Memory Jar: Ideas for Parents and Teachers

I’ve seen this idea posted on social media sites as the new year approached and I really like it! If you’re not familiar with it, the idea is to have a jar at home and when you have a good memory, you jot it down on a note and drop it in the jar. Then, at the end of the year as you are bringing in the new year, you read all the notes in the jar to reflect on the memories your family created. When I saw this, I thought it was a porject worthy of trying, but then I thought about how parents could use a variation of this idea for their children, especially if they are struggling learners.

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School Phobia, Continued: From School Phobic to School Psychologist–Strategies for Parents

In my previous post, Part 2, I discussed my experience as a child in school and shared some strategies that worked and didn’t work so well. Here are a few strategies that can be invaluable for you as parents to help your child with anxiety, whether about school or anything else.

  1. Recognize physical symptoms. Our body will tell us when we are anxious. Our pulse increases, we might feel light-headed, or our muscles may get tense. Talk to your child about what is going on when they are anxious. First, ask them what they notice about their bodies when they become anxious. Often, children are able to identify the signs. If your child is very young or otherwise unable to identify physical symptoms, you can help them by observing them when you know they are getting anxious to see if you recognize any obvious symptoms. Once your child is able to identify the symptoms, help them to use calming strategies, such as the following ones, when they notice their bodies telling them they are anxious.

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Back to School: 5 Tips for a Successful Transition from Middle to High School

The thought of your child starting high school can be frightening, especially if your child has anxiety, ADHD, Autism, or other special needs. As a school psychologist, I have had the opportunity to work with many students to help them experience a smooth transition. Here are a few tips that many parents and educators have found beneficial. Continue reading

Back to School: 5 Tips for a Successul Transition to Middle School

Starting back to school can be stressful for many students and parents–especially when it involves transitioning from elementary to middle school. The anxiety can be multiplied when a student has special needs. Here are 5 tips to help ease the stress and prepare for a successful transition and start of the school year:

  1. As parents, we often have more anxiety about our child’s transition to a new level than our child does. This is normal! However, be careful not to allow your child to assimilate your concerns. Many children tend to gauge their interpretation of events based on their parents’ reactions. Simply put, if Johnny sees mom scared about him starting middle school, then, to him, middle school must be a scary place. Talk to your child about his or her concerns about middle school and try to address them. If you don’t have the answers, contact your child’s principal or special education teacher/case manager.
  2. Obtain your child’s new schedule as soon as it is available (usually at registration time). Request from the principal or special education teacher/case manager that your child walk through his or her schedule a couple of times before school starts. This will help familiarize your child with the layout of the school and the order of his or her classes, which can help ease some fears.
  3. If your child will be using a locker and has fine motor issues, request that he or she use a padlock instead of a combination lock. Another option is a store-bought lock that uses letters for a combination straight in a line, which might be easier for some students and won’t require him or her to carry a key around.
  4. Communicate! Send your child’s team of teachers a brief email before school starts to introduce yourself and your child with a few highlights of his or her strengths and needs. Teachers really appreciate this and it allows opportunity for questions about concerns or questions they might have. Keep in mind, though, that teachers have a few days of in-service and meetings before school starts so don’t expect a rapid reply. Continue communicating with them throughout the year as needed, especially if you have concerns. Celebrations and words of appreciation are always wecomed, as well!
  5. Relax! This can be the hardest thing to do as a parent when your child is transitioning from elementary to middle school. However, in my experience as I have seen students transition from each level to the next, that they all make it! Sure, there can be some bumps along the way–just like life–but your child’s team is there because they care about kids and want them to be successful. Be prepared…. the first 2 weeks can be the bumpiest as students are trying to adjust. But, guess what? The voyage may be different for each student but they are all in the same boat. I was nervous, too, as my own kids transitioned to middle school and I had different concerns for each of them. But, what I discovered was that they found their groove just like every other new middle schooler and they survived. Yours will, too. I promise!

Here’s wishing you and your child a successful start to a new school year! If you have specific questions that I haven’t addressed here, please feel free to ask!

Thanks for reading!

~Rebecca

Summer Fun for Kids

Kids look forward to summer break! For many kids, this can mean little or no structure or routine. This can be good for a few days, but most kids–and especially those with special needs–need to continue with a schedule of some sort. Structure is essential not only for a happy and enjoyable summer but also for a successful transition back to school in the fall. Here are a few tips for helping parents to provide a structure while having fun too!

  1. Set specific times for waking up, eating, playing, and sleeping. Keeping a daily structure and schedule throughout the summer is very important. A visual schedule is helpful for a lot of kids, especially those with ADHD or Autism.
  2. Add some responsibilities to the day. While it’s important not to overwhelm kids during the school year, summer provides opportunity to add some chores or responsibilities. This can strengthen your child’s self-esteem, strengthen his or her sense of responsibility, and build skills. One summer when my kids were young, we were planning a vacation near the end of the summer that would last for 3 weeks. To begin the summer, they had their daily chores for which they could earn points to “cash in” for money to use on the vacation to buy souvenirs. They also needed to improve their reading skills over the summer so I gave them extra points when they would read a book and were able to answer some questions about what they read. This helped to continue with structure through the summer, gave them an incentive for “cash” for vacation, and it helped them improve on their reading. They loved the weekly visits to the library, too, that we made part of our summer schedule!
  3. Designate certain activities for certain days of the week. For example, Monday movies at the local park or library; Tuesday is outing day; Wednesday is working in the garden or yard; Thursday is swimming; and Friday is free day where the kids get to choose from a list of preferred activities.
  4. For outdoor activities, try a nature scavenger hunt at a park or an obstacle course in the back yard.
  5. For rainy days, make a fort out of sheets, laundry baskets, and chairs–or just use the dining room table. You can have a movie day with popcorn and then have the kids color, paint or draw a picture about their favorite part. Doing crafts is also a great way to develop/improve fine motor skills and to inspire creativity!

Here’s to a great summer!

Thanks for reading!

~Rebecca

Autism and Wandering: Helpful Resources for Parents

In recognition of Autism Awareness Month, I thought I would post about a topic that brings fear to many parents: wandering. If your child has Autism and is in danger of wandering, please check out these resources. Autism Speaks has several resources for parents, educators, and first responders to prevent, educate, and address wandering. Also, check out the National Autism Association’s caregiver toolkit. There are also products such as Be safe the movie, which teaches appropriate ways to interact with law enforcement; Alert Me Bands, customizable emergency alert bands; and angel sense, a GPS device with voice monitoring. I have only mentioned a few here. but you can find more resources on their websites. I hope this will bring some peace of mind to you!

Thanks for reading!

~Rebecca

Autism Awareness Month

April is Autism Awareness Month–an opportunity to help others learn more about Autism. With that said, I thought I would take an opportunity to share with you how Autism has touched my life, both personally and professionally. On a personal note, I have a handful of people in my life whom I hold dear and who happen to have Autism in one form or another. They have helped me experience the Autism journey from a different perspective than I have had as a professional. I have seen them grow on their journey and I have grown with them. As a school psychologist, I have the pleasure of working with individuals with Autism almost daily. Just like any journey, there can be hills, valleys, and plains. Frustration is inevitable, but so are the joyful moments. A day doesn’t pass that I don’t smile or giggle because a student with Autism has helped me see things a little differently or challenged my expertise.

I’m sure you have seen the puzzle icon in your community, whether as a bumper sticker, a logo on a t-shirt, or as a profile pic on social media. In case you didn’t know, this icon represents Autism. If you somoeone displaying it, they are touched by Autism in some way. I’m not sure about why this icon was chosen to represent Autism but I know what it means to me in my journey. Autism is a puzzle. We didn’t use to know as much as we do now about Autism. We used to have a few of the pieces–we weren’t sure of the causes or how we could help individuals with Autism to be successful. Over the years, however, knowledge has increased through research and education. Students and individuals with Autism have more resources in school and the community to help them experience growth and success. We’re getting more pieces to the puzzle. Perhaps some day all the pieces will fall into place and the puzzle will be complete. Until then, I will continue to enjoy my journey with those who are touched by Autism.

Thanks for reading!

~Rebecca

* President Obama issued a proclamation recognizing April 2nd as World Autism Awareness Day. You can check out more of the details on the Autism Speaks website: https://www.autismspeaks.org/advocacy/advocacy-news/obama-issues-world-autism-awareness-day-proclamation-2015 . Also, check out the “Useful Resources” tab at the top of this page for links to websites devoted to Autism.