Written by: Dr. Liz Matheis & Featured by: Shield Healthcare
The birds and the bees …oh geez, do we really have to go there? Yes, we do. Our children with special needs are still children who are hungry for information. That need may be delayed or even come early, but the need is still there and we, as their parents, need to monitor what information they are seeking and how much to give them.
When your child is showing obvious signs of puberty – deepening voice, breast buds, body hair, body odor and an intense interest in the opposite gender, it’s that time to start planting the seeds for that conversation.
Several years ago, I worked in a private school for children on the autism spectrum. Many of our adolescent boys and girls were frightened by their changing bodies, and the feelings that came when a handsome young man or little lady (student or staff member) walked by. They didn’t understand what was happening, and it felt strange and crazy.
Keep it Simple
During that time, we engaged our school nurse to give simple lessons on body changes to our adolescent boys and girls separately. As a staff Psychologist, I read books about adolescence and created social stories specific to their areas of question or concern. We validated that these feelings were normal, these bodily changes were normal, and that other kids also went through these changes.
Then the topic of masturbation became prominent when our boys were spending a great deal of time rubbing themselves in the classroom. More books, more social stories about this natural urge, and where and when it was appropriate (in the bathroom, in their bedroom, behind a closed door).
Parents were engaged to continue the discussion, emphasizing a few key points, but only when there was a need. We answered only their questions as they were asked. Two sentences, then stop. For our students who were shy, they wrote down their questions and we discussed together one on one or responded back in writing.
Wait for the Question
Instead of initiating a conversation about the birds and the bees, wait for your child to ask the question, then answer it. By that point, you will have provided a good amount of information leading up to this question, and so it will naturally flow. For example, you will have already had conversations about female and male anatomy and how it changes, the physical urges, masturbation, menstrual cycles, breasts, and pubic hair. This process may be slow and can take up months or even a year. It’s okay – no need to rush. Just answer the questions as they arise.
Our children are these amazing little creatures who amaze me daily. Their interests, their curiosities, their creativeness is unique and different. Even when they have come out of the same womb! Remember, just answer the question and build on information slowly, and follow your child’s lead!
Written by: Chrissy Sunberg, Ed.S, AAC
Time Management is one of the many executive functioning skills that we need to function on a daily basis. For our students with ADHD, this is a tough one. What usually happens is that our children, adolescents and young adults with ADHD think about the long list of assignments for school/college and quickly become overwhelmed by the amount of tasks to complete, knowing that it will take much sustained attention to accomplish it. The result: feelings of stress, anxiety, frustration, and shut down. What is often the end product is a list of incomplete assignments that lead to shame, embarrassment, and feelings of failure.
How a person with ADHD “Sees Time”
A student with ADHD often divides the world into two categories: fun and not fun. Simple, right?
The ADHD brain searches for the interesting, shiny, curious, remarkable, and exciting, that is then deemed “fun.” Fun affects their levels of drive and motivation. In fact, it leads to the release of dopamine in the brain – the ‘feel good’ neurochemical.So how is homework labeled? That’s easy – not fun. Not fun at all. They experience negative emotional stimulation when they are assigned homework in their least favorite subject in school and they avoid doing it. Sometimes a little mom pressure gets the homework bus in motion but not until the night before the test, quiz, paper or project is due.
Then, there are the multitude of mundane tasks, like brush your teeth, put away your laundry, follow up with your teacher about that study session, etc, etc. Super boring with very little emotional stimulation, making it harder to start the task or complete it.
The Parent Experience of Poor Time Management
We have all been in this situation once or twice. Its 8pm on a Thursday and your child has a test in algebra on Friday. The test was announced on Monday. You realize that she didn’t review the material… not even a little bit.. this week.
What a horrible feeling for a parent, right? What do you do? Start the “you should have started this sooner” tirade? I’ll tell you what your child hears – “Wa Wa Blah Blah Wa Wa”. Save your breath. Do you email your child’s teacher to extend the deadline? Do you get studying with your child and become her executive functioning brain?
In an effort to teach your child the skills needed to function as a student and in daily life, let’s take it one step further. Let’s talk about a few ways to your your child improve his time management skills.
Why is prioritizing your time important?
Some activities are more important than others. Making these activities a priority ensures they will get done.
Important activities may have negative consequences if they are not completed on time. Scheduling time for important activities leaves time for fun. Break your activities into three categories.
Going out for dinner with a friend
Going on social media
Time Management Skills
The Pomodoro Technique
Do more in less time by scheduling your school assignments based on your energy level. The Pomodoro Technique is a simple and useful concept that can ignite the brain and this method can be modified:
Time Management is an important executive functioning skill for students and adults alike. By identifying this area by name, it becomes easier to help guide the development of the skill in an effort to just get things done!
Written by: Dr. Liz Matheis & Featured by: Shield Health Care
Often, when our children come to us with questions, we feel the need to tell them everything we know. But, what we sometimes don’t realize is that when our children ask us a question, they often just want the answer for that one question. Nothing more.
Depending on your child’s age and disability, you may also have to make tough decisions about sharing information on current events, such as natural disasters or school shootings. Sadly, that is the world we live in, and with social media and access to the internet, our children are more informed today than we ever were when we were their age.
In that sense, our world is a scarier world for our children today. When I was younger, what I knew, I heard in school or was told by my parents. I had no other way of knowing what was going on, unless I turned on the news, and I wasn’t really that interested. Besides, we had an old school cable box, with a wire, and I had to manually turn the knobs to find it… nope, wasn’t happening!
What Should I Tell My Special Needs Child when there is a Natural Disaster or School Shooting?When your child approaches you, first, get a sense of why the interest in the topic now. For example, if they ask you, “Mommy, what happened in (insert topic of interest here)?” respond with, “What did you hear about that? Where did you hear about it?” First, try to gain an understanding of where this information came from and then ask your child to tell you what he knows about it.
Then ask, “Well, what do you want to know?” Proceed to answer the question that is asked of you using 1-2 sentences. Then, stop. Don’t expand or give history or too many details. This will overwhelm your child.
My daughter, who is now 9 and has learning disabilities, asked me when she was 7: “Mommy, what is 9-11?”
Me: “Where did you hear about that?”
My daughter: “We talked about it in Social Studies.”
Me: “What did your teacher say?”
My daughter: “That it was about planes that crashed into big buildings.”
Me: “What do you want to know about it?”
My daughter: “Did it really happen?”
Me: “Yes, it did.”
My daughter: “Did you see it?”
Me: “No, I was at work, but I saw it on TV when I got home.”
My daughter: “Were you scared?”
Me: “Yes, I was scared for the people involved.”
My daughter: “Did you know anybody in the buildings?”
My daughter: “Can I have mac and cheese for dinner?”
Had I not gained the background information from her, I would have started at the beginning and likely given her more information than she could have comprehended. Knowing my daughter, she is easily frightened and holds on to mental images that then creep up at night, before bed, and keep her awake.
She would have likely lingered on the details for months to come. She would have gotten stuck on planes and planes crashing. God forbid we would have needed to travel somewhere by plane; she would have never stepped foot on one. By asking her questions about what she wanted to know, I gave her exactly what she wanted, which was a lot simpler than what I would have anticipated.
Written by: Nicole Filiberti, LCSW
Anxiety rates are on the rise for children and adolescents in the US. Not surprising. The National Survey of Children’s Health published April 2018 (in the Journal of Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics) noted a 20% increase in anxiety in children ages 6 to 17 between 2007 and 2012.
So what’s contributing to this rise?
There are a few factors at play. One large piece is the large involvement on social media that many children and adolescents have today. Children and teens live in a world of trying to please each other in the form of accumulating “likes” and broadcasting their day to day lives for others to see.
Another reason is the sad reality of living in a very politically divisive time, in which our kids are overhearing the evening news, and as you and I both know, the news isn’t all that positive. This is leading to a spike in anxiety, even when our children do not fully comprehend what exactly is being discussed. Add in natural disasters, school shootings, standardized tests, increasing academic demands and extracurricular activity involvement…who wouldn’t be anxious?
What Can I Do As a Parent?
Children shape their world based on the adults around them, the most significant of impressions coming from those adults with whom the child lives and sees the most.
Address your own anxiety, whether it’s through therapy, medication, regular self-care habits, or more will help your children feel less anxious. Keep in mind that your children do not need to know your every thought and inner monologue. Children pick up on these worries and can internalize them, leading to anxious feelings of their own.
Be mindful of what you decide to discuss with your children, and be mindful of the fact that children are very perceptive and can overhear discussion you may have with your spouse, friends and adult family members.
Incorporate regular mindfulness practices for your children to lessen their anxiety. There are plenty of resources out there to help kids relax and self-regulate when their anxiety is high. One of my favorites is Go Noodle, a website and app with a wealth of easy to follow, fun videos for children to watch and practice mindfulness activities.
Talk to Your Child About Their Worries. For very anxious children, a good habit to get into could be to schedule “worry time” to help the child compartmentalize their anxiety and not have it hinder their entire day. “Worry time” can be customized to however works best for your family, but often can be done at night before the child goes to bed.
You can set a timer on your phone for however long you see fit and tell your child that this is their time to get all of their worries out of their mind. Listen to your child share these worries. You do not necessarily have to fix their worries, but validate them and make them feel heard. If a child begins bringing up worries during dinner, give them a friendly reminder that it is not worry time yet, and that they will have time to share these worries later, but should now be focusing on eating dinner and other topics of conversation.
To take it one step further, you can also create a Worry Monster out of an old shoebox. Have your child decorate this Worry Monster in whatever ways they see fit. Your child can then write down or draw their worries and feed it to the Worry Monster, therefore eliminating the worry in their head. This can also be made into a nightly routine if it works best for your family’s schedule.
Overall, our youngsters have very active and anxious minds as a result of growing up in this day and age. Taking a few steps to help your child combat these worries can help them to thrive and increase their social-emotional wellness. Give them the tools to combat these worries, and have regular conversations with your children about their worries in order to foster open communication on the topic.
At the beginning of the school year, our children often experience difficulty adjusting. Their anxiety about the new school year may present itself in a variety of symptoms that we can watch out for.
Dr. Liz and Marisa Brahney discuss back to school anxiety on the News 12 "Mom's Minute" segment. Dr. Liz talks parents through the signs to watch out for, and strategies for you to help your child with their transition. Going back to school may be a common cause of stress among our children, but Dr. Liz offers a number of ways to help your kid ease into the school year and have a smooth transition!
Today, we feel the need to have an active role in every part of our kids' lives. It is entirely different from parents in the '70s and '80s! Of course, we are trying to assure our kids' have wonderful lives. However, this has made us parents swing the pendulum!
So, how can we raise kids who pursue, develop, and maintain healthy goals, careers, and relationships?
In today's blog, featured on ADDitude Mag, Dr. Liz discusses the importance of balance in our own lives, and our children's lives. She further explains how letting our kids make mistakes, take initiative in their social or academic lives, and explore on their own can help strengthen their social skills, problem solving skills, and independence!
Dr. Rick is a Clinical and School Psychologist. He is also a certified crisis intervention instructor, an approved clinical supervisor, licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, and certified Social Thinking level 1A clinician. He specializes in children and adolescents with language based disabilities, high functioning autism, anxiety, depression and social difficulties.
Dr. Rick has strengthened his proficiency in these areas by working in private special education schools, in addition to training with co-parenting for divorced or divorcing parents, and Parent Coaching. Dr. Rick's research interests are social justice and professional development. He has presented workshops to teachers, parents and medical professionals on anxiety, social skills, conflict resolution and therapeutic techniques.
Dr. Rick Manista is a skillful, dedicated psychologist! We are happy to have him on our team.
It can be challenging to find special needs products for your child or children. Sometimes, it may take trips to various stores before you find what you're looking for. In addition, the cost of these products can start to add up over time, leaving you feeling frustrated.
I have found Amazon to be a great and affordable resource for special needs products. They have an abundance of products to choose from. They sell special needs products for household items, toys and activities, personal care, books, therapeutic accessories, and much more!
Sarah joins as an undergraduate senior at William Paterson University in Wayne, NJ. She is also a Research Assistant and working on a study looking at the effects of yoga on anxiety, depression and trauma in students.
She aspires to earn her Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology once she completes her B.A. In her leisure time (and we have to ask, when that is exactly?), she enjoys reading, cooking, and spending time with her dog.
We are excited to have Sarah as a part of our team!
This month, we are featuring Nicole Filiberti, LSW! She is a Licensed School Social Worker, and she is currently fulfilling the requirements to become a Licensed Clinical Social Worker. Nicole specializes in working with students who have Autism Spectrum Disorders, Anxiety, ADHD, ODD, and learning disabilities.
She works with children and adolescents in group and private therapy, and provides Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) to help them understand their emotions and regulate their behavior. In addition to CBT, Nicole utilizes play and art therapy techniques! In the school she works at, she has been creating and implementing behavior plans for students and working with Board Certified Behavior Analyists (BCBA).
Nicole is also proficient in assisting families with home interventions and school accommodations. Nicole is an enthusiastic and passionate therapist and we are blessed to have her on our team!
Written by: Delaney Ruston from Screenagers
It turns out swearing is on the rise according to this study. Even without a study, we know that through all the media and social media youth are exposed to these days, they are seeing swear words like never before. That’s where our work as loving adults is required. It is crucial that we take the time to have short, calm conversations about key topics, like this one. This study found that fewer than half of U.S. parents regularly discuss social media content with their pre-teens or teens. Let’s be among those parents that do address it.
I remember so clearly when my son had a flip phone—which was only eight years ago when he was 11—and I let him text me for rides as well as to communicate with his friends. We discussed that since online communication was new to him, I would monitor it now and then to make sure that it was going okay. I recall I had a bad feeling when I saw a fair amount of swearing in texts. Can you relate? I know I’m not the only parent that feels this way when our kids start using this language. The wider reaching consequence is particularly worrisome because so much of communication happens in group chats, on social media, and playing video games online.
Similar to 5-year-olds getting a little buzz from the reactions they elicit when they use “potty talk,” preteens are getting a buzz from using “forbidden words.” It makes them feel older, cooler, and separate from parents. The primary drive, of course, is that it’s a way to fit in with their peers who are also using that language. Issues around strong words continue into their teen years, so this TTT applies to kids of all ages who communicate online.
Being strategic is the best approach to the discussion because if we lecture our kids, or if we talk about it in a concerned tone, they are likely to tune us out. One way to decrease defensiveness and push back is to bring up the science around swearing. Here is an experiment that brings up a possible upside of why an individual might say harsh words to themselves in a difficult situation. In this experiment, researchers found that the people who swore while submerging a hand in ice water were able to keep their hands in the ice much longer than those who didn’t curse. The researchers theorize that using harsh words activates the flight or fight adrenal response and interferes with the link between fearing and perceiving pain, so subjects who swore could tolerate more pain.
You might want to also talk about some of the downsides of swearing. For example, using harsh words can make the people around you feel uncomfortable. And specifically, when people swear online, it's hard to interpret the meaning and the context of the words and you may be misunderstood.
After you bring up the science I mentioned, here is an approach to talking about this.
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