By: Dr. Liz Matheis, Ph.D
If you’re a mom, I’m going to take a leap and say that you’re pretty exhausted. Do you know why you’re exhausted? Because you’re taking care of everyone, everyday, all.the.time. If you ask me, the words mom and overworked are pretty synonymous. Sad, but true.
When was the last time that you put some time for yourself on your list of things to get done by the end of the day? What? You can’t remember because it’s been so long? Well, guess what–it’s time. It’s time to put Mommy back on the list of priorities.
I’m a mom of 3 wonderful and overwhelming children. Each day, I find myself feeling as overstimulated as my child with a sensory processing disorder. I’ve heard my name called only about 3,002.3 times. And each time, I threaten to change my name and not tell my kids my new name! Motherhood is a relentless job that does not come with a paycheck or any time built in for respite. And nobody is going to hand you an hour or two to tend to yourself – that is something we have to do for ourselves. Even though it may seem impossible right now, it’s important for you to let something go so that you can tend to yourself before you burn out.
#1: Once the Lights Are Out…..
You know the feeling – Ahhh, victory! The kids are in bed and the house is peaceful. You know, the way it was before kids. You are not allowed to create a list of things to do that is greater than the number of fingers on one hand. Give yourself a maximum of 5 more things to get done, and then read a book, soak in the tub, stare at a spot on the wall, or whatever makes you happy.
#2: Monthly Me Time
Once a month, schedule an evening where you are not putting the kids down to bed. Ma’am, walk away from the bedtime routine, take your keys and leave your house. Do this with a fellow mommy in need or go by yourself, but most importantly, get out. Whether you are having dinner with a friend, going to see a movie, or just walk around the mall in peace because you can, do it.
#3: A Job for Everyone and Everyone with a Job
Our children are perfectly capable people. They are resourceful and good problem solvers when they want something badly enough. Give each one of your children a job to do once homework is done and after dinner. Those busy hands can be helping you to get through all of the ‘things’ that need to get done before bedtime. Enlist the help of your favorite little people and free yourself up a bit.
As moms, we are pros at taking care of everyone else around us – our children’s teachers, therapists, paraprofessionals, bus drivers, etc. We are not good at asking ourselves the question of “what do I need right now?” With that comes burnout, and when we are burned out, nobody wins, especially our children. So, if you can’t find the motivation for your self care, then do it because it will make you more available to your children when you are cared for. Now, start looking at your calendar and mark down what you will do for yourself and when!
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By: Rachael Berringer, LAC, MA
As humans, we are born with the drive to relate and connect to others. Fostering emotional connectedness from a young age is a critical foundation for healthy development. Oftentimes, when our children receive a diagnosis, there is a race against time to start services and work on skills that may be lagging. However, what often seems to be missed is the importance of emotional development and building relationships. All children, regardless of a diagnosis, desire and deserve to have meaningful relationships. When my son started in a preschool inclusion program, I had a lot of unanswered questions. Is he mature enough to be a peer model? How will he handle observing children experiencing sensory overloads and needing support to work through these experiences? After all, he is only 3 and needs support regulating his emotions as well. What I began to realize was that it wasn’t only the “peer models,” that were modeling and helping. They were all learning from one another. They are all tiny humans that desire to be loved and have friendships with one another. The Inclusion program instills values in my child through natural experiences that can’t be taught through a textbook or expensive curriculums. Inclusion programs challenges teachers to see the whole child and nurture each and every child’s emotional self.
A strong, developmentally- appropriate social/emotional emphasis is crucial in creating a successful inclusion program. Through structured social/emotional lessons, modeling emotional coaching in the moment, as well as play experiences, children learn that we all have feelings and different coping strategies. Mirror neurons fire in our brains through observation of other human beings. By exposing our children to teachers and caregivers co-regulating with other students and working them through strong emotions, we are laying the groundwork for building empathy. Students also learn how to enter into another child’s world and see the world through another person's eyes. For example, another child may share a similar passion for Mickey Mouse, however, their play may look a little different e.g. stacking or lining a figure up. With assistance and modeling from adults in the room on how to engage with students, we are teaching them how to consider others’ interests and needs. In the future, this may help our children to include other children in their play and social interactions that may not initiate on their own. I know that my hope for my own child is to be an individual who respects and includes all people.
Enhances Communication and Interpersonal Skills
As adults, an important skill to be successful in life is learning how another individual communicates and tailor our interactions accordingly. Exposing our children to inclusion settings from an early age helps them to gain an understanding that we all communicate differently. In addition, exposing young children to a variety of communication modalities help to strengthen and develop language.
Multi Sensory supports and engaging lessons help each student access the full curriculum and accommodate all learning styles.
In an age of high-stakes testing, the importance of supporting and enhancing childhood development in an educational setting is often lost. Children need to move and experience to learn. An inclusive setting supports the critical, developmental building blocks for learning that are sometimes not emphasized in all educational settings. The importance of experience and process is lost through pressure of the “product.” Multi sensory learning experiences are critical for all children to access the curriculum through their individual learning styles. Inclusive settings create a supportive learning environment, engage a variety of learners and creates a more responsive learning environment.
When I walk into my son’s classroom, it’s difficult to distinguish between the students who have individualized education plans and those who do not. This is exactly as it should be. Through my son’s eyes, each and every one of his classmates are his buddies. Some communicate with technology and sign language. Some need cool little gadgets to make their bodies feel safe and ready to learn. Some of them like Paw Patrol just like him. Most of them like to move while learning just like him. Most importantly, they are his friends. By exposing our children to these types of educational environments from an early age, we are raising children who will grow into empathic adults and creating a more inclusive world.
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By: Dr. Liz Matheis, Ph.D
Q: I have a child with special needs (Autism Spectrum Disorder). How do I get him to try new foods when he has issues with texture? When I try to get him to eat different types of veggies or fruits he will gag. His weight is normal and he is tall for his age but I worry because he doesn't seem to eat enough. Thank you.
A: Know that every mother worries that her child may not be eating enough, but you may want to shift your focus from quantity to quality. What is the quality of the foods that he eats? Does he eat some fruits and vegetables and the bulk is carbs? Is he able to handle some sources of protein. If so, you are in good shape. Or is he eating primarily from one general food group? This may limit the nutrients that he needs to keep his insides healthy.
Think about the array of foods that your son eats - what does his menu look like from day to day? Does he have an array from foods that he can tolerate? If there is a particular texture that he enjoys, then try to bring in new foods and textures using that as your stable texture by which to introduce new ones. By that I mean, if your son likes the texture of applesauce, then you may want to introduce a new food, such as carrots along side the applesauce. Your son already has a good association with the applesauce and may be more accepting of the carrots if they sit beside the applesauce. You may even encourage him to dip the carrot in the applesauce!
Also, if he likes the texture of applesauce, how about introducing him to a similar texture, such as tomato sauce, a cream of broccoli/mushroom soup or yogurt? Many mothers have been able to sneak in extra vitamins and minerals by pureeing healthy vegetables and adding them to tomato sauce that is served over pasta! You can find these type of recipes in books such as Deceptively Delicious or The Sneaky Chef.
Another mommy-strategy is to alter the texture of some fruits and vegetables by baking or cooking them. For example, if your son is turned off by a hard apple, how about baking it so that it's softer and easier to chew and swallow? If a hard carrot is too much work or is just not appealing, how about boiling up some carrot coins? Also, if he likes a particular condiment, such as ketchup, mustard or a particular type of salad dressing, add a dollop of that next to the new vegetable and let him experiment with the flavor by using a familiar one that he likes, and just happens to be sitting right there on his plate… or at least nearby!
Another thing to keep in mind as well is that your son may not be interested in a new food/texture right away. He may need 10-15 exposures (that is, just placing it on the dinner table or on his plate) before he is interested in trying it. Don't turn it into a power struggle - expose him to the new food/texture and let him explore it. He may poke at it, smoosh it between his fingers or squeeze it in his hand. Just watch and try to stay neutral about it. You may want to ask him how it feels in his hand and wait to see if he progresses to placing the new food/texture in his mouth as another form of exploration. He may surprise himself and you and actually like it!
It's very easy to get frustrated or impatient if you find that your efforts are not well received by your son, but know that it will take time for your son to accept a new food/texture. Try to avoid threatening, bribing, begging, or demanding that he try a new food. Let it be his choice, which also puts him in a position of control. Introduce a new food/texture once every 3-4 weeks and keep exposing your son to the new food several times during that time. You may find it helpful to maintain a log of which new food you have introduced, when, how often, the way you prepared it, and your son's response to it. Keep this log and refer to it as you will begin to see patterns in your son's preferences. This may be helpful in deciding which new flavor or texture to introduce next.
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By: Liz Matheis, PhD
I know I want my children to be independent, creative thinkers, and good problem solvers. In working with parents daily, I know this is your goal too. But how do we get there? How can we turn our daily interactions into opportunities for building these skills that they will need in their adolescence, their young adulthood, and in life?
We all love our children and want to give them a life that is comfortable and happy. But is our job really to create that much comfort? Shouldn’t we give our children opportunities to fail and try again while they are still under our roof?
Ask Questions; Answer a Question With a Question
When our children are younger, we give them much direction and tell them how to do things. As they get older, our job is to direct them, but not tell them how to do it. This is challenging, because I know I think, “This will be hard for him,” “It will take less time if I just do it for her,” or “I just don’t have time for the arguing or yelling.” But then where are the opportunities for our children to practice the skills they need?
Instead of saying, “Start your homework at 3:30 p.m.,” ask, “When will you start your homework?”
Instead of saying, “Start with your math homework; it’s the easiest,” ask, “Which homework assignment do you want to tackle first? Easiest or hardest?”
Instead of answering the question, “How do I start this paper?” ask, “What’s your thesis or theme?”
Instead of giving directives, ask questions. For teenagers, it gives them the perception of being in control, which is exactly what they want. Even though you are guiding the thought process to reach the conclusions, their perception is that they figured it out, which is great too!
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By: Dr. Liz Matheis, Ph.D
As a Psychologist, I am in the business of receiving phone calls from parents worried about their kids with disabilities. During that initial phone call, parents give me a quick run-down of their child’s symptoms, the struggles the family at large is facing, and the specific goals they would like to work towards.
During that initial phone call, I’m often left thinking, “How are you, as the parent, doing?” Parents are often surprised when I ask that question during the intake. Several parents have responded with silence, a confused, “Fine,” or “No one has ever asked me how I’m doing.” As a parent of a child with disabilities, the process of gaining a diagnosis and then figuring out life and supports and medical conditions can be overwhelming and often traumatizing. In my experience, many parents of children with disabilities and other medical needs are experiencing symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
How Does a Parent Develop PTSD?
For the parent, the initial trauma can come from realizing that “something isn’t right” with their child, researching, and ultimately gaining the diagnosis. This trauma is perpetuated when a parent begins to mourn and grieve the loss of the child they thought they would have. The next phase is accessing medical supports or services and not being entirely sure how it will work and what the outcome will be. Then, adolescence hits and some children with disabilities develop anxiety or depression.
For example, for some parents of children with autism spectrum disorder, their children may become aggressive. Some kids have been aggressive all along. As a result, parents are often concerned about safety, often hiding bruises or staying at home to protect their child so that others don’t witness the physical aggression. This becomes even more complicated when there are other children in the home and parents struggle to give them attention, nurturance and time, something they often can’t do successfully because taking care of their sibling can sometimes be a 24-hour, 7 days per week job.
Raising a child with disabilities can also take a toll on a marriage. Parents care for their kids leaving little time for themselves as a couple. Finding someone else to care for the child can be difficult. That caretaker or babysitter needs to be trained and OK with possible meltdowns, behaviors or medical needs. And the icing on the cake is that some families become one income households so that one parent can take care of the multiple needs and therapies for the child, meaning that money can be tight, which is another source of distress for parents. Sometimes the marriage doesn’t survive due to the stress and lack of supports.
Parents are also left anticipating what might trigger their child and are constantly accommodating and modifying the environment to help their child stay calm or regulated. For some children, as they become older and their needs become more complex, some parents have to make a tough decisions about whether or not to find a residential program. Throughout this process that takes place over years and years, parents can become burned out, distressed, anxious, depressed and sometimes even feel hopeless and helpless.
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Escrito por: Dr. Liz Matheis, Ph.D
Nota del editor: ¡Gracias por leer The Mighty! Por ahora, como te darás cuenta, la mayoría de nuestro contenido está en inglés. Estamos empezando a cambiar esto porque, aunque estamos ubicados en los Estados Unidos, nuestra comunidad es global. De cualquier manera, ahora mismo puedes publicar en nuestro sitio o hacer preguntas en español — o en cualquier idioma que desees — para conectarte con otras personas en nuestra comunidad. Y no olvides seguir nuestra página en español!
Como he dicho muchas veces, tener hijos es un trabajo difícil. Es el trabajo más exigente, implacable e ingrato que he tenido. Como madre de tres niños muy diferentes, necesito criar a cada uno de manera diferente debido a su edad, sus necesidades y su personalidad.
Soy una persona ansiosa. No vine al mundo como una persona ansiosa, pero esta vida me ha convertido en una. Solía ser una niña despreocupado, feliz, sin preocupaciones del día a día. Tenía fe en que todo estaría bien. Y la vida pasó. A mi padre le diagnosticaron cáncer cuando yo tenía 11 años. Luego con cáncer nuevamente cuando tenía 14 años. Finalmente, falleció cuando yo tenía 20 años. Mi vida se derrumbó y nunca volvió a ser la misma. La ansiedad se instaló y nunca me dejó.
Después tuve a mi segunda hija. Una niña fuerte, terca, ruidosa y persistente. Ella necesita mucho y no tiene problemas de decirme lo mala que estoy para satisfacer sus necesidades. Sip. Buenos dias, amor.
Ansiedad — es lo que siento cada día. Cuando no puedo evitar que el ciclo gire, me atoro mental y emocionalmente. El miedo y angustia por las cosas que van a suceder, las cosas que pueden suceder y las cosas que no han sucedido. También es el temor de que cuando las cosas van bien, no se mantengan así.
Como padres, nos preocupamos. Nos preocupamos mucho. Nos preocupamos por el pasado, el futuro y el presente. Nos preocupamos todos los días. Nos preocupamos por las pequeñas cosas y las grandes cosas. Nos preocupa que no estemos haciendo lo suficiente, o que estemos haciendo demasiado, o que estemos esforzándonos demasiado, o que no lo estemos haciendo lo suficiente — todo en el mismo día o incluso en el mismo momento.
Nos preocupa haber ofendido a alguien con nuestra pasión por darles a nuestros hijos las terapias, el apoyo y los servicios que necesitan en la escuela y en la comunidad. Nos preocupa decir sí o decir no. Nos preocupa no haber investigado lo suficiente o tal vez hemos investigado demasiado y ahora nuestro cerebro nos duele.
El ciclo es interminable y no me gusta.
Imagen viene de: GettyImages
Children as young as two are developing mental health problems because of smartphones and tablets, scientists warn.
Just an hour a day staring at a screen can be enough to make children more likely to be anxious or depressed.
This could be making them less curious, less able to finish tasks, less emotionally stable and lowering their self-control, the DailyMail reports.
Although teenagers are most at risk from the damaging devices, children under the age of 10 and toddlers' still-developing brains are also being affected.
But research shows 'zombie' children spend nearly five hours every day gawping at electronic devices.
Researchers from San Diego State University and the University of Georgia say time spent on smartphones is a serious but avoidable cause of mental health issues.
"Half of mental health problems develop by adolescence," professors Jean Twenge and Keith Campbell said. "There is a need to identify factors linked to mental health issues that are [able to be changed] in this population, as most are difficult or impossible to influence. How children and adolescents spend their leisure time is [easier] to change."
Parents and teachers must cut the amount of time children spend online or watching television while they're studying, socialising, eating or even playing sport.
Professor Twenge said her study, one of the biggest of its kind, backs the American Academy of Pediatrics' established screen time limit – one hour per day for children aged two to five. It also suggests a similar limit – perhaps two hours – should be applied to school-aged children and adolescents, she added.
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By: Nicole Filiberti, MSW, LCSW
These days, putting the news on can be a daunting task. Negative news centered around shootings, a divisive political landscape and ongoing mental health challenges are sure to saturate the content being shared with us. It's no secret that children are like sponges, soaking up what they see and hear. Having these kids exposed to this content without taking some steps to support them can cause them to struggle with feelings of anxiety and fear. Here are some steps you can take to minimize the damaging effects of the media on your children.
1. Engage them in conversation
From a young, but developmentally appropriate age, set the tone that there can be an ongoing conversation that occurs between you and your children. Regularly check in with them if you know they have been nearby while you have the evening news on. Children are extremely adept at picking up on things, so the approach of avoiding the topic all together, even if the news is bringing up difficult feelings for you, will most likely not be effective. It's okay to admit to your child that something on the news made you feel sad. Engage them in a discussion on what feelings it may have brought up for them and then discuss healthy ways of coping with sadness.
2. Answer questions -- to a degree
This is where you must use your judgement to determine what your child can or cannot handle. There are also times where there simply is no logical answer. It's okay to admit to your children that you don't know why something was done or why someone did something. Providing them with developmentally appropriate answers to other questions is okay. There is no need to include graphic details of certain situations, but again, this is a case by case basis and you must use your judgement.
3. Offer your ongoing support
Remember that your child may not be ready to have this conversation. Offer them your listening ear but do not force them to talk about it. Remind them that you are available if needed and validate their feelings when and if they do approach you. Remind them of all of the safety measures that exist to keep them safe. It also may be helpful to take a proactive approach and tell them that they may see or hear things in the news or on the internet that makes them sad or scared or uncomfortable. Share with them that you are available if they ever come across anything that makes them uncomfortable.
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Dr. Liz Matheis, PhD reviews "Sharing Love Abundantly in Special Needs Families" by Jolene Philo and Gary Chapman:
"Jolene and Gary have prepared a thoughtful book that truly looks at the struggles of the family with a special needs child or children. The relationship, within a special needs family, between husband and wife has additional stressors that often dissipate once children grow older and more independent. Jolene tenderly has shared her personal experiences which is brave and comforting to the reader. Filling each other's love tank in the family by understanding each individual family member's love language is invaluable. Even as a Psychologist who understands relationships, this book has offered me new insight into the communication patterns and needs between parents, parents and children, and children and children within a family. Thank you, thank you, thank you! I need this book in my library!"
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By: Dr. Liz Matheis, Ph.D
#AskMe about managing your mental health as a parent
I’m Dr. Liz, a Clinical and School Psychologist in private practice in New Jersey. I am also a mom of three kids, and one of them has disabilities. I am also a mom who struggles with anxiety. Personally, and professionally, I strongly believe that our own mental health -- as parents -- is a topic we have not given enough attention to, and the time is now! This week, I will be answering your questions
“My child’s needs won’t go away. What can I realistically do to work on my own mental health?”
When we became parents, our children became the center of our universe. Our own self-care became secondary. This is especially true when we have a child with disabilities. Our child’s needs become primary, but one thing I know is that by not taking care of yourself, you will not be able to take care of your child.
How many times have you thought, “I should read/sing/talk to my child because it’s good for her,” even when you really don’t want to?
You may be experiencing some burnout. That is, you feel like you are tired — tired of thinking about what’s next, what if, what will I do when… and you’re managing all of these thoughts while trying to hold on to the guise of being a woman or a man, a wife or a husband, a daughter or a son, a brother or a sister and a friend. If your head is spinning, I understand. I hear you and I feel you.
I know when I get to the point where my head is going to explode with the constant running lists, when I’m checking those lists on my phone and I’m adding more “things,” I know I am good to nobody. Not my kids, not my husband, not my patients; no one, nowhere.
I know it’s really hard, and I combat the feelings of guilt of wanting to run away and hide in a corner for a few hours right along with you. I crave silence in my head, even when the room is quiet. I crave not having my name called for the 523.67th time in the past hour. I want to owe nothing to no one.
That’s just plain old burnout in its truest form.
When I get here, I know something has to give. I know I have to change my mindset and my routine in order to survive.
Shifting your mindset
I have always felt the strong urge to “do the right thing” by everyone in my life, but especially with my children. I want to make sure that I am providing them with every opportunity for them to be happy and achieve their potential. I strive to keep my home clean, prepare a health dinner, have healthy snacks in my pantry, and to provide experiences that are educational and enjoyable.
Big goals that serve as big a pressure, and that are also highly unrealistic.
It has taken two years in therapy for me to come to terms with the idea that I cannot give 100 percent in every direction of my life because at the end of the day, I only have 100 percent to give, not 10,000 percent.
I am embracing the idea that I can still be a “good” parent to my children while not checking each one of the items from my mental checklist I just mentioned. On some days, it’s OK if their primary form of entertainment is the TV, their phone or iPad. It’s OK if I order in or we eat a bunch of frozen meals that have been sitting in the freezer for… I don’t know how long! It’s OK. It’s really OK. Your children and my children will not suffer.
Sometimes, it’s OK to be good enough. Give up the guilt and, in the wise words of Elsa from the movie “Frozen,” let it go!
Makes sense? What are some other ways you can shift your mindset?
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By: Dr. Liz Matheis
A child with special needs (or as some parents and children would rather call it: a disability) can be a very demanding job for parents. Throw into the mix a sibling or two and now you are managing several different worlds of need. Oh, and a spouse or partner – now it’s a party but without the disco ball!
Now let me change the perspective: what it’s like to be the sibling of a child with special needs. In my house, my daughter can be exceptionally demanding and difficult on most days. These are the days when I find myself drained and unable to respond to my other two children with patience or just plain old consideration.
When I sit with my thoughts at the end of the day – the daily day-in-review beat down you are all familiar with – I feel guilty. I feel like I’ve cheated my two boys. I feel like I didn’t connect with them about their day’s struggles or celebrations. I feel like I became consumed by the intense emotion that gets riled up in me and that I work so hard to manage.
Every few months, my older son will confide in me that he needed something from me but didn’t tell me because his sister needed me more. He doesn’t ask for help or vent especially on the days that my daughter is especially difficult because he can see I’m exhausted. I understand why he does what he does but I’m also sad that he feels like he has to wait.
It’s not his job but I realize that there is a unique dynamic that happens in the home of a family with a child with special needs. When I think about my own children’s’ experiences as well as the experiences of the children with whom I work professionally, there are a few things to note about their day to day.
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By: Jennifer Mandato, LAC
For a child with ADHD, navigating the school environment can be a scary place. Everyday tasks such as organization, time management, peer interactions, and remembering to visit the school nurse can be a struggle. Often they are faced with many new battles throughout the day.
Unfortunately, mental health diagnoses, including ADHD still have a negative stigma attached to them. In reality all it really means is their brain works differently and they will need extra support. Along with school accommodations, medications are also sometimes used. This is not without its own negativity; it can subject not only the parent but child to bullying. Parents can be seen as not knowing how to handle or discipline their child. In turn, many parents do not confide in family or peers for support. For the child, it can result in being teased for the struggles they have and “fake” friends using them for access to medications.
For a child with ADHD, sustaining attention is a constant challenge. Their impulsivity may cause them to be disruptive to others. This can make navigating peer relationships difficult. They may not understand the social boundaries which can push peers away. They may talk over or interrupt their peers and their peers may find this annoying and begin to separate from them. Peers may tease them for their loud tone or their inability to engage in a conversation with them.
How can we help?
Keep the dialogue open with your child. Talk to them about school, their teacher and their friends. Be mindful of any changes in their demeanor or avoidance of the topic when you bring them up. If they go from being enthusiastic about school to changing the topic when it is brought up, inquire deeper. If they express to you something is happening at school or you suspect something, reach out to their counselor or teachers.
Involve them in social skills groups. Working with peers their own age with similar challenges will help normalize their experience as well as know they are not alone in this world. These groups will help guide them through social boundaries and interacting with peers.
Work with an executive function coach to help them with their school work. A coach can assess their executive functioning profile and see the challenge areas to work on. This can include giving them an organizational system for school, time management or study skills.
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