By Dianne Craft, MA, CNHP,

SPED Homeschool Board Member, Curriculum Partner & Therapy Partner

Sometimes a subject comes up that is so wide-reaching in its impact, that it cannot be ignored. As a special educator for over thirty years, and a nutritionist, I am always on the lookout for ways to relieve suffering in kids who are struggling with learning or behavior. It has come to the point that evidence of the impact of fish oil on the brain and nervous system of these struggling children is so large that I think it deserves its own article.

 

Recent Trends

The incidence of children diagnosed with food allergies (notice all of the gluten-free and dairy-free items in grocery stores as of late?), asthma, autism, Asperger’s, sensory processing dysfunction, ADD, ADHD, dyslexia, and dysgraphia has increased greatly in the past five years. There is a disproportionate number of boys in this increase. Why is this occurring? UCLA School of Medicine has found that boys have a three times higher need for DHA, a type of Omega-3 fat from fish oil, than girls. Let’s explore this more…

 

Depression

The incidence of depression has skyrocketed in children and adults since World War II. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that 11 percent of Americans over the age of 12 take anti-depressants. What is going on? Researchers report that blood levels of inflammatory markers such as C-reactive protein are frequently elevated in those diagnosed with depression. Could inflammatory changes in the brain be one of the main drivers behind our epidemic of depression? This may also explain why anti-depressant medications often do not work for people with depression. Emory University in Atlanta confirmed the depression/inflammation connection. Fortunately, there are natural ways to reduce inflammation. The most effective way includes a diet high in Omega-3 fatty acids, specifically DHA in fish oil. Dr. Michael Norden, a practicing psychiatrist in New York, uses essential fatty acids, and particularly fish oils, for his patients who are suffering from depression. Using fish oil in addition to medication, and sometimes without medication, Dr. Norden reports impressive relief from depression among his patients. Likewise, Dr. Andrew Stall, a physician from Harvard has found that the DHA in fish oil has proven to be extremely helpful in patients suffering from postpartum depression, bipolar disorder, ADD, and ADHD.

 

Autism

Many studies implicate inflammation of the white matter of the brain as a common thread in children diagnosed on the autism spectrum. However, one very unique aspect of fish oil is its effect on the gaze aversion that afflicts so many children with autism. The rods in the retina of the eye are very responsive to the supplementation of DHA. Dr. Mary Megson, a developmental pediatrician in Richmond, Virginia, has found that the reason that children with gaze aversion will seem to look away from a parent’s face is that, when looking directly at the face, all they see is a white block. Thus, they use their peripheral vision to at least get a glimpse of what they are looking at. With proper amounts of naturally occurring vitamins A and D in cod liver oil, this gaze aversion disappears or is greatly reduced. Dr. Megson states strongly that it is important that synthetic vitamin A in the form of retinyl palmitate not be used. Interestingly enough, I have found this also to be the case in the children in my consultation practice who come to me with gaze aversion. I have always found that with the proper amounts of DHA, for which I use a specific cod liver oil, the gaze aversion is eliminated or reduced by 85 percent. In fact, in the autism conferences at which I speak, I have “before and after” pictures of children with autism, showing the lack of gaze aversion after giving this vital nutrient. Besides affecting gaze aversion, parents report increased socialization, speech, bladder control, and sensory processing after even a short while of this supplementation. It has also helped many children struggling with ADHD, dyslexia, and bipolar disorder.

It has also helped many children struggling with ADHD, dyslexia, and bipolar disorder.

 

Traumatic Brain Injury

Probably the most dramatic healings reported after the introduction of high amounts of fish oil, have come from the healing of traumatic brain injuries that were not responding to other treatments. When Peter Ghassemi’s son was lying in a coma after a severe car accident, the doctors reported that while his son had survived the accident, he would likely be a vegetable for the rest of his life. This dad reached out to Dr. Michael Lewis, an Army colonel, for help. Dr. Lewis, the founder of the Brain Health Education and Research Institute, urged him to talk with his son’s doctors about using the same protocol that was used for a young man who had experienced this same type of traumatic brain injury. In that case, the young man, Randal McCloy, was the sole survivor of a mine disaster in West Virginia. McCloy, 26, had been trapped in the mine for 41 hours while the air around him was filled with noxious methane and carbon monoxide. His brain was riddled with damage from these potent toxins. McCloy’s doctors were looking for ways to stem the tide of inflammation and cell death occurring in his brain. His doctors embarked upon an unorthodox treatment regimen that included high doses of fish oil. Dr. Julian Bailes, one of McCloy’s doctors said “The concept was to attempt to rebuild his brain with what it was made from when he was an embryo in his mother’s womb. High doses of omega-3 fatty acids (fish oil), since they mirror what is already in the brain, would facilitate the brain’s own natural healing process. These fats are literally the bricks of the cell wall in the brain.” Dr. Bailes referred to the National Institutes of Health research that suggests that omega-3 fatty acids may inhibit cell death and could help in reconnecting damaged neurons. Worthy of note is that, in addition to massive cell death, the protective sheath around McCloy’s nerve cells had been stripped. The sheath, called myelin, allows brain cells to communicate with one another. Amazingly, three months after saturating his brain with high doses of fish oil, McCloy was walking and speaking. Armed with this success story, Peter Ghassemi urged his doctors to try this same, safe protocol with his son. The result? Three months after his accident, Bobby Ghassemi was well enough to attend his high school graduation. Bobby said, “The whole place was cheering for me…I took my graduation cap off and waved it around.” Peter Ghassemi said, “His brain was damaged, and this was food for the brain.” Dr. Lewis concluded, “The message that I’m trying to get across is, there’s more you can do. If you add the fish oil, we can then begin to let the brain heal itself a little more efficiently.”

 

Dyslexia

In 2000, Dr. Jacqueline Stordy began to research the connection between DHA and dyslexia. She performed a double-blind, placebo-controlled study in which she studied children with ADD, dyslexia, and dyspraxia. She found that when a protocol amount of DHA (from fish oil), was given over three months, that statistically significant improvements were made in these children’s focusing ability, reading ability, and coordination and balance.

 

Teeth, too?

If you have a child who suffers from multiple cavities, no matter what you do, you will be interested in Dr. Weston Price’s research. A dentist, Dr. Price found that one way to prevent cavities from forming in the mouths of his young patients was to make sure that they had adequate levels of Vitamin D and the all-important Vitamin K2. Vitamin K2 helps to form the dentin, the porous tooth material underneath the enamel of the teeth. This vitamin can be found in fermented foods, butter, meat from grass-fed cows, hard cheeses, like Gouda, and a fermented food from soybeans called natto, or in supplements. As we know, good ol’ cod liver oil is a great source of both vitamins A and D.

 

What can moms do to help their child get these brain-healthy fats?

Begin to reduce the bad fats that block healing by including more good fats into a child’s daily diet with simple measures like adding some avocado in sandwiches, using real butter instead of margarine (especially if the butter is from grass-fed cows), and using real mayonnaise. Eat more whole grains and legumes versus white flour several days a week. Lastly, make raw vegetables and a salad an everyday part of your children’s diet. If you choose to give a supplement such as cod liver oil, fish oil, or Vitamins D3 or K2, it is best to check with the child’s doctor before beginning any supplement program. For a list of the amounts of fish oil, vitamin D3 and vitamin K2 that was used in these and other studies, just type “Fish Oil Article” in the subject line, and send to craft@ecentral.com

 

This article was originally published in The Struggling Homeschooler Magazine, February 2013.

The information in this article should not be construed as a diagnosis or medical advice. Please consult your physician for any medical condition and before adding supplements or changing a child’s diet.

Dianne Craft has a Master’s Degree in special education and is a Certified Natural Health Professional. She has a private consultation practice, Child Diagnostics, Inc., in Littleton, Colorado. Read more at her website www.diannecraft.org .

 

References

Andrew Stoll, MD, The Omega-3 Connection

  1. Jacqueline Stordy, Ph.D., American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Vol. 71, Jan 2000 Dianne

Craft, MA, CNHP, “Essential Fatty Acids and the Brain”, www.diannecraft.org Drs. Kay Judge and

Maxine Barish-Wreden, “Healthy diet shown to cut risk of depression”,

www.denverpost.com, October23, 1012

Kate Rheaume-Blue, ND, The Calcium Paradox

Mary Megson, MD, “ The Biological Basis for Perceptual Deficits in Autism”, www.megson.com

Melvyn Werbach, MD. Nutritional Influences on Illness

Michael Norden, MD, Beyond Prozac

Stephanie Smith, “Fish Oils for Brain Injury”, http://www.cnn.com

 

 

 

 

 


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By Mary Winfield


You have heard about Temple Grandin, right? If not, study up! She is amazing. During a time where children with autism were institutionalized, her mother refused to give up on her even when doctors told her Temple would never speak or function independently.

Because of her mother’s persistence, Temple now has her Ph.D in Animal Sciences and works world-wide doing autism advocacy. If you want to learn more about her life, HBO did an excellent movie (it is also free to watch on Amazon Prime). She has written several books, but the one I read most recently is called The Loving Push with Debra Moore as her co-author.

This entire book is dedicated to helping parents help their children with high functioning autism learn to become independent and successful adults. There is so much good information in this book, I highly encourage parents of teens or pre-teens to read it. It discusses dealing with depression in teens with autism and dealing with video game addictions. It also talks about preparing teenagers to drive. It follows several different families with their experiences and lessons.

The part of the book that I want to focus on in this article is preparing teenagers for their post high school lives. In, The Loving Push, they interviewed a college professor who had worked with many different students on the spectrum, and he gave 4 areas where he sees the most struggle when students come to his college: household and personal care, using independent organizational aids, asking for help, and keeping a stable mood.

Household and Personal Care
The professor reference in the book The Loving Push said that most of these teens do fine with household chores and personal care when they are at home because their parent reminds them. Their parent will tell them it is time to shower, but then doesn’t teach them how often they need to shower or teach them to look for signs of dirty/sweaty skin, greasy hair, or body odor as indicators that they need to shower. Teaching them how often to shower (and giving them examples of when to shower more frequently ex: if you are involved in sports or physical exercise) will help them be able to duplicate it on their own. 

The same goes for household chores. They may not notice when something needs to be done, but explaining things to look for or even telling them how often chores are typically done will give them concrete guidelines to follow on their own.

Independent Organizational Aids
Sometimes we try to teach too many things at once. Stepping back and thinking about a lesson’s goal and focusing on the goal instead of trying to group multiple skills will help a child learn quicker. Sometimes we may just need to focus on making a list of things to do and how to decide what to do next.

Talk about deadlines and consequences for not meeting deadlines. The ability to prioritize oftentimes is more important than what is actually on the list. Learning to prioritize and complete tasks is something parents often do for children with autism in setting schedules and routines. Helping them to master this skill for themselves is a necessary skill if they are going to be successful on their own. We can do this by having them help us create their homeschool curriculum and plan out the day and week. Talk with them about making a goal and then setting up steps to reach that goal. These are life skills that will follow them forever.

Asking for Help
The college professor they interviewed also said he saw so many students who could have done the assignments if they had asked for a little help, but they didn’t think to reach out and ask. Instead, they would try to accomplish the task on their own, and when they hit a roadblock, their conclusion reached was they just couldn’t do it. They opted to leave the assignment undone because asking for help wasn’t something they were used to doing.

Parents of autistic children often offer our help their child when he/she is struggling instead of teaching the process of asking for help. Another way to work on this skill is to enlist the help of a mentor for your child. This person becomes someone they learn to reach out to for help and guidance that isn’t constantly around them. This will further help them to practice the skill of asking for help instead of giving up on something.

Stable Mood
Having a positive mindset and reacting proportionately to situations can sometimes be a struggle for our children. One tip discussed in the book is to help them know how to duplicate good behavior and a positive mindset by giving specific and positive feedback. Temple says saying things like, “You are so kind” won’t hold very much meaning for teens on the spectrum. Saying, “Helping me with the dishes was so kind. It made me feel happy and proud of you” instead will help them to know what constitutes being kind, how it makes someone else feel, and incentive to repeat the behavior.

Furthermore, helping a child with autism remember that one failure or setback isn’t permanent and doesn’t mean they can’t be successful in the future is important. Reminding them of past successes when they suffer a setback and talking about solutions to their current problem will help them learn to persist through a struggle. If they struggle in one area, showing them their whole life is not a failure by reminding them of the areas they accel is also important. Be sure to show them strengths and weaknesses in other people as well.

“The Loving Push”
The title of the book explains to us how we need to approach preparing teenagers to be adults. Our kids are more likely to just want to stay in their routines and scripts instead of venturing out and trying new things. That means that we have to be the ones who give them a push out of their comfort zone and make them try new things. Giving them these pushes in a loving way so they know they have a safe place with lots of support will help give them the confidence to try new things in the future and transition into adulthood successfully.

 


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By Mary Winfield

Dr. Stanley Greenspan developed The Developmental, Individual Difference, Relationship-Based Model (DIR Method) in 1979. Dr. Greenspan’s work was a response to the growing need to help children with autism (or other special needs) to learn and develop both academically and socially.

The DIR Method helps parents and educators to determine goals and map out the best way of reaching those goals through structured interactions. While this method was originally developed for children with learning struggles, I think it is helpful for all students.

What I love about DIR is that it is not a bulk, one-size fits all solution to a problem, but rather an intensive look at a specific person with individual needs, wants, and interests. Instead of just treating symptoms of a problem, it builds a solid foundation for healthy development.

Below I am going to take you through the individual parts of DIR to help provide a more in-depth understanding of this teaching model.

“D” stands for Developmental
This model starts with the premise that a student must make incremental steps in development. You can’t take a nonverbal child and set their next goal at having problem-solving communication with a peer. That is unrealistic. You should assess where they fall developmentally and what the next natural step is in their progression. Not knowing the developmental steps often leads to skipping important developments that act as building blocks for future goals. Skipping these necessary incremental steps only sets all involved for unnecessary frustration.

“I” stands for Individual Difference
Each child has their own quirks and interests that make them unique. Because of that, there is no one solution to fix a problem. There are as many solutions as there are children. Helping children engage in learning means taking into account their interests and dislikes. When you approach learning from an interesting standpoint, they will grasp onto it and dive right in instead of having to be dragged along behind you. We learn so much better when we care about what we are learning. We have all seen that gleam in a child’s eye when something grabs their attention, and that is where we should strive to place our teaching.

“R” stands for Relationship-Based
Have you ever heard that saying, “They don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.”? We don’t have to be taught this principle as children, it is pre-programmed in! Children can tell if they are an item on a checklist. They know when someone cares about them and when someone is just trying to cross something off their list. When we take the time to develop personal relationships with our children in areas other than schooling, we are able to approach learning from a position of love and equal respect. When they know our teaching is flexible enough to allow for bad days or to push it back to deal with a personal crisis, then they will feel loved and thus be better able to learn.


The DIR Method Applied
When I was working in the public school system, I worked one-on-one with a rambunctious kindergartener who I will call Steve. It was a huge struggle. He had a hard time sitting still which meant we took a lot of breaks to burn off energy before returning to his classroom. He had a hard time focusing on anything because his mind wanted to move as fast as his body. He acted out by running away, throwing things, and yelling loudly when we tried to do work. I was exhausted from trying to keep up with him.

Normally during recess, the one-on-one aides would take a break along the sides of the playground (since that was the only time we could other than a short lunch) while the kids ran around. One day I decided to play with Steve during recess instead of sitting down for a few minutes. We pretended we were pirates and were being chased by crocodiles while we searched for hidden treasure. After coming in from recess, I braced myself for another hard afternoon. We sat at the table and as we started to do our work, I continued to call him “Captain Steve” when I gave him instructions or guidance. He sat and focused for longer than I have ever seen him work!

As I continued to work with him, I continued feeding this relationship with him during recesses. I also started incorporating his interests (like counting buried treasure for math, etc.) into his learning. At the end-of-year IEP meeting, everyone was astonished at the progress he had made. People had written him off (I was not his first aide that year, he had gone through several before it was my turn), but all he really needed was someone to care about him and his interests. In receiving those two simple things, he suddenly had all he needed to blossom.


A Method to Nourish Change
Learning and teaching are always going to be hard work, but it is possible to make progress. I like to think of The DIR Method as a tree. The developmental and academic goals we have for our children are like the fruits of a tree. They are our end goal. But we cannot reach those goals without a few other things first. We need a solid trunk of interests and talents that work with those goals to hold them up high and support their learning. And, we also need deep and nourishing relationship roots to feed the whole tree and keep it safe and secure.

There is a lot more to DIR than just these small suggestions, but implementing them can make a huge difference no matter how much or little homeschooling you have left ahead. There are a lot of resources to learn more about The DIR Method, but https://profectum.org/about/dir/ is a good place to start if you are interested in finding out more about this method and its implementation.

 

 

 


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This is Fred. 

When he first joined our family he looked like this, which is good, because he was a terror. His beginnings with our family are catalogued in an  earlier article.

This post talks about Fred’s work as a service dog with our family, how we all changed because of him, and steps to take if you think a service dog might help you or those you love.

 

Training and a Different Life
Fred’s work with Corrina, our trainer, proceeded quickly. First, Corrina taught Fred basic obedience and good citizenship skills. Fred obtained the AKC Good Citizenship Certification before we took him into public for training. From there, he learned scenting and tracking skills, how to provide deep and calming pressure on demand, and how to walk Jonathan through public places and traffic safely.

Fred developed keen scenting/tracking skills easily. Learning to calm Jonathan safely and on demand proved more difficult, but Fred picked it up fairly well too. Training Jonathan to stay with Fred in traffic and public places proved more difficult than training Fred to navigate traffic.

Our team (Sue, Corrina, and myself) brainstormed variations of harness and handle operations to find something that finally worked to keep Jonathan at Fred’s side in public. Using a service vest with D-Rings, I attached a clip-on handle for Jonathan to hold as needed. We avoided a harness for him because of the social stigma and safety concerns. When Jonathan understood what we wanted, he easily chose to stay connected to Fred. Staying with Fred was a much more desirable option than enduring mom’s death grip on his wrist!

Fred became adept at the following: finding Jonathan if he ran away, sensing and calming meltdowns, and aiding Jonathan by calming and navigating for him in public places. Children with ASD often run to escape stressful or overwhelming situations. Every outing came with risk. Here is a great article detailing this challenge. 

 

Even in the training phase, Fred’s help began improving our lives. I could grocery shop with much less stress and hypervigilance as Jonathan and Fred walked and waited together. I could give attention to my younger son and know that Fred was helping me watch Jonathan too. Jonathan was much less restless in the store because he could interact with Fred. Parking lots no longer terrorized me because Fred and I shared the load of getting both boys safely into our vehicle. Fred appeared to love the tasks we gave him as it allowed him to accompany our family everywhere, but the focus and work the outings required would tire him after a few hours. I could empathize; outings with two energetic boys wore me out too!

The greatest gift Fred has given us was not the additional safety or help even as life-changing as they were: It was his ability to “bridge the gap” for Jonathan to the community. People love Fred. They are drawn to him. Each outing brought people into our lives because Fred was with us. We went from being stared at in public for meltdowns or odd behavior to attracting people for positive interactions.

Fred’s service vest said, “Service Animal. Please ask before petting me.” People did…by the hundreds. Suddenly social interactions came to us rather than me chasing them down and facilitating them. People’s curiosity drew questions that I would direct to Jonathan because Fred worked for him. Jonathan couldn’t discuss many things easily, but he could talk about Fred all day long…and he did. His language and confidence grew as he had a topic he loved to share with others. His pride in Fred and great love for him showed. The hope that Gross’ book had stirred in my heart a couple of years before became reality.

 

Fred’s Accomplishments and Retirement
Here are a few career highlights from Fred’s work with our family:
· finding Jonathan after he got lost on a state park trail
· helping save a young friend who got stuck in sand during a high tide
· preventing myriad public meltdowns
· reducing the family’s stress
· helping Jonathan grow into independence in the community
· expanding his work to help my younger son as well

I’d love to tell you many stories about Fred. He is much more than a dog or pet to me. For several years he was a lifeline, an ally, and a dependable friend to us in a world that was often lonely.

The time came that Jonathan’s skills and abilities had grown to no longer require Fred’s assistance. He developed self-calming and regulatory strategies. He could process my directions and understand the dangers around him. My husband said it was time to let Jonathan stand alone and he was right. It hurt and scared me a bit to leave Fred at home, but we did fine. Fred adjusted after time to being our pet and friend though we still take him with us everywhere we can. He still guards Jonathan at night, greets him with joy each morning, and acts as a bridge to the community when he goes out with us.

One memory to end our story: Jonathan was competing in a cross country meet and I brought Fred along to encourage him. As we walked at the park, people from our team and competing teams came over to see Fred.

Teenagers disengaged from their phones to come meet and pet Fred. Many wonderful introductions and conversations were exchanged. One man came running with a glass full of water for Fred just in case he needed it. I’ve never seen anything like the attention and love Fred inspires; many other dogs were around the park, but Fred was the star. He will always be a star to me.

 

Is a Service Animal Right for Your Family?
While our story might inspire hope in you, I also want to impress upon readers the great work and responsibility that a service animal requires. Here are my tips for assessing if a service animal might be a good option for your family.

1. You must love animals. If you cannot commit to sharing all your day with an animal companion and caring for their needs, find another option.

2. Commit to the investment. Training and care for a service animal is costly. They provide great assistance to your family and it will cost you time, money, and energy in return.

3. Research before you jump. Just because a service animal has helped others, does not mean one will work for your family. Learn and know what you can reasonably expect the dog to do and whether it matches with what you need, can provide for the animal, and the law.

4. Do NOT skimp on training or fake service training for your pet. A disturbing trend has emerged where people get a vest for their pet and call them a service animal. Those of us who have trained and worked with service animals can spot them quickly. They behave like a family pet who has gone out for the day, not as a trained service animal whose focus is on their job. It may be comforting to have your pet with you, but that is not a benefit that rises to federal and state laws. Please don’t jeopardize the reputation and freedom of those benefiting from service animals to perform daily necessities.

5. Recognize that the dog will retire. The day will come when the strenuous work becomes too great for the animal. Compassion and love dictate that you respect the animal’s limitations. Some dogs work longer than others. When it is time for the animal to retire, return the love and support it has provided to you; they have earned it. 

 


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By Dyana Robbins, M.Ed

Fred entered our lives when my oldest son, Jonathan, was seven years old. For several years, Jonathan had wanted a dog. We had another family dog, but Jonathan desired one of his own. Our dog was older and not able to run with Jonathan or tolerate the noise and rambunctiousness of my children. Another factor in this decision was my son’s diagnosis of ASD-related challenges and developmental delays. My husband, Chris, and I worried that Jonathan’s intensity and energetic play would overwhelm a dog, so we began researching which breeds would best suit our wonderful son.

Far and away, Golden Retrievers met all the requirements for Jonathan’s pet. They are loyal, patient, energetic, and exceedingly tolerant of children’s inadvertent roughness. Unfortunately, they are also costly to obtain through breeders. I began praying for the right dog to come into our lives. Within a short period of time, an acquaintance shared a post looking to rehome a Golden Retriever. I responded and Fred came to our home for a three-day visit so we could determine his suitability for our family. We were completely unaware of the great change this visit heralded.



Awkward Beginnings and Mutual Need
Fred was a young dog who had been hit by a car, ended up in a shelter, and was then adopted by a young woman who had no time for him. All of his tough beginnings were on display when he came for his visit. Fred leapt on everyone daring proximity. He was so hyper that he couldn’t listen to a command or even respond to his name. His front left leg had significant muscle and nerve damage from his accident which caused a noticeable limp. Yet, he and Jonathan immediately bonded and I knew we were committed to making the relationship work.

After convincing Chris that we could somehow tame this wild beast and survive the experience, we welcomed Fred home. Within weeks, we observed remarkable changes in Jonathan as he interacted with Fred. His empathy and gentleness were growing as he learned to care for his dog. Jonathan began noticing Fred’s needs and wanting to meet them. He asked questions about Fred’s thoughts and feelings; exhibiting a growing “theory of mind.” We were greatly encouraged and hopeful about the future.

Fred’s leg grew stronger as Jonathan walked and played with him. He became calmer and able to receive training. He even mastered basic obedience skills. Jonathan and Fred found in one another what they both needed: unconditional acceptance, love, and a joy in companionship that fueled their growth.



More Than a Pet
Fred became an integral, beloved member of our family. Intrigued by the transformation in Jonathan, I began looking for others who had experienced something similar with their children. There was not a lot of research on the relationship between children with autism and dogs at that time, but there was some. Most information was anecdotal. I ran across a wonderful book called, The Golden Bridge: A Guide to Assistance Dogs by Patty Dobbs Gross. This book details a mother’s experience obtaining a service dog for her son with autism and the benefits of service dogs for children with developmental challenges. Reading this book compelled me to explore whether Fred could be more than a pet for Jonathan.

Jonathan was attending twice-weekly therapy sessions with an occupational therapist, Sue. I presented my ideas about Fred to her and was shocked to learn that she was writing a doctoral dissertation on the assessment of dogs for suitability for service work. We became excited about the idea of using her assessment tools on Fred and obtaining training for him if he passed. Sue was also instrumental in helping me develop helpful tasks that Fred could perform. These tasks had to meet federal criteria and Jonathan’s needs. I brought Fred in for assessment: He passed with flying colors. Next, we focused on finding the right trainer.

Corrina became a friend and ally as soon as I called her. Searching for a certified trainer that could help Fred become a service dog was difficult. All the places that advertised to train service dogs required a long separation from Fred, lots of money, and travel. Given the bond that had already developed between Fred and Jonathan, our need for continuity, and a budget-friendly option, we needed a local trainer. Corrina fit the bill, but had not trained dogs specifically for service work before. She willingly looked at federal and state laws and requirements for service dog certification with me. She read Sue’s tasks for Fred and decided to jump on the wagon with us.

Fred would be trained in scenting for Jonathan, providing deep pressure to aid in calming meltdowns, and helping Jonathan navigate traffic and public places. The tasks seemed large, but Corrina’s confidence and enthusiasm encouraged me that Fred’s transformation to service dog was not only possible but doable. We began training in earnest and Fred eagerly assumed his new work duties.

In my next article, I’ll share more about Fred’s transformation, Jonathan’s steps towards community, and how Fred continues to help our family nine years later. I hope you’ll come back to read it!

 

 


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Dyana Robbins

As much as special-needs parents understand caring for others, cultivating compassion in our children can be difficult. Sometimes, conditions like autism or mental illness make compassion challenging to develop. Other times, children can become self-centered and focused as they grapple with the pain of their struggles.

Here are some practical strategies to develop this vital characteristic in our families:

1. Intentionally point out and discuss the needs of others

Young people may require direct teaching in this area.  When my sons were toddlers, we had a poster with kids displaying various facial expressions.  Each expression had an emotion attached to it.  We rehearsed this almost daily to help them interpret non-verbal cues, but also to cultivate empathy.

When they were a bit older, we began coaching them in social interactions by telling them how their behavior was impacting their friends or likely perceived in the community.  This direct teaching was used for both positive and negative interactions.  In many ways, I acted as a narrator for their lives during this stage; explaining the world around them and how they were operating within it.

As they have grown, we discuss news events, life events in the people around us and their own experiences in ways that point to not only facts but likely emotional responses that co-occur.  This practice has challenged us to perceive likely needs and emotions that we can respond to as we engage with these situations.

2. Travel, Serving, and Giving

Despite the limitations our families experience, there are ways we can help our children see beyond our walls.  Even trips to the library or stores provide a myriad of ways to really see those around us.  If you are able to travel more broadly, cross-cultural experiences will greatly hone your family’s compassion as you experience being “the others” while being immersed in the struggles of other cultures.

Serving others is possible for almost every child.  Finding ways to do this as a family cultivates compassion in each member.  Food banks, Operation Christmas Child, visiting nursing homes and volunteering in our neighborhoods provide ample service opportunities.  Prayer for others’ needs is always possible even when we are homebound.

Our family’s favorite service place, besides church, has been a local ministry to the homeless called the Mercy Tree.  This wonderful ministry provides lunch in a local church, devotions, laundry service, showers and transportation to those without homes.  As we cook for our friends and eat together, we understand more of a world we have never experienced and our ability to love in those places broadens.

 

 

3. Share great stories!

Powerful stories that transcend their time always include adversity that their characters overcome.  We can link the characters’ struggles to relevant experiences in our lives or those of others.  This helps us not only understand pain, but what is required to face and overcome the type of struggle depicted.  These stories are blueprints to guide us in helping others.

4. Practice gratitude and compassion at home

  • Tell your spouse frequently what you love and appreciate about him/her in front of your children
  • Around the dinner table, have each family member share thankfulness about the person next to them
  • Keep a thankfulness list in a central location and encourage everyone to contribute
  • Each month, assign one family member to select a person or family to serve in some way
  • Invite others into your home
  • Love each other well
  • Find penpals from other countries and exchange letters

 

I hope that some of these strategies encouraged you to find new ways to encourage compassion in your family.  Besides the joy it will bring your children, fostering compassion expands their relationships and equips them to better relate to their communities.

 

 

 


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This article was reposted from www.amblinggrace.com with permission from the author.

The holidays are rapidly approaching and sometimes our schedules fill up before we know it.  However, for parents of children with special needs; specifically those with sensory differences, the holidays can be an especially stressful time.  What can you do to make them better?

 

Keep as much routine or rhythm to your day as possible
Often times due to holiday closings, parties or family commitments, many of our days are not “typical” during November and December.  However, if you can, keep some routine in your days.  Try to keep meals, naps and sleep schedules the same, if at all possible.  Even if the times are a bit off, having the same routines (reading a story, brushing teeth, praying before bed) can make a big difference in how your children react to the holidays.

 

Consider preparing your child for new events
This looks different for every child.  But if your child needs to know what is going on, consider making a visual schedule or a social story to introduce them to new people, events, or new sensory experiences.  Talk about the event, show them pictures, or even pick out a video (YouTube is fabulous for this) to show them what the event will entail.

 

Put yourself in your child’s shoes
As you schedule your holiday plans, try to step back and really look at how much you have scheduled. Think through what your child typically has trouble with or what triggers problems or meltdowns?  Are there modifications to be made?  If you have children who love something, and others who don’t, could part of your family participate?

 

Don’t be afraid to say NO!
This is probably my best tip: Don’t be afraid to say no.  Though the holidays are special, we tend to over schedule and cram every social event into a month’s time.  It can get overwhelming, even for adults who are extroverts.  Sometimes we just need to say no.  This involves prioritizing what is really important to us and our families.  We don’t have to do everything in order to make memories.  In fact, some of things that make the best memories, are those we do at home and without planning.

 

Let go of your expectations
In this fabulous of age of Instagram, Facebook and Pinterest, we tend to want all our memories to look “picture perfect”.  Guess what?  That’s not real life.  Sometimes the greatest triumph you will have is keeping your children alive or getting everyone a bath.  Remember, when you see pictures of perfection that is literally one second of that person’s day.  I can guarantee you that the other 86,399 seconds in their day do not look that way.

 

Embrace simple family traditions
Reading Christmas stories, playing with a nativity set, singing Christmas carols, decorating a tree, baking Christmas cookies, coloring and decorating the house all are fun ways to celebrate.  You don’t have to be out at light shows or at a party with 100 people to make memories that your children will cherish.  Just as you can do school “outside of the box”, you can do Christmas “outside of the box.”  You can do it any way that works for you and your family.  Don’t be afraid of embracing new traditions or trying different things.

 

Whatever you choose to do this year, we at SPED Homeschool pray it is an amazing time for you and your family.

 


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By Dyana Robbins

If you are married and parenting a special-needs child or children, you are likely well-acquainted with the marital prognosis bandied about in our circles. It’s not a kind one. Widely shared statistics tell us that the divorce rate for our families lies around eighty percent. Others decry that statistic, but no matter the number, special-needs parenting places great demands on a marriage.

However, there are wonderful things that special-needs parenting creates or deepens in an enduring marriage. I’m writing a series of articles on those things; highlighting strengths developed in the fires of parenting special-needs children and strategies for developing them. I’ll start by sharing a little of our experience and how our marriage has benefited through it.

Our Story
My husband and I married in 1995 and did not have children until 2002. These seven years provided ample time to know one another and plan for children. We both met career, financial and personal goals before conceiving and felt secure that we had laid the best foundation we could to bring children into the family.

Our marriage was well-prepared to support children, but the arrival of our first child threatened everything we had built. Our son was born without the ability to nurse or take a bottle. We spent many long weeks pumping breast milk around the clock, trying to rouse our son to eat, and then spooning the liquid gold into his mouth. Exhaustion and fear over his condition accelerated a fall into postpartum depression.

We beat back the darkness, our son improved. Then we welcomed our second son into the family two years later. Before long, I was battling fears that whatever was affecting my oldest son had also affected his younger brother. By the time our oldest was three-and-a-half, we had identified both our sons were impacted by autism spectrum disorders, among other challenges. Our family was struggling to get through each day and our marriage took some tough blows for the next five years as we came to terms with handling a reality that differed from our expectations and preparations.

As our sons are entering high school, we enjoy an enduring marriage and a host of benefits from weathering the early years of parenting. Here are some marital benefits of special-needs parenting we have discovered along the way.


Still smiling after all these years and lots of tears…. 


What We’ve Gained


Enhanced Sensitivity

Some of us are naturally attuned to the needs of others, while some people struggle to appreciate them. I won’t disclose who is who in our marriage, but we have both grown exponentially in this area. Parenting our children has required us to closely attend to the children’s needs and one another. Thriving together requires recognizing everyone’s needs and balancing them in ways not demanded by typical parenting.

Deep, Honest Communication
When our marriage was suffering, we learned to communicate more deeply, honestly, and quickly when problems arose. Beating around the bush is a luxury confined to times of normalcy and peace. Fighting for our family required honest, forthcoming communication. I developed courage to address unmet needs in myself and children and to express them well to my husband. This was a process, but we hashed out better communication skills and committed to using them.

Deeper Commitment
Our vows were expressed with a commitment to part only in death, yet I questioned them in our darkest times. As my husband struggled with our new realities, my understanding, compassion and forgiveness were lacking. I entertained ideas that it might be easier on my own and had to quickly combat them with truth. I chose to love him better and renewed my commitment to our marriage. He stuck with me through disillusionment, anger and depression. We look back on those times and marvel at how we’ve grown spiritually, emotionally and relationally.


Laughing More

There are many challenging and painful things we encounter, but almost all of them can be viewed with a sense of humor if we are willing to laugh at ourselves and our circumstances. Shared laughter helps us cope with stress and builds unity. Some of our biggest laughs have come from mining humor out of acutely stressful or painful situations. Given the number of those situations inherent to parenting special-needs children, we laugh a lot more.

Coordination and Delegation Skills
Nothing can mold a couple into a tip-top team like managing the schedules, needs and appointments of our families. Balancing work, therapy, school and life demands requires skillful coordination, a team mentality and the ability to delegate. I’m thankful for how we’ve honed these skills over our years of parenting; we can flat get things done.

New Ministry
In the early years of parenting, we had to divide and conquer to meet the challenges that kept coming. One of the few things we could do together in those years was encourage other struggling parents. It helped us stay connected to one another.

We have met many wonderful people through our family’s challenges: doctors, therapists, other parents and those with special needs themselves. These relationships give us a richer life and opportunities to share hope, comfort and encouragement even as we receive them.

These are a handful of the benefits we have enjoyed. I hope they encourage you to recognize your own. I’d love for you to share yours with me! My next article will address strategies for cultivating these benefits.


This article has been copied with permission from Ambling Grace. 

 


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By Shanel Tarrant-Simone

Planning​ ​for​ ​the​ ​future​ ​often​ ​looks​ ​different​ ​and​ ​should​ ​start​ ​early​ ​for​ ​our​ ​children​ ​with learning​ ​differences​ ​and​ ​special​ ​needs.​ Below I’ll​ ​be​ ​covering​ ​a​ ​variety​ ​of​ ​topics​ ​that​ ​I​ ​hope​ ​you​ ​will​ ​find helpful​ ​when​ ​planning​ ​​your​ ​child’s​ ​future.  We will address​ ​foundational​ ​skills​ ​and how​ ​to​ ​access​ ​resources​ ​at​ ​an​ ​early​ ​age.​

​​Through​ ​​almost​ ​ten​ ​years​ ​of​ ​working​ ​in​ ​public school​ ​special​ ​education,​ ​and ​being​ ​a​ ​mom​ ​of​ seventeen-year-old ​twin​ ​boys​ ​with​ ​Level​ ​3 Autism,​ ​I’ve​ ​learned​ ​that​ Activities ​of​ ​Daily Living (ADL)​ ​are​ ​vital ​in​ ​accessing​ ​the​ ​community​ ​when​ ​our​ ​children​ ​are​ ​no longer​ ​school​ ​age.​ ​ADLs​ ​are​ ​the​ ​skills​ ​our​ ​children​ ​will​ ​need​ ​to​ ​function​ ​as independently​ ​as​ ​possible,​ ​no​ ​matter​ ​what​ ​the​ ​future​ ​holds​ ​for​ ​them.

 

When​ ​should​ ​I​ ​start​ ​planning​ ​for​ ​my​ ​child’s​ ​future?​
It’s​ ​never​ ​too​ ​early​ ​to​ ​plan​ ​for​ ​the​ ​future.​ ​​ ​Our​ ​homeschool​ ​curriculum​ ​and​ ​”lifestyle​ ​of learning”​ ​should​ ​support​ ​our​ ​child’s​ ​post​ ​school​ ​goals​ ​soon​ ​after​ ​diagnosis​ ​or​ ​as​ ​early as​ ​elementary​ ​age.​ ​And,​ ​because​ ​some​ ​of​ ​our​ ​children​ ​need​ ​longer​ ​to​ ​acquire​ ​even some​ ​of​ ​the​ ​most​ ​basic​ ​skills,​ ​teaching​ ​towards​ ​independence​ ​as​ ​much​ ​as​ ​possible​ ​starts​ ​at the​ ​preschool​ ​level.​ ​​ ​This​ ​ ​includes​ ​the​ ​most​ ​important​ ​and​ ​often​ ​overlooked​ ​skill​ ​of Functional​ ​Communication​.​

​The​ ​best​ ​advice​ ​I’ve​ ​ever​ ​heard​ ​from​ ​someone​ ​working​ ​with adults​ ​on​ ​the​ ​Spectrum​ ​is​ ​that​ ​“functional​ ​language​ ​and​ ​safely​ ​being​ ​able​ ​to​ ​use​ ​a​ ​public restroom​ ​are​ ​the​ ​two​ ​most​ ​important​ ​skills​ ​we​ ​can​ ​give​ ​a​ ​special​ ​needs​ ​child/adult. Academics​ ​are​ ​important​ ​but​ are less so ​if​ ​they​ ​don’t​ ​have​ ​these​ ​two​ ​basics mastered.”  

 

What questions should I be asking in​ ​planning​ ​for​ ​my​ ​child’s​ ​future?​

  • Education​: Will​ ​my​ ​child’s​ ​future​ ​include​ ​attending​ ​college,​ ​Trade/Vocational​ ​School​ ​or spending​ ​several​ ​days​ ​each​ ​week​ ​in​ ​the​ ​community​ ​at​ ​a​ ​DayHab​ ​facility?
  • Legal​​: Do​ ​I​ ​have​ ​all​ ​the​ ​necessary​ ​documents​ ​in​ ​place​ ​such​ ​as​ ​a​ ​will​ ​and​ ​Special Needs​ ​Trust?​ ​Will​ ​my​ ​child​ ​need​ ​full​ ​Guardianship​ ​or​ ​will​ ​Supported​ ​Decision​ ​Making​ ​be enough?
  • Living​ ​Arrangement​​:  Will​ ​they​ ​live​ ​independently?​ ​If​ ​so,​ ​where?​ ​Is​ ​Supported (semi-independent)​ ​Living,​ ​Group​ ​Home​ ​or​ ​Host​ ​Home​ ​Companion​ ​(Foster​ ​Care)​ ​the best​ ​option?​ ​Or​ ​will​ ​they​ ​remain​ ​at​ ​home​ ​with​ ​family?​ ​What​ ​supports​ ​will​ ​they​ ​need​ ​to access​ ​the​ ​community?
  • Job/Financial​​: ​Will​ ​my​ ​child​ ​have​ ​a​ ​job?​ ​Volunteer?​ ​Need​ ​Employment​ ​Assistance​ ​or Supported​ ​Employment?
  • Local​ ​&​ ​State​ ​Services​​:  Who​ ​is​ ​my​ ​Local​ ​Authority?​ ​What​ ​services​ ​are​ ​available​ ​to​ ​my child​ ​as​ ​a​ ​minor​ ​and​ ​what​ ​services​ ​will​ ​be​ ​available​ ​to​ ​support​ ​them​ ​as​ ​an​ ​adult?​ ​Is there​ ​a​ ​waiver​ ​list​ ​that​ ​would​ ​help​ ​support​ ​their​ ​community-based,​ ​behavioral,​ ​medical and​ ​financial​ ​needs?​ ​Should​ ​I​ ​apply​ ​for​ ​SSI​ ​and​ ​Medicaid?     

 

These​ ​are​ ​just​ ​a​ ​few​ ​of​ ​the​ ​many​ ​decisions​ ​that​ ​need​ ​to​ ​be​ ​made​ ​for​ ​our​ ​children.​ ​Some at​ ​an​ ​early​ ​age, ​others​ ​once​ ​they​ ​reach​ ​high​ ​school​ ​age.​ ​I​ ​am​ ​currently​ ​in​ ​the​ ​process​ ​of making​ ​some​ ​of​ ​the​ ​more​ ​time​-​sensitive​ ​and​ ​critical​ ​adult​ ​transition​ ​decisions​ ​for​ ​my boys.​ ​I​ ​hope​ ​my​ ​experiences​ ​over​ ​the​ ​last​ ​twelve ​years​ ​will ​be​ ​helpful​ ​to​ ​you​ ​and​ ​your family​ ​when​ ​making​ ​some​ ​of​ ​these​ ​​difficult​ ​but​ ​necessary​ ​decisions.

 

 

 

 

 


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building autism resilience blog image

By Dyana Robbins

Managing anxiety and sensory overload present a core challenge for those with autism and their caregivers.  These two obstacles can limit social engagement and successful navigation of social environments.  Below are six tips that have worked for  my family and others to help those affected by autism develop resilience in difficult situations.  When successful, these interventions open up a world of greater involvement and connectedness.

 1.  Identify and list contributing factors   

Identifying factors which contribute to autistic social difficulties may seem an easy task, but this first step is often challenging for families.  Sometimes, the stress of the difficulties or their frequency makes it difficult to think through these factors.  Other times, it seems impossible to determine the triggers.  

Either way, writing them down, keeping a journal and asking for others’ observations are simple steps caregivers can take to start identifying these factors.  Once you have developed a list, it becomes easier to clarify and organize the factors contributing to specific problems.

 2.  Determine the threshold for each difficulty 

Individuals affected by autism become overwhelmed when their tolerance threshold has been exceeded.  Where that threshold lies varies by activity, stimulus and individual differences.

For example, a person who seems overwhelmed by the wind may be able to tolerate a gentle breeze around buildings, but not at parks where it blows leaves around or causes tablecloths and awnings to flap.  Likewise, that person might enjoy the sensation of a gentle breeze when they are well-rested and relaxed but are unable to handle it when tired and stressed. 

As best you can, note the limits you observe.  The key in making these observations is to learn how much the person can tolerate BEFORE experiencing a meltdown. 

 

3.  Develop a plan for success in those challenging environments

 Borrowing heavily from  systematic desensitization principles, I have found success in helping others adapt to challenging environments and even overcoming them.  This involves the following components:

  • Allowing exposure to the stressors, but not to the point of overwhelming your loved one
  • Repeated, short exposures to the stressors without long periods between times (i.e. weekly or bi-weekly library visits or grocery store trips) until they have achieved mastery of them
  • Providing education and problem-solving, if appropriate, to equip them in the challenge (outside of the stressful environment)
  • Encouraging the child repeatedly before and during the stressful exposure of their ability to handle the situation
  • Assuring the individual you will leave as soon as they have tried their tools and/or their threshold has been met
  • Gradually extending the time in those situations as improvement is demonstrated
  • Reducing other stressful situations while targeting one

4.  Solicit their involvement/agreement if possible.

Even if your child is nonverbal, talking with them about your love and concern for them in these situations is vital.  Framing the plan you have developed as a tool to help them achieve greater social skill navigation. goes a long way in garnering their cooperation.  Talking about their struggle, and your desire to help them with it, demonstrates respect for them and encourages a teamwork dynamic. 

 

5.  Start by targeting the most troublesome barrier

In most families, there is one issue that rises above the rest.  If possible, I recommend working on that one barrier first to build momentum for success and to quickly reduce familial stress.  Perhaps it is sitting in church or being in groups of other children; whatever it is, get focused and marshal your energies to hit it first.  Let the other challenges take a backseat so you can work together on this one goal.

 

6.  Give grace, understanding, and compassion to one another

This process will not be easy.  You will need to rely on encouragement, and support from others as you grapple with these challenges.  Your family will also need to practice patience while giving grace for unmet goals and do-overs as you all adapt.  

For our family, having the prayers and help of friends while we tackled the hardest problems carried us through.   In that time, a couple of verses which encouraged me greatly were Genesis 33:13-14 .  In these verses, Jacob is leading his family and herds on a long journey.  They are stressed, tired and overwhelmed.  Jacob refuses to drive them too hard on the road, but to travel instead at the pace his family is setting.  

 

As you move forward in tackling issues with your child, I encourage you to let your loved one set the pace.  Challenge and support them.  Then, celebrate as the struggle gives way to greater confidence, skills, involvement, and hope. 

 


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