Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Holiday and Winter Crafts

Have a wonderful Holiday and a great New Year!!!
Below are some fun Holiday Season crafts for the whole family.  For more more information and ideas please refer to the the website below.
 10 Holiday Crafts for Kids 
(copied from










Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Birthday Party Lesson

How Today's Birthday Parties Are Teaching Our Kids the Wrong Lessons 
By Dana Glazer, Huffington Post
Recently, at my younger son's fourth birthday celebration, something a little distressing happened. As we were all singing "Happy Birthday" to him, his seven-year-old brother loudly inserted his own name at the end of the song. It was one of those moments that can really make a parent cringe. When asked why he did this, all that my elder son could utter was that he got "confused."  Later, when it came time for my younger son to open his gifts, our seven-year-old couldn't understand why there weren't any presents for him.

Was my son's confusion about birthdays and presents really his fault? I've been reflecting on this question ever since, and it's made me think about how my family and my generation of parents handle our kids' birthday parties and the presents that are such a big part of the experience.

When I was growing up, my birthday parties were held at my family's home, as were most of the birthday parties I attended back then. My parents would deck the basement with streamers, balloons, party hats and themed paper cups and plates. My mom always decorated the cake herself, and I can't tell you how excited I was every year to discover her newest creation: a fire engine, a policeman, a marshmallow alien space ship...

If the weather was permitting, there would be some games in the backyard, like pin-the-tail-on-the-donkey or freeze tag, and my dad would run those. At the end of the party, everyone would gather around, and I would open my presents in front of all the other kids. Likewise, when it came to other kids' parties, I would sit and watch the birthday boy or girl open up his or her gifts.

What made those parties meaningful was that my mom would usually take me shopping to buy a friend or classmate's gift, and there was something exciting about watching them open up what I had hand-picked for them. Perhaps it's just a failure of memory, but I can't ever recall a receipt being included with the gift. I also can't remember receiving a gift on my sister's birthday or anyone else's so that I wouldn't feel bad. It was her day, and that was it.

Now, birthday parties are more typically outsourced to kids' facilities like Gymboree, Chuck E. Cheese's, Bounce-U and The Little Gym. Cakes are supplied and decorated by Carvel, A&P and Shop Rite. It is expected that gifts are of a certain price range (in our area, usually $25 to $40) and that a receipt should be included for an easy exchange from where it was bought. No longer do children get to watch the birthday boy or girl open the gift from to them. This is partly due to time restrictions at these birthday facilities and also because parents don't want their kids enviously watching another child's bounty of toys. As a result, presents are usually stuffed into large garbage bags and dragged home, where they are opened with just one's immediate family around. A written thank-you note from the parents is usually the only acknowledgment of the gift.

It's easy to fall into this way of handling birthdays and presents. Life is certainly more hectic than it's ever been before, and I have to admit that it's a real temptation to just plunk down a few bucks to reserve birthday time at one of these facilitiesm especially when so often our kids would prefer to have their birthdays there anyway; and it's easier to order a present from or call our local toy store and ask them to preselect a generic present for a boy or girl and have it gift-wrapped (my wife and I have been guilty of this). Gone are the days of using the Sunday funnies to wrap a gift by oneself.

The problem is that by making these easier choices, we are in essence robbing our children (and ourselves) of the real value of birthdays and gift-giving: the recognition that it is an expression of how much we care about the people close to us. How do we care? We bake a homemade cake or take the time to hand-pick a present or make a birthday card from scratch or anything else that speaks of our desire to want to make someone feel special. Otherwise, birthday parties are just relegated to easily concocted, diversionary activities for our kids to pass the time, to stroke their little egos and to collect more unnecessary stuff.

The lesson learned for this parent is to take a little more time and a little more care when it comes to birthday celebrations and gift-giving. Then, maybe next year, for our younger son's birthday, our elder son will be a little less confused. That's my hope, anyway.

Dana H. Glazer is the award-winning director of the feature documentary, "The Evolution of Dad." To learn more about the project, please visit <>

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Childhood Obesity in America

This is one of Katie's papers form the time she was earning her Master degree in Social Psychology

Childhood obesity in this country is an epidemic, and one that needs to be stopped. If not, then a whole generation of children may be outlived by their parents (Woody, 1986). This epidemic has social, emotional, and physical consequences; instead of attempting to alter the behavior to produce long term solutions, we seem to be searching only for instant gratification (Golan & Wizeman, 2001). Children who are obese suffer socially and emotionally due to other children making fun of them, not being able to participate or “keep up” in activities that require physical exertion, and even adults judging them and assuming they are lazy (Bowen, 1987). These children begin to have negative thoughts about themselves due to these judgments and not understand why (Woody, 1986).

Obesity is typically a result of not one variable, but a combination of a high caloric dietary intake and low energy expenditure; and with only 38.5% of our children in America meeting the present national standards for physical activity and healthy eating habits, it is no wonder we are seeing an obesity epidemic in America (Golan & Wizeman, 2001). This combination of high caloric intake and low energy output can begin a negative psychological cycle of: gaining weight, receiving ridicule for one’s outward appearance and inability to perform physically, utilization of overeating and sedentary behavior as an unhealthy coping mechanism, which then continues as an unhealthy behavior cycle (Crocker, Cornwell, & Major, 1993).

In the past, childhood obesity has been viewed as a genetic disorder (if the parents are overweight, chances are the kids will be too); and attributed to the rise in playing video games, children are no longer playing outdoors and getting exercise naturally like they used to; and many schools in America have cut PE from their curriculum, taking away another form of exercise in the midst of a mentally straining, but otherwise sedentary school day (Graves, Meyers, & Clark, 1988). In addition to not receiving the physical aspect of PE in school, they are also losing out on the health and nutrition concepts they would have otherwise been taught. Many extracurricular sports activities are also being cut due to lack of funding, which is another aspect of physical activity that children are missing out on.  

Parents attitudes and behaviors may also stem from not being educated themselves, they are hard working and tired, so when they come home from working possibly two jobs the last thing they want to do is fight with their children about eating healthy or to stop playing video games, because they too want to just sit down and rest while snacking on unhealthy foods and watching television (Campbell, Crawford, & Ball, 2006). Mass media is another indicator of our country’s attitude towards this epidemic, focusing on finding excuses for why our kids are obese, offering “silver bullets” to remedy this epidemic without having to work for it (metabolic pills, to lose weight without exercise), and the push of hundreds of video games and systems that are encouraging the children to participate in sedentary activity for hours on end (Keith et al., 2006).

In order to change these unhealthy behaviors, there needs to be an overall education system in place to ensure everyone understands why these changes need to happen and how they can make these changes efficiently (Golan & Wizeman, 2001). Families and schools need to be reminded that physical activity is fun and can involve everyone participating together. Not only will their bodies be receiving the proper nutrition it needs, but increased activity will build muscle and burn fat; they will also experience an increase in their energy levels and typically their moods and interactions with others are more positive (Golan & Wizeman, 2001). In the schools, when healthier lunches are served in the cafeteria, the teachers will see better productivity and more energy and endurance with their students (Hillman, Erickson, & Kramer, 2008).

To get this started, the government should take an initiative by returning PE funding to the schools as a requirement in the curriculum, offer additional funding for healthy food habits (not have healthy food choices in the grocery store as the most expensive items) and incorporate healthy food into school cafeterias. The media needs to take a larger role in promoting the positive aspects (to make this public agenda) of this healthy lifestyle change, and individual states/cities/counties need to follow through by offering community involvement in physical activities and healthy awareness; being creative in how to make these acts enjoyable for the whole family together.

While there have been many studies in the past regarding this topic, they have not proven themselves as worthwhile strategies for long term solutions; the behavioral and or medication studies usually result in short term weight loss, but invariably the children gain the weight back (Epstein et al., 1990). Some of these studies discuss metabolic supplements specifically for childhood weight loss, surgical solutions, and drastic diets cutting out all carbohydrates and/or fat (Canavera, Sharma, & Murnan, 2008). Psychologists would be useful in this proposed action by providing counseling to these children to help motivate their initial weight loss, help rebuild their self esteem, and help them to learn healthier coping skills for dealing with everyday problems. This counseling should also be government funded and a part of the school system to ensure every child is receiving the support they need, regardless of economic status.

The potential positive outcomes of this proposal include the actual weight loss and a direct correlation to increased health of the children. There is also the added benefit of counseling for the children which will help them deal with their initial feelings of low self-esteem/self-worth typically seen with children who suffer from obesity. Once they begin to lose the weight, they will continue to receive support and counseling that will allow them to express any feelings they may be having regarding their current situation, any fears they may be experiencing which will in turn contribute positively to a healthier holistic lifestyle.

Friday, November 12, 2010


To further make our last weeks point, here is a cell phone commercial that exaggerates the truth.  Like with many jokes or teases, there is some truth within.


Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Living in the Moment

A question I have been pondering lately: is all this instant technology a good thing?

I know I know, we all benefit from many wonderful additions of technology to our lives, but when does it become too much? In several different social situations lately, I have been sitting amongst a group of people, some at work, some friends, some observations in restaurants, etc. where people are more focused on their phones, email, twitter, video games, or facebook than they are on the people they are with; they are no longer living in the moment. The problem this presents is great: we begin to lose the personal connections we have with people, we assume false intimacy with others, and we eventually begin to experience more through technology than we do with real life relationships and events.

Several examples:
One, I was sitting within a group of about 20 people, some new friends and some old, and at any given time I look around and rather than actually enjoying the people they are with, 12 out of those 20 people are checking facebook status’ of others or updating their own about what a fun time they are having at the tailgate: loss of personal connections with people

Two, I was at a small get together last week where a guy was attempting to talk to a girl in the group and instead of asking her real questions to try and get to know her, he brought up things he had previously seen on her facebook page and attempted to use this information to his advantage: assuming false intimacy with others

Three, at work last week, there were several guys who are friends and “hang out” together outside of school sitting together eating lunch; instead of discussing real life interactions they have experienced, they instantly launch into a video game dialog and talk through that: experiencing more through technology than through real life

Four, at the park on a beautiful fall afternoon, enjoying some free from stress moments with friends; people feel compelled to check their text messages or emails on their phones rather than relish the quiet, enjoy their surroundings, and they tend to rush things or lose the moment all together: not living in the moment

One of my favorite movies “You’ve Got Mail” describes a similar phenomenon in the main character’s life when she realizes the same thing with regards to experiencing things through reading books rather than experiencing them herself in real life: “Kathleen Kelly: Sometimes I wonder about my life. I lead a small life. Well, not small, but valuable. And sometimes I wonder do I do it because I like it, or because I haven't been brave? So much of what I see reminds me of something I read in a book, when shouldn't it be the other way around? ”

So I ask you the same question: rather than always checking our “friends” facebook status; or twitter accounts, rather than constantly checking our email and talking on the phone or playing a video game, shouldn’t we be enjoying the people we are with? Investing time in developing real intimacy and engaging in relationships with those who are with us in person...right now?

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

A "Bullying" problem

We are hearing all too frequently about children who are reaching their breaking point due to being bullied.  It is on the evening news, there was an interview this morning on the Today Show, parents are talking about it, television shows are portraying this phenomenon in their story lines, and even though this is something that has been occurring in every generation, it seems to have finally gotten out of control. This may be due to the increased access bullies have to their victims due to the internet, texting, you tube, face book, etc. but no matter what the cause, we need to ensure that our children are protected. We need to ensure they are talking to us or to another adult about any bullying that they may be privy to, in order to keep this from leaping to the extreme that is causing such distress in our children’s lives.

Bullying is something that occurs every day and can happen to anybody. It is defined as “repeated acts of violence against another by someone of higher status or stature”. Bullying can be physical, verbal, psychological, and even cyber offenses. Bullying usually occurs by an individual or group who need to build themselves up by victimizing someone else whom they perceive as different, weak, shy and reserved as or of lesser status than themselves. These bullies may act this way due to their own feelings of low self esteem, lack of self worth, or they may have been treated this way in the past and think this is appropriate. Because parents, teachers, and other appropriate adult support are not available all the time to stem these inappropriate interactions, it is important to prepare children for the possibility of these events occurring.

Harassment is even more prevalent in 2010 and recent years because of modern technology and the fact that the bullying doesn't end with the school day. Across America, in public and private schools 50 percent of students’ surveyed claim to have bullied or harassed another and 47 percent claimed they have been the victim of bullying or harassment...from nursery school up through high school. Cyber bullying is becoming more and more prevalent because it is more subtle and there are less constraints (can occur after school, and there are no adults supervising). There is a greater need for parents and caregivers to get more involved with their kids, know what and who they are talking to online, how they are being treated, how they are treating others, and how they are handling difficult situations.

There are many tips to help teach your child not to become a potential target for bullying: talk to them about the possibility of this occurring (on the playground, on the bus, when they are walking home, when they are online, etc.); encourage them to join clubs or sports so they have a “group” to spend time with and are therefore not “a loner” to be deemed a possible target; and most importantly children need to learn how to be confident in themselves, have a healthy self esteem, to believe in themselves and know that being different is ok.

This task is certainly easier said than done, but the best way to do this is teaching them by example. Parents are typically a child’s most influential role model and the one they look to for appropriate behavior up until a child reaches adolescence. Encouragement, praise, and positive feedback go a long way in teaching children to have healthy self-esteem and confidence. When children are playing sports, trying something new, are kind to a friend or sibling, follow directions, etc. we must be intentional about giving them positive feedback regarding this behavior. Not only saying "good job" or "I am so proud of you", but also explaining WHY it is good or WHY you are proud. If a child is hesitant to try something new, and they receive praise even if they didn't succeed, they will remember that and feel less hesitant the next time. Helping them to focus on the "means" to trying something new or hard even if the end result is not successful is very important in the process of growing their self-esteem and confidence. Also, teaching them to be kind and considerate to others through everyday interactions (driving in traffic, standing in line at the grocery store, holding the door open for a stranger, etc.) are also wonderful acts to teach your child how to appropriately treat others.

On the other side of the coin, we also need to be good role models to ensure our children do not become bullies themselves. If children are raised without a balance of what's good and bad, they will in turn treat others the same way. If they only receive criticism and not instruction; condescension and not caring; punishment and not teaching; laughter and not comfort; technology and not personal time; it is no wonder they grow up with the understanding that this is the way they should behave. If they see their parents judging others, saying condescending things about others to make themselves feel better, making disparaging remarks about someone else’s weaknesses or mistakes to draw a laugh, then this is how they understand they should behave as well.

Children are already feeling uncomfortable with the concept of being bullied and tend to not feel comfortable telling someone what is going on until they have reached a breaking point and many times it is too late to help them. By making this a common household conversation and something they are prepared for and feel they have someone to talk to, we can stop this growing tragedy.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

4 DIR®/Floortime Tips

1--  Following a child’s lead does not necessarily mean follow the child wherever they go, but rather follow the intent behind their actions. From there you can challenge, expand, or simply try to clarify the idea in order to not only stretch the interaction but also make it more meaningful. For example, if a child seems to place no value on any one toy or activity and simply "grazes" through activities, dropping one and picking up another; try to make a game of this. When they drop one toy, say "ok now let's try to find our next one" with high affect which will encourage them to acknowledge your presence and eventually the child will begin to "look forward" to "finding" the next treasure with you: adding meaning to the once before meaningless process.

2--  DIR®/Floortime is more a frame of mind rather than a period of time when you try to engage with you child.  DIR®/Floortime is taking advantage of any situations/interactions in order to relate and communicate. This can happen while eating lunch, riding in the car, watching television, playing in the bathtub, etc. Your interactions with your child should always be intentional, helping them seek out future interactions and want to be engaged with you. For example, while eating lunch, instead of just sitting there silently or trying to force a conversation, become playful with the food using high affect in your voice and facial expressions, encouraging them to join you in the play. Don't worry about proper manners (unless you want to incorporate this playfully) or getting messy, just have fun. Soon your child will look forward to those mealtimes and interacting with you, seeking further engagement.  

3--  No matter what your situation is, the reality is: "your child is most likely not at risk of not being able to read, write, or do math; your child is at risk for not being able to interact or communicate their thoughts and ideas".  A good example of that happened when I first got started. I was building a train track with a child and a lot of our emphasis was on the train track itself. I got feedback that the child was not at risk of not knowing how to build a train track, but rather knowing how to play with a friend. With that, I started to push back on some of his ideas, proposed alternative ideas, and sometimes was purposefully confused about an idea so that he needed to clarify. In the end our game became all about our interaction rather than the train track.

4--  Hesitation, big affect, and unpredictability (without being overwhelming) are three great strategies for changing the interaction from a game to the people involved. For example, I was coaching a friend playing UNO with a child and the child was slumped over with all of his attention on the cards.  In order to change this situation from being all about the game to more about the interactions I asked my friend to hesitate more, increase his affect, and become a little more unpredictable when laying down a card.  Immediately the child sat up more and his attention was focused on my friend rather than his cards. They went on to play for half an hour laughing together, playfully teasing each other, and most importantly never losing the interaction between them.

When properly incorporating DIR®/Floortime into one's life, you will see it is not just a set time of day where you focus intently on Floortime strategies that is the most effective; it is incorporating these strategies into your child's life through as many interactions as possible. 

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Just Another Sensory Experience

By Dave Nelson
Executive Director
The Community School

Part of every individual’s profile is his or her “sensory reactivity.”  How do we react to sensory input, and how does this affect our ability to connect and interact with the world?  The myriad ways in which sensory input comes into play is striking, but often overlooked.  Here are just a few examples from recent encounters with students at school:

• Long Pants.  Some people simply don’t like the feeling of long pants on their skin.  Their particular tactile reactivity may make the experience of long pants uncomfortable.  In addition, the waistband or a belt might feel uncomfortable at the waist.  So wearing shorts might not be so bad in Georgia, but imagine how one’s life might be affected by having to spend energy avoiding situations in which long pants are required.  (On the flip side, I actually know a boy who never wears shorts because he doesn’t like the feeling of the air on his legs.)

• Fluorescent Lights.  Some people are very sensitive to the flickering of a fluorescent light.  Most of us are bothered by a light that is burning out, but many are also affected by a well functioning fluorescent bulb.  An individual’s visual sensitivity may be such that simply being in a room lit with this kind of bulb can be unsettling or uncomfortable.  Imagine how many fluorescent bulbs we encounter every day.

• Ambient Noise.  Some people have a hard time filtering out background noise; their auditory discrimination systems struggle to identify “important” and “unimportant” noise, and they can’t easily focus on the right sounds.  Imagine if the dog barking outside was just as prominent in your hearing as the person standing right next to you.  Imagine if every time you heard a vacuum down the hall you became alert and nervous.

Shoes and socks.  Lots of people have various kinds of discomfort around shoes and socks.  Some would rather go barefoot; others never want to be barefoot.  Some prefer loose, unrestrictive shoes with no support; others want a tight, “bound up” feeling.  At school, we ask students to wear sneakers for PE, hiking shoes for Thursdays, and shoes of some kind when going out in public.  What some of us take for granted, others find to be burdensome.

The list of sensory irregularities I could describe is lengthy, but I mainly wanted to give you an idea of how many things our students deal with every day, just as part of the simple process of negotiating the physical world.  I often liken the experience of living with sensory challenges to the idea of going to work while having a bad cold.  One can get through it ok, but it takes a lot of concentration and doesn’t often feel very good.  It’s a lot harder to find the “zone” of motivation that we all rely on to plow through our responsibilities. 

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Not responsible "Parenthood"

It is really frustrating to watch television shows that are trying to portray a "current" real-life event and misrepresent it. They don't recognize the massive responsibility they carry with the accuracy (or inaccuracy) of their story lines when they have such a large following of their show. Many people watch these shows and it is their only reference with which to understand the facts.

When shows don't do their due diligence by relaying accurate research and information, they are steering their audiences in the wrong direction. Granted, it is also irresponsible for the general public to take these shows at their word as fact, but mass media has taken on that role whether we like it or not.

The prime time drama "Parenthood" is one of my favorite shows and I love that they attempt to stay current and tackle difficult real-life topics, but was sorely disappointed in their drastic misrepresentation of Asperger syndrome. The story line I am referring to is about a family who has a son with a recent diagnosis of Asperger syndrome. They have hired a private ABA therapist who comes to their home and works with their son on his homework, eye contact, social skills, etc. He receives stickers as rewards/incentives for "appropriate behavior".  Up until last week’s episode, they have done a fairly good job of portraying an accurate time line of progress seen using ABA therapy (although of course not the same caliber seen with Floortime Therapy, but I am known to be bias).

The error seen in last week’s show followed a frustrated father who feels like the progress in therapy is not moving fast enough and he feels very upset that his son has no interest in sharing his life with him and also shows little interest in his dad's life. After many failed attempts at trying to talk to his son and being rejected, the dad insists on starting a new tradition of a weekly father/son dinner.

The disappointing scene occurs in the car driving to the first father/son dinner. The father tries several unsuccessful attempts to get his son to put down his handheld video game and talk to him. He tries to ask him about his day, tell him what happened in his own life, he tries talking about topics that usually were of interest to his son and got continuously upset by his son's lack of interest in interacting with him. Eventually the father hit his hands on the steering wheel and angrily announced how much it upset him and how it hurt his feelings that his son didn't care about getting to know him better. The son sat silently for a few seconds (here it comes), looked at his own reflection in the window, lowered and turned off his video game, looked at his father and asked him a complex insightful question referring back to a conversation from earlier in the day. While this was a nice father/son feel good moment, it portrays this child with Asperger syndrome as having a choice in his level of interaction/engagement abilities. As if in all previous interactions, he has made a conscious choice not to the audience the impression that these children can interact appropriately, they just CHOOSE not to.

If this were truly the case, than why doesn't this happen more often? Why can't we just tell these kids they are hurting our feelings and we really want them to talk to us and have an interest in our lives? Because this is not a realistic expectation, that’s why. Children with Autism and Asperger syndrome are NOT merely choosing not to interact or relate....they lack the ability to do so on their own (the differences in each child diagnosed vary greatly). Through intense play and engaging therapeutic interactions they can learn, but it is not a choice. If this is how society is taught to view this spectrum of disorders, than it is no wonder that children with Autism and their parents are looked at with contempt and sometimes disgust when: there is a loud "meltdown" in public (why can't that parent control their child?); when a child cannot sustain eye contact or focus within a group (they will grow out of it); when a child is aggressive towards other children (that child just needs more discipline); or when a child is acting out (that child must not get enough attention at home). No! These children are acting this way because they have not acquired the developmental ability to interact socially and communicate appropriately in the manner that you and I did; these are developmental skills they have to learn through play and intentional interactions with others. This is not a switch that will magically be turned on one day nor is it a choice; and until mass media takes the responsibility to portray this accurately, the general public will continue to look at these children and parents with apprehension and judgment.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Siblings Need Support Too

No matter how much we would like to, we cannot choose our families or the way in which we are raised. We are indelibly shaped by our environments, our families, and our experiences in a way that makes us who we are. Each piece, person, and interaction is important and is a part of who we become. In families where one or more children is diagnosed with Autism, many times the “typical” sibling feels left out or left behind. Because their sibling needs extra help, support, therapies, time with mom and dad, understanding, diets, etc. the other child(ren) may feel as if their needs are less important.

While all children experience fears, anxieties, and a variety of influences as a child; growing up in a family with one or more siblings with Autism or other special needs, these children tend to experience things differently than those who are raised in a family where all the children are typically developing. These experiences have an influence on how they think, feel, view themselves, what they are anxious about, and how they view and treat others.

There are many positive aspects to a sibling growing up with a child who has special needs: these individuals tend to experience more feelings of compassion and express more empathy towards others; they understand the unique differences of everyone around them and tend to be less quick to judge when someone is not like them; many grow up to work in human services and want to help others; they grow to understand that a child’s “bad” behavior may actually be communicating another desire they are not able to express otherwise; and they also tend to understand that even if someone is expressing anti-social tendencies, they still need someone to love and play with them. Some negative aspects might include: emulating the negative behavior seen receiving attention from their sibling with autism; feelings of low self esteem or self worth due to the lack of attention they receive in comparison; feelings of jealousy, resentment and embarrassment; frustration from the lack of response from their sibling; feelings of being attacked physically as well as verbally by their sibling; feeling as if they have to “make up” for the behavior of their sibling; as well as lacking a typical role model to interact with at home possibly leading to inappropriate behavior outside the home. 

Brothers and sisters are especially important in the lives of children with Autism for many reasons: siblings will most likely be in their lives longer than anyone else; siblings provide constant direction as typically developing role-models; and they are a consistent source of social interaction. As a parent, it is really important to encourage positive play between siblings, from a very young age. Initially it is just a matter of teaching them simple and enjoyable activities to help them interact together, that will grow over time into longer more complex interactions. Also, teaching the typical sibling how to “teach” play to their autistic sibling gives them a feeling of responsibility and feeling of importance in their sibling’s life. Feelings of Jealousy and competition are common with all siblings, but it is always important to notice and act on these feelings, teaching the children how to successfully cope when these feelings arise. Each child needs to feel as if they are just as important, individually as well as together with their sibling, even if many times it is easier to give in to the child with autism in order to avoid a “melt-down” or other difficult behavior. Parents need to make sure all children feel important and their needs are being met. In order to do this, it is important for parents to ensure quality time with each child individually, even if it is merely being in attendance at their sporting events, reading to them before bedtime, taking them on a one-on-one trip to the store with you; the activity is not important, but making the child feel as if they have your attention focused solely on them and that they are important is the main goal. Finding a sibling support group for your typical child is very important as well, giving them a channel to feel as if they are not alone. Also, finding outlets where typical children along with their autistic sibling can participate together is another great solution; joining support groups, family hikes, and playful swimming time, playing tag, or dancing together to music are all lucrative interactions that will encourage quality time with everyone together.       

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Music is the Key

Many times when learning how to communicate and engage with a child who has Autism, you are initially instructed to use music in as many interactions as possible.
You might hear advice such as: “studies and anecdotal evidence are clearly showing that therapy based on music can have a significant impact on reducing the symptoms of autism in children including undesirable autistic behaviors” or “participation in this kind of therapeutic assistance provides the children with the chance to be exposed to carefully measured and chosen, non-threatening stimulation, since no human contact is required”. 
While this advice is accurate, we have not utilized structured music segments within our groups as much as maybe we should have. Yes, we have found this advice to be useful in many different situations and environments and with many different children. Yes, we have used it as an avenue to connect with a child who is upset. Yes, we have played many music based games, and sometimes even “sing out” to a child who doesn’t respond consistently to their name or verbal directions. But, we have never used music as our “glue” to guide a group of children into working as a cohesive unit….before now.
One specific group of kids we have been working with has proven to be difficult to keep engaged for the full 90 minutes we are together. We began this semester by “confining” them to the same room and introducing new games where they would participate for only few minutes together, but for the most part we had a group of individuals existing in the same space. We were able to stretch this group interaction and play for maybe 30 minutes, but even that consisted mainly of engagement and interaction with our staff and little peer interaction with each other. The last two weeks though, we have seen a vast improvement on sustained group interaction and engagement. We have found that starting with group music and play is the key, for this group in particular, to interact together in enjoyable, sustained play. After a period of about 25 minutes of music, we have for the last two weeks, been able to sustain this group cohesiveness for the entire 90 minute session! SUCCESS! Even in the main sensory room of Sensations, where our little group usually dissolves into 4 little individuals running to participate in their own activities, these guys are motivated to stick with their new friends and participate in a round of activities TOGETHER. We ride bikes together, take turns on the zip line together, play in the game room together, etc. In a short period of 4 weeks (meeting 1X per week) we have seen dramatic changes that to the outside observer may not look like much, but to us are huge.

These experiences through group interaction will hopefully touch on many elements within these children’s lives. They are experiencing friendships, they are sharing and taking turns, they are learning flexibility, they are learning to express their desires and listen to the desires of others, they are moving at their own pace through a “jungle” of nuances we all experience every day. In the end, we hope they are receiving great emotional satisfaction and sustained interactions and relationships to build on over the next several weeks, months, and years.   

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Horseshoes and Hand-grenades

“Almost only counts in Horseshoes and Hand-grenades”… and at TCS.  On the third and final day at the Emory Pool, F (a 15 year old client of ours) stood on the edge of the 3-meter high dive fighting his instincts not to jump.  He had been watching the other guys jump off with ease and wanted to experience it for himself.  He had made several trips up the high dive, with each resulting in a walk down.  On this occasion F had pumped himself up, visualized how great it would be to overcome his anxiety of heights, and possibly impress some of the girls that were poolside sunbathing. 

After a several minutes of “should I or should I not” and couple of trips back and forth on the diving board, we (the group) could not keep quite any longer.  F had been crystal clear that he did not want any encouragement or attention while he was up there because that would only embarrass him and lessen the chances of him going through with it.  The rest of the group did a wonderful job of respecting F’s wishes, but we so desperately wanted him to succeed that we needed to chime in with extra incentives and words of encouragements.  I talked about how close he was to overcoming this fear and how wonderful he would feel after he jumped, Another student came up with an idea of being able to play Nintendo DS in the van (during the school day) if he jumped.  Both strategies seemed to have a positive impact on F’s mood and determination.  He even negotiated 7 van trips in which the whole group could play their DS.  The rest of the guys waited patiently on the pool deck eagerly waiting and hoping he would jump, and some had additional words of encouragement for F.

Minute after minute went by, and F’s roller coaster ride of emotions continued.  The group below became unified in their voice of encouragement, and all of us wanted him to take that final step into the pool.  Finally, after so much despair F turned around for the final time and came down the stairs.  He started to cry because he felt he had let everyone down by not doing his part of the negotiated 7 van rides of playing the DS. 

Even though F almost jumped, almost tackled his fear of heights, and almost impressed some poolside girls, the rest of the guys did come together in non-judgmental and unified way to support F.  It was amazing to be a part of such a patient group that put aside their needs in order to support F.  In the end “almost” made a huge difference on the guys of TCS.  They rallied around one person’s quest to conquer his fear, and supported him to the bitter end.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Welcome to our blog

Hello Everyone and welcome to Learning on the Log's first ever blog!

Our vision for this blog is to share our experiences with parents, professionals, teachers, and friends; drawing inspiration from our groups each week or from previous interactions over the years.

We will discuss:

  • Interactions that are encountered within our groups
  • Current events that affect our clientele and their families
  • New attitudes and techniques within our field
  • "How to's" for families
  • Floortime/DIR ideology and strategies
  • Examples of games and easy activities to help engage your child at home
  • Strategies for siblings
  • Suggestions on establishing new play dates for your child and how to assist them in maintaining these new friendships
  • Video clips with examples of conflicts/resolutions within our groups
  • and much more!!

We want this blog to be as interactive as possible, so please comment with questions about our programs, concerns you are currently experiencing, or suggestions for future topics of discussion. We understand that families are busy and they are trying their best to "fit in" everything they can to ensure the most successful interactions for their children, so we will strive to assist them in that goal. Thank you for your time and we hope to hear from you soon.