Written by: Dr. Liz Matheis and Featured by: PsychologyToday
The birds are chirping, springtime is here and you know what that means? (No, not allergy season!) It’s Individualized Education Plan (IEP), Annual Review season! For better or for worse, it’s time to review your child’s plan and start thinking about the following school year.
When I worked for the public schools on the Child Study Team as a School Psychologist, this was the busiest time of the year for us. But now, as a mom, I’m sitting on the other side of the table, for my child. As my daughter’s meeting is approaching, I’m feeling emotional about this upcoming meeting. I’m concerned about my daughter’s progress, her program, her related services, her accommodations – all of it. There is so much that is out of my control. As parents, what takes place in the classroom each day is out of our control. I don’t know about you, but I like to know; I like to know the lesson she is working on in Math, the book she is reading in English, the skill she is working on in writing. When I sit at my daughter’s IEP meeting, I am no longer an objective School Psychologist. I am a worried mom and I know I’m not alone.
For many, like myself, we may think about it, play out the different ways it will carry out, and worry. A lot. I am a horrible anticipatory worrier, so this year, I am going to plan ahead and do a few things to get ready. I will encourage you to join me in my preparation...
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We would like to announce Jennifer Mandato is now part of our team. Jennifer is a Licensed Associate Counselor who received her Bachelor’s Degree in Psychology from Montclair State University. She went on to pursue her Masters Degree in School Counseling from Centenary University. She is working towards her requirements to become a Licensed Professional Counselor.
Jennifer has been a School Counselor for the past ten years in a private school for students with special needs. She provides individual and group counseling, as well as family support and future planning. She works with children, adolescents and young adults with Autism, Anxiety, Down Syndrome, and other Developmental Disabilities. Jennifer uses the Cognitive Behavioral Therapeutic (CBT) model to guide her treatment.
In her free time, she enjoys hiking, reading and spending time with her family.
Written by: Michelle Molle-Krowiak, LCSW, Ed. S.
As a mom of four, I am always on the go, and I make mistakes. Some days run smoothly and others, I am barely making it to the finish line. I also realize that as a therapist, we have a running dialogue in our head. We judge ourselves as parents, we judge our decisions, we judge our outcomes. I am trying to become more aware of the messages that I feed my heart and body each day and transform them into more positive messages, which will ultimately flow into my children’s daily lives.
I am a flawed mama. We are all flawed mamas, and that’s more than okay! Unfortunately, we live in a time of rabid social media where moms everywhere are posting their wonderful motherhood moments, with, what looks like, perfect children in a perfect marriage, an organized home, educational field trips, and three organic meals per day. Social media is a wonderful medium of communication, but I think we may have lost our focus here. Instead, let’s focus on how to plant the seeds of resilience in our everyday interactions with our children
Close The Circle
I lose my temper but when I do, after I have cooled down, I apologize to my kids. My hope is to close the circle and show them how I am using my words to repair and improve our communication. Sometimes, I lose my mind over Fortnight and that is okay too. I want my children to see that there will be conflicts and disagreements in life, but it is how we handle them that will make us stronger people as well as build a relationship. I want my children to know that it’s okay to lose your temper, but it is also important to turn around and apologize. It’s okay to be humble and to admit to a moment (or two) of bad judgment. I hope that this also lets them know that when they make mistakes in their adolescence and young adulthood (and they will!), it’s important for them to close the circle and attempt to make it right. I hope that my kids will internalize these conversations into their own internal ‘scripts” to use when problem solving in their own head.
Use Positive Self Talk
As parents, we have flaws. I own my flaws and I work on them - some days better than others. With that said, I realized that by reacting to my mistakes (oops! Sorry, honey, I forgot to pack your lunch last night!) with kindness towards myself, or by making a joke, my kids will see that I am not using negative language towards my mistakes and I am embracing that I am a human who makes errors (lots of them!).
Another classic positive self-talk phrase I like to use is, “I can do this!” I want my kids to see that I am afraid too, but that I’m going to use my fear to drive me towards my goal. Although certain tasks, academic or athletic skills may look like they come easily to some, sometimes it’s trying again and again (perseverance) is needed to ‘figure it out’ along the way. Learn from our errors, pick ourselves back up and come up with plan B when plan A doesn’t work. That’s true resilience right there. The grit that makes us resourceful and tough teenagers, young adults and ultimately adults.
Get Back Up
I have a blackboard hanging in my kitchen with the phrase, “It’s not whether you get knocked down; it’s whether you get back up” (credited to Vince Lombardi). This mantra has set the stage for my family to focus not on life’s struggles but how you cope with them. In today’s society (and I am guilty of it too at times), helicopter parents hover over their children which prevents them from that when they fall, that they are capable of getting back up. Although it feels like I am keeping my child safe, I am robbing them of an opportunity to build resiliency.
Caroline Bologna, wrote “You Need To Teach Your Kids How To Fail: Here’s How” (see full article here: https://www.huffpost.com/entry/teaching-kids-failure-resilience_l_5c882690e4b038892f485ba9) in which she describes hovering parents who do not allow their child to fail for fear of disappointment as not only the helicopter parent, but the ‘snow plow parent,’ the ‘lawn mower parent’ or even ‘curling parents’.
All of these parents have the same goal – don’t let my child fail. The long-term detriment that this type of parenting style creates far outweighs the benefits gained in the short-term. I urge you to not only to stop being a ‘lawn mower; but to encourage your kids to mow the lawn too, both figuratively and for real!
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Nominate Your Favorite NJ Kids' Doctor Today!
Is Dr. Liz, Dr. Rick Manista, Michelle Molle-Krowiak, Nicole Filiberti or Chrissy Sunberg your favorite Kids' Doc? If yes, click the link below to vote for us!
Written by: Chrissy Sunberg, M.Ed., AAC
More than ever, we are inundated with children’s books about persistence, social-emotional learning (SEL), empathy, kindness, mindfulness and learning disabilities, just to name a few.
How does a parent sift through the quality ones and delete the fair to middling ones from your Amazon cart?
Before I started writing this blog, I logged into my Amazon account to view all of the great books that I purchased over the last few years that left a long-lasting impression on the children that I enjoy reading with. It was a difficult decision to pick just a few; there were so many to choose from. The majority of my book recommendations teach a valuable life lesson to youth and come highly recommended from one of my favorite teachers, Nancy Siegel. They are not ranked in any defined order; I love them all equally.
The Junkyard Wonders
By, Patricia Pollaco
Theme: Finding out who you are, believing in yourself and trying to find your place. Learning to accept who you are.
This book is about persistence and working through your hardships. The main setting is in a classroom; the students in the class are referred to Junkyard Wonders by their teacher.
The Hundred Dresses
By, Eleanor Estes
Theme: Teasing, bullying and perspective taking.
An enduring book about the moral dilemmas of childhood, empathy and standing up for others. It takes place mainly in school and classmates tease a young girl for being poor.
A Walk in the Rain with a Brain
By, Edward M. Hallowell
Theme: All brains are different. We all have strengths; we all learn differently. Self-Awareness. Recommended for children that are diagnosed with ADD/ADHD.
This book discusses the anatomy of the brain. The main character in the story, Lucy takes a walk with a “brain,” and they talk about how all brains are created differently. An empowering book for people with ADD/ADHD.
ISHI, Tips From A Solid Friend
By, Akiko Yabuki
This book is a little gem for all to read. A perfect gift for your favorite teacher or your best friend. Ishi shows you how to be a good friend and what to look for in a good friend.
I Am Peace, A book of Mindfulness
By, Susan Verde
Theme: Finding peace from within.
This book is perfect for reading before bedtime. The calming words and illustrations are sure to put you and your child in a restful state of mind.
What Do You Do With A Problem?
By, Kobi Yamada
Theme: Facing problems and figuring out ways to overcome big and little issues.
This book is about a persistent problem, and the child is not sure how to deal with it. The longer the issue is pushed under the rug, the bigger it seems to get. But when the child finally decides to face it, the problem turns out to be something entirely different than it appeared.
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Written by: Erica Komisar
A couple came to my psychotherapy office because their 8-year-old son was having trouble at school. He couldn’t sit still or focus on class work, and sometimes he’d act disruptively to get attention. The school had labeled the boy as having attention deficit and hyperactivity disorder and urged the parents to see a psychiatrist—who immediately prescribed a stimulant.
Written by: Dr. Liz Matheis and Featured by: Shield HealthCare
The answer is a resounding “Yes.” You, as a parent, are entering into the parenting scene with your own areas of strength and weakness, and sometimes they match up with your child, but sadly, sometimes they don’t. This can lead to feelings of helplessness and lack of control, which can be traumatizing and distressing at a high level. Let’s face it, when we become parents, there is no introductory period, trial period, or returns allowed. So even though we believed that parenthood can be done in a particular way, it often does not and we have to grieve that loss of the “family that I hoped for” or the “parent I promised I would be.”
Parenting trauma can consist of any event or behavior that a parent finds overwhelming. For example, gaining a shocking diagnosis, being the target of your child’s aggression, feeling like you are the only person who can care for your child, having your child terminated from a preschool or private school program. There is no right or wrong way of becoming traumatized. Some people have a high tolerance for life’s surprise events, others are taken down right from the start, while others can take and take and take, but then become worn down…
Written by: Dr. Liz Matheis and Featured by: NJ Family
Put these tips to work to help your child succeed.
Are you a parent of a child or adolescent with ADHD and always looking for strategies to help your kid with organization, time management, prioritization, and study skills? One thing I often hear from parents is that their child may spend hours ‘working’ on homework and have nothing to show for it. How can that be? I went to my best source of information–adolescents. The responses were honest and raw. I heard that they start their homework but then the phone vibrates or they get an idea about a show or a game and look it up (because they can!). Before they know it, so much time has passed and little or no progress on their assignments has been made. This is usually the time when a parent checks in and the child tries to ‘look’ busy, but truly, no real work has been done. And this cycle continues on and on, for hours. Sound familiar?
As parents, we want to give our kids the tools to ‘be successful. Unfortunately, there’s isn’t a class that teaches this. When my son started middle school, he was overwhelmed with how many responsibilities his teachers had now expected of him. He wasn’t prepared to handle the demands of each class with a different teacher, a locker, so many notebooks to carry, and the weekly array of quizzes, tests, journals and so on.
It’s okay to coach and mentor our children with ADHD with a more hands-on approach. Some of us continue to coach our young adult children while in college, and that’s okay, too. Keep in mind that each of our children’s journeys is unique. The goal is to make progress without the pressure to achieve X goal by X age. That will only frustrate you both.
Here are a few strategies that you can initiate at home that will help with building those executive functioning skills while getting their homework D-O-N-E!
Adapt the Body Double Method
Some of us get the most done when nobody is around. For some kids and adolescents with ADHD, it helps to have another person in the same room or nearby. Perhaps knowing that the person is present and can check in at any time helps a child maintain focus and improve productivity. Some of us need the presence of another person to regulate and ground us. That person doesn’t have to say or do anything, they just need to exist. This is known as our body double...
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Written by: Nicole Filiberti, MSW, LCSW
What comes to mind when you first think of the word "games"? Board games? Perhaps hopscotch or duck duck goose? For some, video games are the first to pop up in one's head. What if I told you that games are more than just a way to entertain yourself and pass some time, or a recreational activity that can be enjoyable for some people? Games can actually be very beneficial in the mental health world and here are some reasons for that.
1. Games can enhance social skills
When working with those who are diagnosed on the autism spectrum and other developmental delays, games provide a fun and engaging way to strengthen social skills. Critical life skills such as turn taking, impulse control, and compromise are all skills to be utilized during game play. There are many teachable moments that can occur through game play. Processing the social implications of cheating in a game or inappropriately reacting to a loss can be impactful moments that are sparked through games.
2. Games provide a device-free opportunity for families to connect
Arranging special time and making it a priority for families to play games together can significantly enhance family communication skills and aide in strengthening challenged relationships between family members. Families who are in therapy can practice any techniques that were addressed in session while enjoying family game time. This relaxed environment provides an excellent opportunity to check-in with various family members and can enhance conflict resolution skills.
3. Games can assist in establishing clinician-client rapport
There are times when establishing a therapeutic relationship with someone can be challenging. Some children may be very anxious and not willing to open up to a stranger. Some may be defiant and purposely holding out on engaging with their therapist. It can be helpful for a therapist to have various games and activities available for use in session, especially initial meetings. Playing a familiar game can be comforting for an anxious child or teenager and may help them feel more relaxed, ready to open up and able to get more out of their sessions.
Games can be a very helpful tool for both therapists and families to use. Games come in a such a wide variety of styles and catered to different age groups, so take some time to find what works for you and your family's needs.
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Written by: Eva Benoit
Raising young children is a beautiful and challenging season of life. For many parents, however, finding the time to do even the smallest task for yourself can seem impossible. Cooking meals, changing diapers, shuttling from one activity to another, reading books, playing with toys, cleaning up messes, helping with homework, bathing and bedtime … the list of daily responsibilities goes on and on. The constant care of others can leave you exhausted and depleted, but taking care of yourself is important and deserves priority.
Your Health Matters
When your health suffers, your ability to take care of those around you will suffer too. A poor diet can result in obesity, diabetes, and hypertension. Lack of exercise can lead to a multitude of concerns like heart issues and arthritis. Even stress can produce fatigue, insomnia and a weakened immune system. These potential health concerns not only hurt you, they leave you unable to best care for your children. So how can you find the time to prioritize yourself in addition to the already-overwhelming number of daily tasks?
It’s time to stop eating all your kids’ leftover food or sustaining yourself solely on lattes and sodas. No more unhealthy fad diets or miracle weight loss cures. Often these overhyped diets do more harm than good and are unsustainable at best. It is important to consult your doctor to get you on the right diet plan for your body and lifestyle. Eating fresh fruits and vegetables is a great way to begin incorporating healthy nutritious food into your diet.
When you bring home the groceries, immediately wash and cut all the produce so that it is easily accessible later when you need a snack. Another simple time-saving tip is to batch cook your meals. If you double your recipe for dinner, you can easily reheat the leftovers for lunch the next day. It’s worth nothing that just because you’re eating healthy foods doesn’t mean you should eat as much as you want. It’s easy to get caught up in the idea that because it’s fruit or salad it’s “free.” Make it easier to stay healthy by adding a mechanical or digital kitchen scale when you’re prepping your meals and you’ll have an easier time sticking to the right amount of nutrients and food you need without going overboard.
In addition to small dietary changes, it is important to incorporate some form of exercise into your daily life. Finding extra time in your day may seem impossible, but healthy exercise doesn’t have to be an intense, time-consuming event. The Mayo Clinic states that 30 minutes a day is all you need, and it can even be broken up into five- or 10-minute segments.
And you don’t need an expensive gym membership to keep your body healthy. Little bursts of increased heart rate throughout your day will go far in increasing your health. Watching a favorite TV show? Do some jumping jacks or push-ups during commercials. Do you have stairs in your home? Jog up and down them for a few minutes. Taking your child to the park to swing? Squat in between every push of the swing. Exercise doesn’t have to be a daunting commitment. Instead, it can be fun, creative and quick.
Improving your diet and adding exercise to your routine can result in numerous benefits, both short-term and long-term. One of the greatest results being reduced stress. While it’s impossible to remove all stress in your life, you can take steps to manage and decrease it. Reducing stress impacts more than just your emotional sanity. It improves your sleep, boosts your immune system, reduces risk of heart disease, and even improves your memory.
In addition to diet and exercise, other easy ways to manage stress include commiting to a bedtime routine, meditating, stretching and simply taking a break. And while overall physical and self-care should be a primary focus, adding a few opportunities every few weeks to pamper yourself can go a long way. Whether it’s an at-home spa day where you can relax in peace and quiet, a trip to your favorite bookstore solo or meeting a friend for lunch. Small moments like these can go a long way toward boosting your overall wellness.
Life with children can be a whirlwind, but there is always time to take care of yourself as long as you make it a priority. Soon these stolen moments of food preparation, exercise and stress relief will become a part of your daily routine. These regimens will improve your overall well-being, and best of all you will be setting an example of lifelong healthy habits for your children to see and follow.
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We are blessed to be able to support a local Girl Scout, Hannah T from Parsippany. She is currently working towards the completion of her Girl Scout Gold Award and has chosen to prepare a blog about Cyber Bullying. The goal of her project is to bring awareness to the issue of social media safety and cyberbullying by creating and presenting on the topic, creating posters, and writing blogs and articles. Her hope is to educate adolescents and their parents about the subtle (and not so subtle) hazards of social media by also providing strategies when social media gets ugly (and it will).
When Do Most Adolescents Access Social Media?
Social media is everywhere. Even if you or your child don’t have it, everyone around you and them does. So, even if your child doesn’t have Snapchat or Instagram, the people they talk to and hang out with most likely do, making your child part of the new social media era.
Social media is, in theory, a great thing, made to quickly connect with and contact friends, and share experiences, pictures and thoughts easily and quickly. However, the age at which kids are permitted to use social media sites is 13 years old. This makes it about the time kids are in middle school, finding new friends and seeing where they fit in. Just during this time period in a child’s life, conflicts among their peers arise very easily. From a child sitting with a new group of friends during lunch, or not being invited to someone’s birthday party, these non-essential conflicts can quickly spill onto social media sites. From my own perspective, as a high school student, unnecessary conflicts definitely peak in middle school, which is why kids that age are so susceptible to being cyber bullied, and being cyber bullies.
Start Talking About Social Media, Sooner than Later
If you have a child going into or is already in middle school, between the ages of 12-15, now is the time to discuss their social media use. You can tell them not to use social media at all until a certain age, but they may have already downloaded social media apps without your knowledge or permission. The key message you want to communicate is that having access to social media is a big responsibility.
At 13 years old, most kids don’t realize that what they put online stays there forever, even after it is deleted from their profile. Most importantly, they don’t realize that once something is posted to Instagram or Snapchat, it is completely out of their control in terms of who sees it and where the post is sent, even though they are the one who posted it. Other kids can screenshot the post, send it to other people, and can physically take their phone and show other people. I feel that kids fail to realize this because they don’t see the possibilities of that happening. When they download Instagram, they may not be using it with the intent to post things about other people, but instead, they wanted to find out what other friends are doing.
Advice To Give Your Adolescent
In my opinion, the best thing to do for your child is simply have a discussion with them, making sure they understand these four major points:
1-Later in life, everyone will still be able to see the things you posted
Later in life, when your child is applying to college or for a job, a standard part of the screening process is to google the name of the potential applicant and see what comes up. Potential employers may and will most likely look through social media outlets, and will be able see what has been posted. And I’m talking about those ‘silly 14 year old pics’ or those ‘silly phrases we made up.’ It’s all there for all to see. Forever.
2-Never say anything on social media that you wouldn’t say directly to another person directly.
Many teens feel that they can say anything since they are behind a screen. What they don’t realize is those words can be hurtful and cutting. They can end friendships or even result in a police investigation or other legal repercussions. Just because your child is behind the screen doesn't mean her words can’t be seen. In fact, they are seen and heard in an even bigger way than if they had been spoken face to face.
3- Never reply to someone if they are cyber bullying you
If your teen shares with you that he is receiving hurtful or threatening messages, make sure you insist he do not respond. Instead, the best option is to screenshot (or take a picture of) the conversation, and then block the account or number the messages are coming from. It is extremely tempting for teens to respond with something equally as hurtful, but that will just make the problem continue and give the bully a reason to continue texting/messaging your child. From experience, I know that if your child never responds to the messages and simply blocks the number/account, the bullying will most likely stop.
However, if the bullying continues on another social media site or in school, that is when it is okay to encourage your child to should say something along the lines of “Can you please stop?”. By now, the bully won’t be getting the reaction they want out of your child, but if they still continue trying to contact your teen, that is when you should bring the issue to their school’s guidance counselor or principal.
This is another reason why it is vital for your teen not to respond. If the problem escalates to the point where it needs to be brought to the attention of the school, they will see if your child responded. Even if the bully initiated the conversation, the fact that your teen responded will also, in the school’s eyes, warrant a punishment. But, I know from experience that by far, the easiest way to stop a cyber bully is to block the account.
4-Make yourself available to your child
Make a pact with your teen. If anything goes bad, wrong, ugly on social media, they can reach out to you with little judgment and no fault finding. Instead, agree that you will problem solving together. The last thing you want is for your child to go through a tough situation related to social media alone.
As a parent, you can’t keep your kids from the reality of society today, that social media plays a big role in how people meet, communicate, and handle confrontation, but you can help them know how to handle social media correctly as well as the situations it presents.
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Written by: Dr. Rick Manista, Psy.D.
Working or parenting children comes with a single guarantee: they will interrupt you regularly. You might be on a phone call, be deep in conversation or trying to cook dinner, children will blurt out and seek attention without paying attention to the situation. Not only is this very annoying, it can become a hard pattern to break. Here are some strategies to help break that pattern.
Think with your eyes
Michelle Garcia Winner (2015) studied that one of the most important social skills is not eye contact, but eye tracking. When we notice what someone is looking at, we can guess what they are thinking about. This is the first step for perspective taking. Often, children are not paying attention to what we are looking at. Which is why they interrupt, they are not aware we are thinking about something else. We can teach them to “think with their eyes” and prompt them with: “What am I looking at?” “What am I thinking about?” To help build this awareness.
What am I reinforcing?
Usually when a child interrupts us, what do we do? We respond to them! And this teaches them that it is ok to interrupt us. We have to be aware of what we are reinforcing and not rewarding an interruption. We also want to be mindful of our family practices and see if that behavior is being modeled.
When the child is interrupting us, we can continue to look at what we are doing, make a stop sign with our hand and state “I am looking at ____. I am thinking about ____. I am not thinking about you now.” This helps reinforce the concept of perspective taking. We have to be aware of our tone of voice when using this strategy. If we do not use a gentle tone, the statement can be interpreted as a harsh criticism.
Another tool for our toolbox is. . . to make a tool box! Author Elizabeth Pantley finds creating a “boredom box” helps children handle boring moments. Different activities can be placed in there such as puzzles, coloring books, and toy figures. Giving children activities to occupy themselves will have them interrupt less.
Prepare as much as possible
One of the best strategies is to tell them ahead of time when you cannot be interrupted. Children like to have clear expectations in their environment. This makes them calmer, which results in better behavior (Haiken, 2019). By making them aware of what you are doing and how long it will take, they will have a clear standard on when they can talk to you.
Sometimes we need to interrupt
Unfortunately, sometimes we have to interrupt. Which can become confusing for kids! In times of emergency, we expect to be interrupted. This is an important lesson for children. An easy rule is we can be interrupted if there is a fire or someone is hurt.
Garcia-Winner, M. (2015, February 10). The four steps of social thinking. Retrieved March 1, 2019, from https://www.socialthinking.com/Articles?name=The Social Communication Dance The Four Steps of Communication
Haiken, B. (2019, January 1). Interrupting ages 6-12. Retrieved March 1, 2019, from http:// www.healthday.com/
Pantley, E. (n.d.). 7 positive ways to guide a child who keeps interrupting you. Retrieved March 1, 2019, from https://www.mother.ly/
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Written by: Dr. Liz Matheis and Featured by: ADDitude Magazine
Did you know a sensory diet isn’t all about food? It’s a specialized activity plan to help your child stay focused. Our expert explains.
Have you ever twirled a paperclip in your hand during a meeting, or soaked in a hot bath to decompress? If so, you’re using sensory exercises to keep your body regulated.
A sensory diet does the same thing. Is this a specific food diet? No, a sensory diet is a program created for your child by an Occupational Therapist (OT); it is a personalized activity plan that provides the sensory input he or she needs to stay focused and organized throughout the day.
Why does your child need a sensory diet? We all take in information from our environment, but some of us process in an uneven way. Your child may need to take in lots of information in order to experience stimulation through each of his senses, or very little information may overwhelm him. For example, your child may experience a little bit of sound as a lot, and become overstimulated and unable to listen to the teacher. Your child may not be able to filter sounds, thus making every sound in the environment as loud as the other (e.g., the computer humming, the child’s sneakers squeaking in the hallway, the child blowing his nose in the back of the classroom).
Throughout the day, your child is taking in information with all senses, and she cannot necessarily make sense of it all. By the end of the day, your child has tried to process so much information from multiple senses that she is totally overwhelmed and exhausted. I liken this experience to being in the office and participating in a phone conference while your cell phone is ringing, your co-worker is at your door with a question, and you are getting instant messages nonstop. That’s a lot to process and it can leave your head spinning because you aren’t able to attend to any one thing. That is how your child feels in the classroom all of the time...
Dr. Liz Matheis
Dr Liz Matheis and her team specialize in assisting children and their families with Anxiety, Autism, AD/HD, Learning Disabilities and Behavioral Struggles