communication is body language. So don’t get discouraged if your child doesn’t speak. We can still teach them what they need to know.

This holds very true for our G. When she was a toddler and not yet speaking, she would throw her plate across the room. Right off the high chair just missing someone’s head with her bowl and spraying us, the floor and walls with food. We did end up putting some food directly on her tray but that wasn’t teaching her anything. We started catching her just as she was taking that last bite and showing her the sign “All Done” and removing her bowl. It took a while but she got it! No more food baths for the rest of us! 🙂 Was she being difficult? No! She just knew that when she was done, she would remove her plate the way she knew how. Or more likely, that was her way of communicating to us that she was done.

This is just one of many examples of how it may seem like your child is being defiant, rude or aggressive, when in reality, this is far from the truth.  With a little love, understanding and investigating (mixed in with your confusion and frustration), your child will soar.

Really think of what you do in a day, and how many steps it takes to complete one thing. Even if your child is just in the room watching and listening to you do it, they are learning. Model, model, model. There is a great book by Jennifer O’Toole on helping to teach your children some basic life skills. She has AwEsOmE ideas and great tips and tricks! Check it out here.

 

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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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