In the spirit of ADHD awareness month, let’s bust some of the myths out there and provide some accurate and potentially new, insightful information about ADHD.
First of all, what is ADHD? We hear about it all the time because it’s become pretty common in mainstream lingo, but what exactly does it mean? And why does it make sense to have a conversation about sensory seeking behaviors with ADHD?
What is ADHD?
In general, ADHD, or Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, is not just about hyperactivity or inattention. It’s actually all about difficulties regulating arousal, attention/concentration, impulse control, as well as other executive functions that guide organized, goal-oriented behavior. A person with ADHD may find it extremely difficult to focus and sustain their attention, sit still, keep track of their belongings, categorize and organize things, plan and execute larger tasks, and control impulsive urges and behaviors. For example, have you ever known someone who just can’t seem to keep track of their car keys? Or a child who struggles to remember to bring home their homework? Or maybe you know someone that no matter how hard they try, they just can’t seem to keep their room picked up. How about someone that seems to really take a deep dive into the things they enjoy, but can’t find the motivation to plan or do things that are less important to them? All of these behaviors are normal on their own, but when observed in combination with other ADHD symptoms, and to a degree that they are impairing functioning at work, home or school… that person might have ADHD!
Sensory Seeking Behaviors
In addition to the symptoms and behaviors mentioned above, ADHD and many other neurodevelopmental disorders can also cause sensory seeking behaviors.
Have you ever seen a child climbing all over or jumping off of furniture, stomping their feet, purposefully falling, bumping into things or bouncing around? Have you ever seen a child or adolescent or maybe even an adult chew on their shirt or sweatshirt strings? Have you ever seen a child watch tv or their iPad while upside down? Or maybe they did a lot of spinning around or swinging? Have you ever seen a child watch tv or their iPad really loud? Or make loud, sort of strange repetitive noises? Maybe yelling or screaming? Any of these behaviors at first glance may have seemed like this child was “acting out” or “misbehaving”. But let’s look at this from another lens.
If you answered yes to any of these, you may have seen kids engage in sensory seeking behaviors! Sensory seeking behaviors help individuals regulate (increase or sometimes decrease) the stimulation their brain is getting. And more often than not, these behaviors are missed, overlooked, or misinterpreted as “bad behavior or bad parenting”. They are not “bad behavior”, nor are they a result of “bad parenting”. These behaviors are really important signals to parents, teachers, and clinicians about an individual’s need for sensory INPUT, not OUTPUT. And if these sensory needs are not met, it typically leads to an increase in needs and an increase and frequency and intensity of these behaviors. Meaning, ADHD behavior gets more disruptive sometimes because the individual is trying to regulate but isn’t getting what they need.
Understanding the relationship between ADHD and sensory seeking is crucial for developing effective strategies to manage these behaviors. By recognizing these connections, parents, teachers, and mental health professionals can better support children and adolescents with ADHD who exhibit sensory-seeking tendencies.
There are five main types of sensory seeking behaviors: 1. Oral Motor input
Examples: chewing, snacking, sucking, licking
2. Tactile input
Examples: finger tapping, using handheld fidgets, sensitivity to clothing, always using a specific blanket
3. Proprioceptive input
Examples: using the entire body- crashing into things, bouncing, climbing walls, jumping, stomping
4. Vestibular input
Examples: being upside down, swinging, spinning
5. Auditory input
Examples: watching tv or listening to music very loud, making repetitive noises, yelling or screaming
So you’ve noticed your child engaging in sensory seeking behaviors, the question then becomes “now what”?
As a clinician, when I notice that a child is exhibiting sensory seeking tendencies, I make recommendations to clarify what needs the child has that are being expressed by these behaviors, including ensuring their diagnosis is clear and correct, and then I provide additional treatment recommendations. These recommendations may include getting in contact with the pediatrician/primary care physician, a possible referral to a neurologist, additional testing/assessments for diagnosis clarification, getting a referral for occupational therapy and/or physical therapy, and any other relevant additional services. In therapy we then work to increase the parent’s and child’s awareness of these behaviors, learn what need they are signaling, and learn to engage in positive, proactive coping and regulation. We practice these coping and regulation strategies so sensory seeking behaviors are less disruptive at home, school and work.
What do the parents do?
Parents should first and foremost understand that they have done nothing wrong and they have already done something invaluable and very important for their child by getting them help and support. Then parents can work with their provider to track these sensory seeking behaviors by asking, “what is this behavior telling us my child needs?” By tracking and understanding sensory seeking through this lens, your clinician can help you make a plan to meet your child’s needs at home and at school.
Having a child with ADHD and sensory needs is not easy, but the help and support is out there! We are here for you and we are here to make things easier for you and your child. They don’t have to go through life struggling and neither do you. It can get easier and it will.
ADHD and sensory-seeking behaviors often intersect, leading to added challenges in social interactions and classroom settings. However, with the right support, treatment, and accommodations, these sensory needs can be effectively managed. This not only helps the child navigate their daily life more comfortably but also fosters an environment conducive to their growth and development.
Dr. Jessica, Anastasia and Rachel did an amazing job teaching our campers empowerment and social skills. Our campers were engaged, exited and energetic! It was so fun to see our staff work with your kids to integrate their creativity and kindness with Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and Mindfulness skill building.
If you missed out, or your camper needs any reminders, our skill building infographics are below:
We only get a couple months of warm weather and summer fun here in Michigan. Let’s make the best of these long summer days! Summer activities, routines, and events pose opportunities to build mental wellness – but we do have to be strategic. Here are 5 ways you can purposefully build and support mental wellness in your or your loved one’s lives this summer.
1. Power up Social Skills
Social skills are a major building block of resilience and success for kids and adults. Almost everyone can use some social skill building and summer is the perfect time to work on these strategies. Perhaps you or your child need help learning how to engage in successful introductions to new friends, asking others for help, setting appropriate boundaries, dealing with conflict, or either directing play/activities or going with the flow a bit more? Whatever might help increase confidence and success in social interactions, summertime is a great time to hone these skills.
Here’s how to do it – Make a small list of social skills to practice for the summer. Before a social interaction, identify one specific skill. Talk about the skill and role play the skill; ask when and how the skill might be used. After the social interaction, be sure to talk or journal about how it went. What went well? What could use improvement? What will you do differently next time?
Summer camps focused on building social skills are a great way to build these skills quickly and get professionally guided practice with other kids. If your child is entering grades 2nd through 5th grade, you can sign them up for the Boys Super Social Summer Camp. Girls entering 5th through 8th grade can sign up for the Girl Strong Empowerment camp, which focuses on empowering social skill development for middle schoolers.
2. Leverage Schedule Changes to Build Executive Functioning Skills
While it feels wonderful to be freed from the typical school year schedule, after a few days or weeks, kids often become bored and/or irritable, and parents can feel overwhelmed. Adults and kids who struggle with executive functioning may find schedule and routine changes especially difficult. Summer is an opportunity to develop and practice new executive functioning strategies. For instance, plotting out the daily and weekly schedule can help everyone in the household orient to changing routines and expectations. For families, this might include mapping out parent work schedules, who is on kid caretaking duty each day, and scheduled activities such as practices, social hangouts, and camps. However, be sure to mindfully schedule free time! Purposefully put it on the calendar so you or your child knows when a block of free time will occur, and we can look forward to and schedule something fun. If your child or teen continues to struggle with their summer schedule, completing daily routines, or getting stuck when faced with transitions, make the schedule visual – color code different types of activities and include pictures. It might seem silly to do for an older kid or teen – but being able to orient oneself to the day with a brief glance really helps regulate emotions and executive functioning.
3. Mindful (not mindless) Screen Time
As daily routines and schedules loosen up, screens often fill in the blanks. However, increased screen time is typically associated with decreased positive mood, increased anxiety, and increased irritability. Summer is a great time to facilitate insights and skills that increase screen time regulation – set a daily screen ‘allowance’, ask yourself or your kid how this allowance will be ‘spent’, and follow up by asking how it went or sitting down together to look at screen time on a tracking app. If you or your child has trouble conceptualizing their screen time allowance, make it visual – draw a circle or bar graph to represent the number of minutes that can be ‘spent’ on each app or game. To increase insight and motivation to self-regulate screen time, reflect on days in which you or your child used screens more; how do your/their bodies and brains feel? On days screens are used less; how do your/their bodies and brains feel? Kids and adults often both need help developing the ability to reflect on how screens actually make their brains and bodies feel and enacting effective regulation skills.
4. Focused Bonding
Sometimes the adventures we can have during summer are the perfect prescription for family or relationship closeness. Research shows that when families feel close and connected, including strong child-parent communication, bonding time with siblings and regular family mealtimes, kids and teens are less likely to experience depression. Relationship closeness built on shared experience also impacts adults’ mood and anxiety positively. However, the summer schedule can be overwhelming. One trick is to build in small, focused bursts of relationship focused time. This might look like an end of day 10-minute check in with purposeful physical contact, watching a short video clip that’s part of a series 3-4 times per week, or sharing meals together regularly. Building relationship routines that include regular, seemingly inconsequential time spent together, as well as larger adventures will help you and/or your child build resilience.
5. Address Mental Health Issues Now
Don’t wait for mental health issues to go away on their own. If emotional or behavioral difficulties last more than 2 weeks, it’s not a ‘phase’, get real support and guidance. Summer is a great time to start therapy, engage in a short-term treatment plan to build resilience, or engage in a camp supporting mental wellness. We encourage people to reach out before a crisis occurs, so that when difficult situations or events occur, you or your child already have coping strategies in place.
Some people may think that ADHD is just a set of habits or a quirky personality type, but the truth is far more in-depth and interesting ADHD is a neurodevelopmental disorder that first appears in childhood and continues to affect individuals throughout adulthood. The label neurodevelopmental means that ADHD stems from differences in brain development. These differences in brain development result in difficulties with emotional and behavioral control as well as the brain processes responsible for planning, organizing, and executing tasks. Of course, most people have difficulties with inattention, overactivity, or impulsiveness at times. What distinguishes individuals with ADHD from those without the disorder, is the far greater frequency and severity with which these behavioral and emotional patterns occur, and the far greater impairment these difficulties cause in many areas of life, such as school, home, work, and relationships. ADHD is primarily a disorder of the cognitive abilities needed for self-regulation. These cognitive, or mental abilities are called executive functions and are the fundamental brain processes responsible for organizing goal driven behavior and inhibiting impulses. Individuals with ADHD struggle to remember what needs to be done, make a plan, conceptualize and manage time, remember and follow constraints and rules, identify ways to overcome obstacles, and experience extreme variability in their responses to situations. They also struggle to switch between tasks or situations, inhibit off task or ineffective behavior, and modulate emotional responding. Getting an accurate diagnosis of ADHD can be tricky because several other disorders have overlapping behavioral and emotional symptoms. Because of this, it’s important to understand how we know ADHD is a real disorder, and how we go about making an accurate diagnosis.
How do we know that ADHD is a REAL disorder?
Many people ask, how do you know ADHD is a real disorder? How do you know these difficulties aren’t just ‘bad’ behavior, ‘bad’ habits, or a ‘difficult’ personality? To answer this, we turn to the last several decades of brain research on ADHD. Research clearly and repeatedly indicates that the ADHD brain is developing differently from the non-ADHD brain. When we look at groups of hundreds or even thousands of ADHD brains compared to non-ADHD brains, the differences in brain development between the groups are very clear. This profile of brain development differences is distinct and does not mirror any other disorder or injury. It is incredibly important to dispel any ideas that ADHD is due to an individual simply not trying hard enough or poor behavioral management. Instead, individuals with ADHD, and parents raising kids with ADHD, are often the hardest working people in the room! So why can’t we diagnose ADHD with brain imaging like a CAT scan or MRI? The truth is, ADHD affects several areas and functions of the brain and is a disorder with a wide range of symptoms and presentations. Although we can tell the difference between groups of brains very clearly, when just looking at one individual’s brain imaging results, the information just isn’t enough to ‘see’ ADHD clearly. This is actually the case for many medical disorders and diagnoses that originate or involve the brain. Many disorders can not be detected by brain imaging alone and require further testing, often by a psychologist or medical professional. To diagnose ADHD we use a battery of tests that assess these specific areas of brain functioning, and also rule out all other disorders that have common symptoms with ADHD, such as anxiety disorders and learning disorders. This type of assessment, a neuropsychological assessment, is an accurate way to diagnose ADHD in both children and adults.
What Causes ADHD?
Research suggests that ADHD is a result of one or more issues that affect brain development. In the majority of cases, ADHD brain differences are due to genetics; inherited from parents. In recent years, specific genes and gene mutations have even been identified as likely causing or contributing significantly to ADHD. However, in a minority of cases, brain development delays are due to subtle brain injuries or exposure to substances or toxins that occurs during gestation, birth, or early childhood. We also know that getting the correct treatment helps brain areas affected by ADHD to develop further.
How are ADHD brains developing differently?
We know ADHD is a real disorder and that ADHD brains are developing differently, but in what ways? The brains of individuals with ADHD have structural and functional differences, as well as differences in brain chemistry when compared to typically developing brains.
Studies using an electroencephalograph (EEG), which measures brain activity, indicate that the electrical activity in brains of children with ADHD is lower than that of typically developing children. Specifically, children with ADHD have an increased amount of slow-wave brain activity which is often associated with immaturity of the brain, drowsiness, and lack of concentration. Children with ADHD have also been found to have less blood flow to the frontal area and in the caudate nucleus, which is important in inhibiting behavior and sustaining attention. Now, you might be wondering how is it that children with ADHD, who appear more active and energetic than children without ADHD, could have brains that are less active? The areas of the brain that are less active in those with ADHD are those areas that are responsible for inhibiting behaviors, delaying responding to situations, and permitting us to think about our potential actions and consequences before we respond. The less active these centers are, the less self-control and self-regulation an individual will be able to demonstrate. Thus, these areas of underactivity result in more difficulty regulating emotional and behavioral responding.
Neurotransmitters are the chemical messengers in the brain that help transmit information from one nerve cell to another. Individuals with ADHD appear to have less of these messengers, or cells in the brain are less sensitive to them. Specifically, evidence seems to point to a problem in how much dopamine (and possibly norepinephrine) is produced and released in the brains of those with ADHD. Therefor, stimulant and non-stimulant medications, used to treat ADHD, work to make more of these chemical messengers available. This helps with communication between brain centers and structures and produces significant improvements in behavioral and emotional regulation of those with ADHD.
Treatment of ADHD: There’s Hope!
Individuals with ADHD posses a great many strengths such as creativity, ability to hyper-focus on tasks and areas of great interest, and less traditional problem-solving approaches. Evidence-based treatment for ADHD often includes medication prescribed by a medical practitioner, as well as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) and parent support. Those uncomfortable with medication often engage in CBT alone and experience a great deal of improvement. While CBT helps the individual develop coping strategies and effective patterns of thinking and behaving, treatment also focuses on building personal strengths and positive identity. Although ADHD is a lifelong neurodevelopmental disorder, and symptoms generally persist into adulthood, we do know that children who are treated with medication and therapy (specifically cognitive behavioral therapy with parent support) have the best outcomes in adulthood. Medications and evidence-based therapy appear to improve brain volume and connectivity over time, implying that engaging in treatment may actually help the brain maturation process. The interaction of increased learning opportunities due to proper treatment also has a positive impact on brain growth and connectivity. As an individual with ADHD obtains treatment, they are actually changing their brain! Treatment for pediatric ADHD should also include a parent component. Parenting support focuses on developing parenting practices and strategies, as well as household structure that support the functioning and growth of a child with ADHD. Kids with ADHD often do not respond to typical parenting strategies and need more ADHD specific support. And finally, treatment for ADHD also involves receiving support and accommodation in the school and/or work environment. Those with ADHD can flourish when they are working simultaneously to use effective coping and capitalize on their strengths.
Many kids and teens need Individualized Education Plans (IEP) to support their development and education. The IEP process can be an overwhelming and confusing path to navigate as a parent. We want to help make you feel prepared and informed about the process. The following steps are what will typically occur through the IEP process.
Step 1: Referral
If you, as a parent, are concerned your child may be having learning struggles, social, emotional or behavioral difficulties that are interfering with learning, developmental delay, or any disability that is impacting their education needs you can begin the IEP process. The process begins with a formal request to receive comprehensive evaluation for special education eligibility. This evaluation assesses if your child qualifies for special education services. Each child with an IEP must be shown to qualify for services under one of several categories. This request can be verbal or written; although we recommend a written request for documentation purposes. The Michigan Alliance for Families has sample request letters available for parents to feel prepared without the hassle. We’ve included the link below for your convenience. It’s important to keep a dated copy of this request yourself for records. Someone within the school system who has concerns about your child’s learning or development can also make a request for an evaluation. You will be notified if this happens. Sometimes schools will gather data and/or put informal interventions into place before a child is formally referred for an IEP evaluation.
Step 2: Parent Notification, MET & REED
After a formal request has been submitted to the school they have 10 calendar days to respond. The school will either deny the request, stating the reasons why, or agree to conduct the evaluation. A (usually brief) meeting will then be held with parents to review the evaluation process and obtain written consent before the evaluation is conducted.
Multidisciplinary Evaluation Team (MET) and Review of Existing Evaluation Data (REED):
After the request has been made and accepted, the school assembles a Multidisciplinary Evaluation Team (MET) of professionals to evaluate your child. This team may include general education teachers, special education teachers, psychologists, social workers, therapists, or other specialists. This team engages in the Review of Existing Evaluation Data (REED) to determine what data they have regarding the areas of concern, as well as what additional evaluations must be completed. The team will develop a written report with recommendations for eligibility.
Evaluations are often requested because parents and/or teachers notice a child is struggling a great deal academically, socially, emotionally/behaviorally or developmentally, but they don’t know exactly why. It is important to know that the school does not and can not diagnose your child with a learning disability such as Dyslexia or Dysgraphia, language disorder, or neurodevelopmental disorder such as ADHD, Autism Spectrum Disorder, or Developmental Delay. These diagnoses can only be made by qualified professionals outside the school context. A diagnosis can support the case for eligibility in many cases.
Evaluations may be conducted during this time that look at academic functioning, behavioral/emotional functioning, executive functioning, and socio-emotional functioning within the classroom. You can also ask that private professionals, such as your psychologist or counselor are invited to be part of the MET and attend this meeting. The data from the evaluation guides what supports, accommodations and interventions your child may receive. If your child has a disability that has already been identified and documented by a professional (e.g.,. psychologist, medical doctor, speech pathologist, or occupational therapist) this process can be pretty straightforward.
Diagnoses having to do with learning (e.g., Dyslexia, Dysgraphia, Dyscalculia), socio-emotional or behavioral functioning, neurodevelopment (e.g., ADHD), or developmental delay are generally made by psychologists who work at an outpatient clinic or hospital setting, outside of the school. These diagnoses are typically made after a full psycho-educational or neuropsychological evaluation has been completed. Head over to the psychological assessment/testing page of our website if you would like to learn more about this type of evaluation (https://www.mbh-mi.com/testing/general-information/). You may share the psychologist’s report with the school to help them understand your child’s difficulties and diagnoses. Schools generally use the evaluation data in psychologists’ reports, as well as the recommendations given to help support and structure the IEP.
Step 3: Individualized Educational Planning Team Meeting
A second meeting within 30 school days will be scheduled with the IEP Team to discuss the results of any additional evaluation and your child’s eligibility for special education services. The IEP team includes parents, general education teachers, special education teachers, psychologists, counselors, and a representative from the school. This can be an overwhelming process and meeting for parents, and many parents choose to bring a child advocate to the meeting. This advocate should have a working knowledge of IEP procedures, law, and most importantly, your child. At Monarch Behavioral Health, we frequently attend these meetings with parents. We aim to advocate for evidence-based interventions for children, support parents, forge a partnership with teachers and school staff, and explain psycho-educational or neuro-psychological testing results and diagnoses.
Once eligibility has been established, the IEP Team will put together an initial IEP. This may or may not already be developed at this meeting. If it is not, parents will receive notification when the IEP is complete and when it will be implemented. Parents will have the opportunity to review the IEP with the IEP Team and get an understanding how the school will be supporting their child’s needs. If you want, after the meeting is over you should be able to take the IEP document to review it at home. Be sure to ask any questions you may have. Once parents sign the IEP and consent, the school will begin implementing the IEP within 15 school days.
What’s in the IEP? IEP forms can look different but must include:
Present levels of academic achievement and functional performance. This is information on how your child is doing in school and how their disability may affect progress in the general education curriculum.
Specific goals, with specific skills to be taught to reach these goals. These goals must be reasonable and achievable. Goals must also be measurable (this is important!).
A clear description of how your child’s progress on their goals will be measured.
Special education and related services, including supplementary aids and services they will receive. These are often labeled as accommodations.
The amount of time during the school day your child will spend apart from the general education classroom.
The amount of time weekly or monthly the child will receive services from specific persons or programs in the school (e.g., reading recovery specialist, speech pathologist, occupational therapist, school psychologist, ect.)
The status of your child’s participation in state and district tests, including their test accommodations.
The projected start date for services and modifications provided for your child including, where, how often, and how long.
Step 4: Implementation & Progress Monitoring
Progress monitoring is used to assess your child’s academic, behavioral, executive functioning, and socio-emotional functioning on IEP goals and evaluate the effectiveness of interventions and instruction as the year progresses. Progress monitoring tells the teacher what a child has learned and what still needs to be taught. Monitoring should determine your child’s current level of performance, measure your child’s performance on a regular basis, and compare the expected progress to their actual performance. We encourage actual data to be collected for monitoring, as opposed to teachers and staff’s general impressions. During this step the IEP team will consider changes to instruction or services when your child’s progress toward goals is not being made, process is slower than expected, or the goals have been met. There is no set timeline for progress monitoring. We often suggest progress monitoring be done monthly for new IEPs, and quarterly for ongoing IEPs.
Step 5: Annual Review
You should meet with the IEP team at least every 12 months for an annual review. Annual reviews often take place in the spring, as the school year is drawing to a close. At this time, the team will examine your child’s progress towards goals and make appropriate updates as they develop. It is recommended parents ask about the specific measurement of these goals. A parent or school team member may request an IEP review prior to the annual 12 month meeting if the need arises.
Step 6: Three Year Re-Evaluation
Every three years, the IEP team will do a formal re-evaluation to document a student’s changing needs and consider progress on goals. Reevaluation will look similar to the initial evaluation. It begins with a Review of Existing Evaluation Data (REED) available for the child, and may include the child’s classroom work, discipline records, performance on State or district assessments, and information provided by the parents. If needed, the school may conduct an updated evaluation on academic, behavioral, executive functioning, and socio-emotional functioning. Parents often seek an updated psycho-educational or neuropsychological assessment from a professional outside the school at this time to support and add to the REED. Similar to the initial IEP meeting, parents will sit down with the team and come up with a revamped IEP, setting new goals and delineating new services, supports and accommodations. Again, parents often choose to invite a child advocate to this meeting.
Importance of Documentation
We encourage all data and interventions to be formally documented. When changes in interventions and approaches occur, amendments can be made to the IEP. Although we appreciate all the informal strategies and approaches teachers and school staff take to address a kid’s needs, when these strategies and approaches are not documented, we lose an account of what worked and what didn’t. An important purpose of the IEP is to create a road map. This road map serves the child now, as well as in the future years. We encourage parents to keep all their child’s IEP documents and evaluation data. Keeping these documents organized can help you feel better prepared for meetings and stay up to date on your child’s progress. Reviewing these documents also often gives helpful ideas and support for interventions down the road.
Making an IEP binder is a great way to keep information organized and at the ready when you need it. This tool can help you communicate and collaborate with teachers and your child’s IEP team. The binder can include communication logs where you keep track of meetings, phone calls, letters, emails, and other important interactions with the school. It is important to keep track of evaluations, evaluation reports, standardized and state testing data, and your consent forms. It’s also a good idea to have copies of the IEP handy since they need to be updated annually. You’ll be able to look at the exact changes made at IEP updates, as well as when services started or ended. Report cards and progress notes can help you monitor your child’s progress toward each annual goal in the IEP. Sample work can be included that shows signs of progress or concerns. Lastly, keep a copy (if included) of your child’s behavior intervention plan or contract to see how your child is progressing in the classroom.
Even though all school districts will have slightly different procedures in place, always ask when the following steps are not conducted. The steps include; 1) Referral, 2) Parent Notification, MET & REED, Additional Evaluation, 3) Individualized Educational Planning Meeting, 4) IEP Implementation with Progress Monitoring, 5) Annual Review, and 6) Re-evaluation.
We know the IEP process can be daunting to navigate as parents. Don’t hesitate to reach out for support and consultation. At Monarch Behavioral Health we work closely with families, school staff, and administration to advocate, create, and implement individualized school accommodations that work for your child.
IEP Resource Guide
If your family needs additional support and guidance through the IEP process and want to gather more information for empowerment look at the following websites listed below.
Michigan Alliance for Families
Michigan Alliance for Familiesis a statewide resource that connects families of children with disabilities to resources to help improve their children’s education. They assist in facilitating parent involvement as a means of improving educational services and outcomes for students with disabilities. This resource assists you in knowing your rights, how to effectively communicate your child’s needs, and advises on how to help your child develop, learn, and thrive in the school context.
The Student Advocacy Center of Michigan is another statewide resource that supports families in knowing their rights by understanding policies, laws, and processes. They provide free templates for building letters needed throughout the IEP process. Bonus! They also provide a Statewide Helpline for general education and special education students to receive free support and education advocacy advice every step of the way.
Disability Rights of Michigan is a federally mandated protect and advocacy system for Michigan. A wonderful resource manual they provide families with is the “Students with Disabilities: An Advocate’s Guide”. Each chapter includes a brief summary, a list of “Advocacy Hints,” detailed descriptions of state and federal rights, sample letters, and resources for more information.
As we move into this season of gratitude, I think it’s helpful to highlight just how connected the experience, mindset, and expression of gratitude is to mental wellness. Gratitude gives your mental and physical health a boost, improving mood, squashing anxiety, positively affecting relationships, and even leading to positive health outcomes such as improved sleep and lower blood pressure. Gratitude helps connect what we already have, to what we want in the future, and often moves people’s thinking patterns in a more optimistic direction. But we don’t have to stop there, because expressing gratitude to others actually increases positive social and family bonds! People who express gratitude to others often report feeling more connected and more loved. And who among us would not like to feel more connected and more loved? Gratitude is like a sling-shot of positivity. When we give it to others, it swings around and affects our own mental health and well-being in several positive ways.
Make gratitude part of your daily routine
When do you or your family have a still moment? Is it in the car? Bedtime? Mealtime? During these quieter moments, ask yourself, your partner, and/or your kids about one thing they felt grateful for each day. Make it part of a routine check-in at the same time every day and soon your mind will be trained to think of gratitude each and every day.
Make it physical
By making something physical that represents our gratitude, the experience, thoughts, and emotions surrounding gratitude stick with us longer. For example, you can make a large picture of a tree and grow your ‘gratitude leaves’. Each person in the household writes moments of gratitude on leaves and sticks them onto the tree. It’s so fun, gratifying and heart-warming to see your tree bloom over several weeks.
Pay it forward
Of course, one of the best expressions of gratitude is to donate or volunteer your time and energy to benefit others. Although we might feel short on time and energy lately, plenty of research supports the fact that volunteering promotes positive mental health. Stepping outside our own experiences and problems to act and work on behalf of others helps us see the positive impact we can have in this world.
Our expressions of gratitude not only have positive impacts on others, but also provide ourselves with connection and resilience. I hope this season you are both on the receiving and the giving end of lots of gratitude.
As the days draw a bit shorter, the end of summer marks the beginning of a new school year. Children prepare by picking out their new backpacks and wait in anticipation for their room assignments, all while soaking up the last of the summer sun. As parents, we want to send our children out into the new school year feeling prepared, confident, and excited. However, we enter this new school year bringing with us the experiences of managing life during a global pandemic. The changes in routines, family life, and ongoing pandemic continue to affect us all. Your child may be more nervous, anxious, fearful, or unsure compared to years past. Here are 4 ways to help with the new school year jitters.
Talk to your child:
Start by talking with your child! I know it sounds simple – but it takes purpose and planning to set the time aside and initiate the conversation. Research has shown us that children and youth who discussed the pandemic with their parents were less likely to develop stress, depression, and anxiety symptoms. Many parents try to shelter children from current events, but we know that providing measured and purposeful information helps reduce anxiety. Additionally, children often do not talk about their concerns because of confusion or fear of worrying their loved ones. Encourage them to verbalize their thoughts and feelings about the new school year and let their questions guide you. It’s important to remember that how we discuss COVID can increase or decrease our children’s’ fears. Don’t avoid giving them information that experts say is crucial to their well-being and staying healthy. You should answer your children truthfully and help them develop their expectations for the school year, routines (e.g., masks or no masks, seating at lunch, what will happen at their school if someone gets sick). However, leave out unnecessary details and unknown factors. It’s also ok to say, ‘I don’t know, but we will work together to figure it out.’ This is a great opportunity for modeling calm in the face of ambiguity, as well as collaborative problem solving. You can be a good listener while providing the love and reassurance your child needs.
During unpredictable times, foster a sense of control:
Before the pandemic, schools were a source of consistency in our children’s lives. For most families, the 20/21 school year included constant changes which disrupted our daily schedules for months on end. Keeping your child on a regular schedule provides a sense of control, calm, well-being, and predictability. We can foster our children’s sense of control this fall by structuring schedules and expectations. First, think about your fall schedule and work with your child to make a daily or weekly calendar. Use blocks of color to represent places of activities to make it as visual as possible. You may think this would only benefit younger children, but we find it very effective with high schoolers and even college aged ‘kids’. You may also build concrete expectations to help your children foster a sense of control in their world. Your children may fear getting sick, quarantining, switching to online learning, or closures. Using language appropriate for their developmental level, describe their school’s new policies and procedures so they feel prepared for structured changes. Be clear about your household and school’s expectations regarding what your child will be doing to prevent COVID spread and infection. Remind them about hand washing and other safety precautions – these efforts to mitigate spread might seem so simple, but they work! Lastly, sit down together and make a list of what is in their control during their day. When children are able to identify what they are in control of, they feel calmer and more confident!
Fight anxieties with activities:
Since the onset of the pandemic, children have increased their screen time and sedentary behaviors. They are sitting more than they ever have before! Engagement in physical activity is particularly important to help reduce anxiety during stressful periods. Research tells us that youth who regularly engage in physical activity report less stress and have an easier time regulating their moods. As kids resume in person school this fall, provide a physical outlet for their difficult feelings. It can take the form of sports teams, walks around the neighborhood, silly obstacle courses in the yard or living room, or simply tossing a ball around. It doesn’t matter how your child chooses to move, as long as they move!
Stay vigilant and know the signs:
Most youth will manage the transition well with the support of their family, even if they show some symptoms of anxiety. Some youth may be at greater risk of developing mental health challenges and will need more support. If you notice your child has exhibited significant changes in behavior or any of the difficulties listed below, please reach out for more support. Research indicates that kids who receive supports earlier tend to recovery faster and have more stable gains in treatment. Also, if you want general support in providing your child with the skills to succeed and thrive during these extraordinary times, don’t hesitate to reach out. Emotional intelligence and regulation is one of the greatest predictors of positive child outcomes. It’s always a good idea to support mental wellness throughout a child’s development.
Clues that more support is needed:
Elementary Age Children– irritability, aggressiveness, clinginess, nightmares or other sleep disruption, school avoidance, poor concentration, stomach issues/headaches/body aches and pains, and withdrawal from activities and friends.
Adolescents– sleep and eating disturbances, agitation or irritability, increase in conflicts, physical complaints, social withdrawal, poor concentration, and rule breaking/oppositional behavior.
Together we can provide the skills and supports our kids and teens need to feel healthy and confident during these extraordinary times.