August 2012 Newsletter
Do I have to go back to school?
Where did summer go? Just a few weeks ago, we talked about summer activities and how to have a less stressed summer. Now, we need to refocus and start preparing for the start of a new school year. Some children are eager to return to school; others may be a bit reluctant to return to school. But, like it or not, the start of a new school year is rapidly approaching and now is the time to prepare for it by reestablishing routines. The following suggestions, adapted from an article from the Child Mind Institute, lists some dos and don’ts to help minimize back to school anxieties.
- 1. Get Back into the Routine
- Start having more school-like hours. Even just a few days before school begins, bedtime should go back from 11:00 to 9:00, for example, or whatever is appropriate. Additionally, children should be waking up around the time they’d have to wake up for school and performing the normal routine: shower, breakfast, getting dressed, and so forth.
- Limit “screen time”—whether it’s a computer, the TV, or a handheld device-and make sure they are off at least an hour before bed. Children sometimes have a hard time separating from their virtual world, and if they don’t have some “downtime” they’ll still engaged and it will affect their ability to fall asleep on their own.
- Shop for school supplies earlier rather than later. The selection at stores is better, which is no small matter when you’re trying to make the transition as easy as possible, and the activity primes children for their eventual return to the classroom.
- Talk About Changing Friendships
- Summer can be a volatile time for young friendships, and talking about what to expect when school starts is a good way to ease children into the idea that social relationships change.
- Sometimes your BFF one year may seem a little distant the next year, and letting children know this sort of thing happens can help them weather these often-painful changes.
- Being able to share friends with other children, and to have friends overlap, is a skill that’s important to learn, which is why it’s something that warrants discussion.
- Not all problems need fixing; sometimes children just want to be able to talk about these upsets without expecting you to fix them; sometimes children just want parents to validate their feelings and say, “I know that’s hard.”
- Have a Trial Run
- One way to help children get off on the right foot-or at least a better foot-is to give children with anxiety problems, and certainly children who have refused to go to school in the past, a “dry run” or two before school starts.
- Driving by the building, walking in the building, getting reacquainted with the smells, sights, and sounds; this can be necessary to make day one happen at all.
- Trial runs are also really good for children transitioning to a new school. Children who are going from elementary to middle or middle to upper, have an orientation, but it usually takes place at the end of the previous year. So it’s good to go and take a dry run and map out classes, locate lockers and that kind of thing.
- And if a child puts up a fight and refuses to do that, it could be a red flag that this year will be problematic. But at least you’ve figured this out before school starts.
- Help Children Manage Their Commitments
- The tricky part of going back to school is that the first week or two are usually pretty exciting but slow weeks in terms of work, so it’s easy to get caught up in a false sense of, “Oh, this is easy, and I can take on this, this, and that extracurricular.” Then, October comes along and a child may think, “I have a lot of work in front of me and where am I going to find the time?” So it might be a good idea to wait on new activities until mid-October and leave enough time for adjustment.
- The fact is that some children tend to get over-involved in clubs, sports, student government, and by the time they get home, they’re exhausted. Maybe by the time they start homework, its nine o’clock, only two hours before bedtime at 11:00. They get overwhelmed by their activities, and then they get further and further behind in their schoolwork, which makes them depressed and prone to procrastinate. It just becomes too much for them to handle.
- We want parents to temper their expectations for children, so that children can practice balance in their own lives; modeling this in your own life can be helpful. For example, you could explain to your child that you were asked to join a fundraising committee but you said no because you realized that you would be overcommitted.
- DON’T Forget to Refuel
- When children are with you, when you’re both on vacation, you know what and when they’re eating, and if they’re staying up late, it’s likely to be watching a movie with you. When school starts again, you lose some control, even if you don’t realize it. You may assume that certain things are happening at school-or in your child’s bedroom-and then wonder what in the world has gotten into your suddenly surly, under-performing kid.
- Be particularly aware of meals. Most children wake up at 6:30 or 7:00am and may or may not have breakfast. For younger grades, lunch could be anywhere from 10:30 to 1:00. Do we know what they’re eating for lunch? Do they pack lunch or buy hot lunch? How much are they eating? Are they trading their sandwiches for cookies? Are they having a snack during afterschool activities? If they’re not having a snack, they could be coming home ravenous at 5:00pm, not be able to focus on homework for an hour, then get all of the day’s calories and nourishment at dinner and feel exhausted and have little mental energy for work. Then they get a second wind and are online into the wee hours.
- The fact is that a well-fed, good sleeper is going to have a better school day and be more efficient with homework than a child who’s over-tired and starving.
- DON’T Share Your Anxieties
- Parents are often very caught up in their children’s social lives because they want them to make good friends, be happy, and learn social skills that will help them be successful adults. These are all great reasons to be engaged, but children don’t always understand the interest that way. This is particularly true of anxious kids.
- For instance, it’s very easy for parents to get into the habit of asking, “Did you make any friends?” when kids come home from school. But that can be shaming for kids who are struggling or still figuring out where they fit in. Better questions would be, “How was your day?” or “Tell me three things you liked about your day,” or “Tell me three things you didn’t like about your day.” Neutral questions are better than ones that a child might interpret as, “If you didn’t make friends, then I’m going to be disappointed in you.”
- DON’T Be Afraid of Setbacks
- If you have a child who had some real trouble the year before-like a mood or anxiety problem-and may have made real gains over the summer, you might be tempted to anticipate an easy return to school. But it’s good for parents to temper expectations. Too often we think our children have learned all these new skills and so day one, two, and three should be stellar days. If not, then something’s wrong. But that’s not how it works.
- b. We have to let kids ease into it, and allow for ups and downs. If you are a dedicated parent and your child is receiving proper care, she’ll improve—but it’s not always a straight line going up. If you can accept that, then your child will have more confidence and be able to accept setbacks.
- DON’T Ignore Problems
- Many schools are fantastic, with talented and caring teachers and administrators. But you can’t expect school to have your insight into your child, or to automatically have the same concerns and knowledge about your child. Sometimes the school’s point of view is, “We’re not going to do anything until we see a reason to do something.” That’s why we’d like parents to be more proactive. You need to be your child’s advocate, and if your child is struggling, or you’re worried or have any concerns, it’s better to say something sooner rather than later.
Printed from the National Dissemination Center for Children with Disabilities (NICHCY)
Top 10 Tips to Help Me Help Your Special Child by Melissa Ferry
Being a special educator can be a very challenging task. Teaching, paperwork, IEP meetings and overseeing paraprofessionals leaves the special education teacher drained at the end of the day. It’s no wonder that 50% of special education teachers leave their jobs within 5 years. Parents can help their child with special needs succeed by helping their special teachers’ breathe!
1. Volunteer in School
Know what is happening at school and be an active participant in your child’s education. If you have the time and ability to volunteer hours in your child’s classroom or on field trips – that is always helpful.
2. Help with Supplies
For those parents who are working or who have other commitments during the school day, there are other ways to stay involved as well. You could ask your child’s teacher if there is are classroom supplies needed that you could donate to the room.
3. Volunteer after School
Another great way to stay involved is by attending after-school and evening activities with your child. These events are always a great way to build socialization skills for your child and many are often curriculum-based.
It is important to be consistent as a parent for your child to feel comfortable and safe. Children crave routine, so please make it a point to keep some sort of nightly and weekend schedule.
4. Stick to a Routine
If your child knows that every day when they come home they can take a half hour break, have a snack, do their homework, watch a show, have dinner, read, brush their teeth, and then go to bed – they will be prepared and understand the expectations.
5. Use the Same System for School and Home
If your child uses visuals to communicate, make sure those visuals are the same at school as they are at home. I have had parents approach me wanting to set up a reward system at home if their child does well at school. I encourage this as long as the parent is certain they can enforce it. If the child had a great day – take them to the park, buy them that ice cream, or get them that lego set you promised as a reward.
For some children, it is not enough to create a designated homework time and set up a nice area for them to complete their work (although, I strongly encourage that both of these things are done!).
6. Be Present During Homework Time
Please try and set aside time to be present while your child is doing their homework so you are available should they have any questions.
7. Address Homework Complaints to the Teacher Not to the Child
If your child’s teacher has assigned the homework, trust that it is for the benefit of the child. If your child is taught that homework is important from an early age, it will not be as difficult for you to get them to do their work at a later age. If you really believe the homework being given is too difficult or too demanding for your child, talk with their teacher and special educator. It is possible that some accommodations could be made based on your child’s ability level.
Be supportive of your child’s teacher and your child. Appreciate that a teacher’s role is to help your child reach their fullest potential. They are an advocate for your child!
8. Support Your Child’s Teacher
If there is a problem, try to refrain from becoming judgmental or critical. Set up a meeting with the teacher and listen to the explanation with an open-mind. If the teacher is doing what is best for your child, they should be able to explain their actions in a way that makes sense to you.
9. Support Your Child
As a parent, it is also critical you are supportive of your child. This may mean supporting them while they explore a path you wouldn’t have led them on. Your child’s choices may not have been the ones you would have chosen for them; see it as a sign that you are raising an independent individual and be proud.
Be supportive and encouraging even when your child’s progress is slow and accomplishments are few and far between. Your child needs to know your unconditional love in order to be successful.
Make Learning Fun
Your child’s teacher is not their only educator. A parent is a child’s first teacher in life so seize the opportunity! Make learning fun by making it hands-on.
10. Create a Fun Learning Environment
As the parent, you have the opportunity to teach your child in ways their teacher can’t. Go on field trips to the park to learn about nature, create a cooking show to improve on fractions, write thank-you notes to practice handwriting, volunteer to teach the importance of compassion, play word games to help with decoding skills in reading, involve your child in housework to introduce life skills, and allow them to help you balance the checkbook for math fluency.
Use every moment as a learning opportunity and be your child’s cheerleader by encouraging their natural curiosity and talents.
July Newsletter 2012
Prevent Heat-Related Stress
During this period when parts of the Nation are experiencing record high temperatures, SAMHSA is reminding everyone that these conditions can pose certain health risks to everyone—including people with mental and substance use disorders.
Exposure to excessive heat is dangerous and can lead to heatstroke, which is considered a medical emergency. Heatstroke occurs when an abnormally elevated body temperature is unable to cool itself. Internal body temperatures can rise to levels that may cause irreversible brain damage and death.
Individuals with behavioral health conditions who are taking psychotropic medications, or using certain substances such as illicit drugs and alcohol, may be at a higher risk for heatstroke and heat-related illnesses. These medications and substances can interfere with the body’s ability to regulate heat and an individual’s awareness that his or her body temperature is rising.
Visit the CDC’s Extreme Heat: A Prevention Guide To Promote Your Personal Health and Safety for information on how to prevent, recognize, and treat heat-related illnesses.
ADHD: The Pros and Cons of a Drug Holiday
Maria Xia, Writer
Child Mind Institute
Parents of children who take stimulant medication for ADHD often wonder whether their kids should take a “drug holiday” during the summer months.
A drug holiday, or what clinicians call a structured treatment interruption, is a deliberate, temporary suspension of medication. Since children with ADHD don’t need to perform academically during the summer or on extended holidays, parents wary of side effects often seize the opportunity to take kids off their regular regimen of Ritalin or Adderall. Other parents dread the interruption, fearing that their children’s behavioral problems will rebound, making them too difficult to handle. Sometimes a doctor will prescribe a drug holiday in order to evaluate a child’s progress and determine if medication treatment is still indicated.
Child and adolescent psychiatrist Alan Ravitz, MD, recommends against drug holidays unless there is a compelling reason for them as the data shows that children with ADHD who stick with their treatment program year-round reap better results than those who experience interruptions. That’s because it’s a misnomer to think that ADHD affects only their performance in school.
“Kids who are being treated for ADHD do better in more than just the classroom,” Dr. Ravitz says. “Medication has to do with managing behavior in a variety of different circumstances.” Children’s social behavior and emotions are still developing in the summer months; they still have to get along with family and friends and function effectively in group activities like sports and day camp. One mother tells the story of her son’s baseball coach pleading with her to put him back on meds because it made a critical difference in his performance. When she saw that playing the game well boosted her son’s happiness and self-esteem, she gave him back his Ritalin.
What about side effects? Some children look forward to a drug holiday because the medications can sometimes make them a bit socially withdrawn, irritable, drowsy, or jittery. “Sometimes kids don’t like the way meds make them feel,” says Dr. Ravitz. “If that happens, and when they go off the meds they feel better, then I don’t take a strong position about staying on meds.”
Another concern is that there is evidence that taking stimulant medications can affect a child’s physical development—an effect parents hope to mitigate with a summer drug holiday. Several studies in the last 10 years show that children on medication for as little as three years lag as much as an inch in height and 6 pounds in weight behind their peers. Another study last year, though, showed that in children followed for 10 years, into adulthood, there were no differences in height or weight between those who had taken stimulant medications and those who hadn’t. Researchers found that the “delay tends to be most prominent in the first year or so, and tends to attenuate over time.”
For some kids what’s most noticeable, and most concerning, is weight loss due to the fact that the medications suppress appetite. If kids are eating far too little and it becomes an issue, Dr. Ravitz suggests it may be appropriate to go off the medication.
Overall, a parent should consider how a drug holiday would affect her child’s well-being. Generally, hyperactive or combined types of ADHD present the strongest case for continued medication, because the behavioral problems that result from going off medication can turn a holiday into a negative and unproductive experience. Inattentive types of ADHD, on the other hand, present fewer behavioral problems. “Even though there’s scientific data suggesting those kids do better taking meds 365 days a year, if there are no behavioral problems, I don’t make a big case for taking meds all the time,” says Dr. Ravitz.
Because ADHD affects social development as well as academic performance, the conservative approach is to avoid disrupting the prescribed treatment plan. However, there are no hard and fast rules on this issue; ultimately, decisions should arise from a conversation between the family and health practitioner. “I would never take a position of fighting with parents, because I would rather maintain the treatment alliance,” Dr. Ravitz says. “As physicians, we just do our best, because we understand some families feel very strongly about this.”
South Carolina Schools to be Penalized for Cuts in Special Education
Federal law bars states from spending less money on special education from one year to the next. When this occurs, a penalty is imposed. The intent is to prevent states from cutting funds for special education. In South Carolina, special education budgets were cut for three consecutive years. The penalty for the three year period was $111.5 million dollars. Cuts for two of the three years were forgiven. The penalty for the year that was not forgiven, 2009-2010, is $36 million dollars.
State Superintendent Mick Zais has asked the Fourth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to review the decision to impose the penalty which is slated to begin in October. This loss of funding will gravely impact the services rendered to students with disabilities.
May 2012 Newsletter
A Stress Free Summer is Possible
Memorial Day has been observed and this signals the beginning of summer vacation for many children and their families. With children out of school, this is the time when many parents and caregivers experience the most stress because they don’t have plans to keep their children occupied and engaged during the summer months. When your child has behavioral challenges, you can make two safe predictions about summertime: Your child is likely to get bored easily and often; and is almost as likely to become demanding—of your time, attention, and patience. Even during the summer months, children need structure to feel secure and have a sense of what to expect. A simple calendar of events lets your child see what’s coming. Fill in ahead of time a mix of major summer activities, such as the family vacation or trips to visit relatives, and casual recreational activities, such as a weekend trip to the zoo or museum. The way to manage summer’s lack of structure is to strike the right balance between free time and planned time. The following information is being provided so that you and your child can unwind during the summer months with few behavioral challenges.
Less structure, fewer rules and lenient schedules often mean trouble for children who thrive on routine. Fortunately, parents of children with behavioral challenges, along with parents of all children, can combat potential summertime difficulties with a little planning and a lot of love. Once classes are dismissed for the summer months, many families often let down their guards and relax the day-to-day structure. But, embracing later bedtimes, hit-and-miss mealtimes and weakened family rules can wreak havoc on the home front, causing problems for children and parents alike.
For many children, maintaining school-year structure is essential to avoiding behavior issues. Thus, it is important to try to keep the daily schedule the same year-round, if possible. Stick to the same bedtimes, mealtimes, playtimes and morning routines followed when school is in session. Although summer is typically a time for relaxing household rules, clear-cut expectations are essential because children will often push the envelope to see how far they can challenge parental authority. Knowing the rules provide children with a framework in which to better differentiate right from wrong.
Following these tips will help you and your child thrive during the summer break from school:
- Provide your child with chances to succeed and praise your child for staying on task. Hugs, kisses, and pats on the back show that you notice when your child is doing well. Celebrate milestones by enjoying a movie or an ice cream cone together.
- Let kids be kids. This may be the key to your child’s summer-vacation success. Essentially, being a child is natural, spontaneous, and easy. You encourage this process when you allow your child the time and freedom to do what he feels like doing. As I said earlier, some structure during summer vacation is important. But so is unstructured down time. Most children can be amazingly creative in finding ways to have fun. With your encouragement, the freedom to do nothing opens up countless possibilities to do anything and everything.
- Give your child clear rules and stick to them. Ensure that your child understands what behavior is expected and what the consequences are for misbehaving.
- Focus your attention on the positive. Talking and yelling about how your child failed puts the emphasis on the negative. Take the positive approach by limiting your words during your child’s naughty times and being generous with your attention when your child does well.
- If your child’s behavior gets out of hand, don’t hesitate to ask for help. Your child’s pediatrician or other healthcare professional can offer support and guidance if you need it.
- Children should be kept busy by being involved in a number of activities. Having a lot of uncommitted free time is when children tend to get into trouble. There should be a combination of scheduled events such as trips to the beach, with time for relaxing and playing with friends.
- Help your teen find work. A part time job is a rewarding way for an adolescent to spend some summer hours. Few things work better in building a sense of maturity, independence, and personal competence. The structure a job affords is a plus and the extra spending money is, of course, an added bonus. While some teenagers are capable of finding a job for themselves, many need guidance and encouragement. Start by defining work goals for your child, such as earning money or learning a new skill. Discuss the right types of jobs, based on skills needed, organizational ability, and attention capability. Then help your child choose where to apply. It doesn’t hurt to work on interview skills; role-play business owners and managers. Your encouragement and support may be just what your teen needs to follow through on a job search. s
- Physical activity is an important component of a successful summer; whole days should not be spent playing video games or watching videos, no matter how educational they are.
- Continue with family routines such as doing chores, mealtimes and bedtimes. The summer months cry out for flexibility. That being said, you don’t want to relinquish basic family rules and routines. It’s tempting to let kids stay up later in summer, and a bit of that is OK. But remember that even a little sleep deprivation can lead to irritability and meltdowns at any time of year. So try to maintain basic bedtime habits. Stick to scheduled chores, too, as well as other established behaviors.
- Keeping your child’s day filled with activities is the key to a successful summer. Use community resources. Take advantage of the summer recreational and educational opportunities that most towns offer. Find a youth sports league, or sign up for day camp. Many local rec centers offer swimming, gymnastics, even computer classes. Encourage your artistic child to join a children’s theater group or sign up for community art or jewelry-making courses. In addition, visit local zoos and museums, and find out where and when summer festivals are scheduled in your area. Don’t forget to add selected activities to your calendar. When you plan ahead of time and write it down, you’re more likely to do it.
Summer Fun with Little to No Funds Needed
|Board games and family fun are synonymous, and there’s more time for them in the summer. Beyond sheer recreation, simple, low-tech games can help kids focus, deal with frustration, and learn rules. Some even promote attention and memory (try The Memory Game), organization and problem solving (think Clue), and strategic thinking (done simply in Chinese Checkers).|
|Reading opens up a world of possibilities. Make summer reading a happy pastime—even for the child who struggles—with turn-taking read-alouds, clever comic books, and word games like Scrabble (there’s Scrabble Junior for younger kids) and Smart Mouth.|
|Collections of any type can consume time. All kids love to collect things, and summer’s a great time to start or further a natural collection. Think shells from the beach, pinecones from the woods, flowers from a walk in the neighborhood, or stones from a walk in the country. The benefits of being out in nature are well known, and collecting promotes organizational and mathematical thinking.|
|Sportsare a favorite pastime. There are group sports (basketball, soccer, football, etc.) and individual sports (swimming, tennis, gymnastics, etc.). Ask your child which one they want to participate in; even better is doing them together. You will both burn off excess energy and be on the path to a healthier lifestyle. Should your child take a vacation from medication?
Some parents choose to discontinue their child’s medications during the summer break from school. Check with your healthcare provider before making any changes in medication.
Ways to De-Stress
- Get up early and watch the sun rise.
- Phone an old friend you have not spoken to for ages.
- Watch the sunset.
- Ask your hairdresser what he/she would like to do with your hair.
- Learn to let the dishes stand for a day.
- Go to a nursery and buy some plants.
- Pretend that you are a tourist in your hometown.
- Turn the TV off.
- Listen to a different radio station.
- Have a good cry, then get up and do something.
- Have a picnic.
- Make a pot of herbal tea.
- Punch a pillow.
- Take a hot bath and light some candles, too.
- Watch the sunset.
Work in the garden