School Starts…And So Does Special Education

Riding a roller coaster with your child can be exhilarating, yet living on one from September through June is another thing entirely.  The truth is, this is life for many parents of children with special education needs, and working parents often have the added pressures of work/life conflicts.  

For some children, the start of a new school year can be terrific while for others, it’s a nightmare from day one.  No doubt about it…parental preparation is key.  

Often times, even with an IEP or 504 in place, issues emerge quickly with parents hearing things like this:

  • My child's teacher refuses to allow my son to chew special items we provided from home to help him focus.
  • We clearly explained at our spring IEP meeting that our daughter needs extra time to transition from class to class, yet we’ve received a note saying that she’s been late for class several times.
  • Even though we agreed that homework will be limited to 30 minutes per night, we’re already spending triple that amount of time and behaviors are starting.

Sound familiar?  

Here are three strategies to help:

  1. If your child shows signs early in September that things are not working, reconvene your IEP team.  You should convene in September or early October anyway as your child has certainly changed over the summer and issues agreed upon in April may no longer apply. 
  2. Speaking of summer, if your child made progress or regressed during this time, bring this information and data to your IEP team meeting.  It's essential that everyone involved in teaching and supporting your child knows what has happened from June through September.
  3. If your child has been privately evaluated or re-evaluated over the summer and you understand and agree with the report, provide a copy to your district before heading into an IEP meeting.  You want to give them sufficient time to review the documentation so that you're all on the same page during your discussions.

And the most important piece of advice is this – remember that your child is continually changing and as such, your child's IEP may need to change as well.  It is a “living document” that must be reviewed and revised to reflect how your child is developing.

Your child's key advocate is you, so remember the 3 P’s:  Be prepared.  Be proactive.  And pace yourself.   This great business quote certainly applies -- "What you want, you will get.  But you have to want it enough to go about getting it."

Students and Moral Identities

Many would agree that the issue of character is a focus not only in today's political climate, but also in our schools, homes, and communities.

School has been the place where academic instruction and learning is the focus, yet over time, the focus on teaching understanding, inclusion, and mutual respect has been elevated to a new level of importance as well. As it should.


Teaching children how to navigate through life requires far more than knowing how to recite learned information. It requires knowing how to demonstrate tolerance, how to work collaboratively, and how to stand up for others when they are being harmed or targeted. Or ignored. And far more.

Do you see students as lacking a moral compass? Do you think character education is as important as academics? What do you think about this?

Schools Are Failing To Develop Students With Moral Identities

Think Twice Before Holding Your Child Back

The issue of "holding students back" has been one parents have faced for years, and it remains one that is frequently recommended or that parents themselves request.

For parents of students receiving special education services in school, care must be taken - and input from independent clinicians should be secured - before agreeing to this or making this decision.

Failure to make progress in any area is not a reason to consider having your child repeat a grade. Rather, careful evaluation of your child's IEP including all goals, services, and supports would be warranted first as other decisions may be more appropriate to ensure that your child is making and sustaining measurable progress in school.


Words Matter and Respect Is Everything

Today more than ever, there's a need to remember two things: words matter and respect is everything.

We know that things start at the top, whether in companies, organizations, or yes, politics, and that if leadership fails to demonstrate respect for others via words and actions, it becomes acceptable for others to act similarly.


We at Education Navigation understand that millions of children struggle to garner respect because of their differences, and that these children are often on the receiving end of words that have an immediate sting, yet last a lifetime. We work to help ensure that children are included, have equal opportunities, are recognized for their skills and strengths, and are not on the receiving end of disparaging words and actions. And we teach those with outdated, biased, and harmful views how to think and behave differently. It simply makes the world a better place for everyone.

As parents and adults, there has never been a time when teaching and modeling appropriate words and behavior matters more. And this isn't only to our children, but to those around them as well. Extended families, teachers, neighbors, the community...matters not where the gaps exist, we must be prepared to fill them. And we must also be aware of our own words and actions as well.

Demonstrating that acceptance, respect, and inclusion matters more than wealth or fame has to be a priority. That "do unto others" is more than a saying. That maligning, mocking, or being hurtful simply isn't okay. And we must make it just as important to teach our sons, brothers, and husbands to respect girls and women as it is to teach our daughters, sisters, and friends to respect themselves.

It's easy to focus on the outrage many are feeling (including myself) about the pattern of words and actions of an individual who should be demonstrating the best vs. the worst, yet we need to focus instead on showing in our everyday interactions what genuine respect looks like. It matters more today than ever. Our children are watching. As is the world.

Business Solutions: Working Parents, Summer, and Special Needs Kids

Spring has arrived and the end of the school year is within sight.  Most kids are counting down the days while most working parents are breaking a sweat trying to cobble together two-plus months of camps, vacations, occasional day-trips, and childcare, hoping their plans on paper work in practice.  Add a child, teen, or young adult with special needs and the challenges intensify considerably.

Working parents with Special education Special needs children including Autism ADHD Learning disabilities  Employee benefits Employee assistance Employee support Voluntary benefits. 504 Plan, IEP Program

If you’re an employer or a manager, here are three ways you can offer support:


1. Children with special education needs have the same needs in July as they do in November.  Extended school year services, if they’ve been secured, are typically less than a full-day and almost never run from the last day of school in June to the first day of school in late August/early September. 

SOLUTION:  Provide flexible work hours if not already offered and allow for vacation and personal time to be used in hours or partial days vs. full days.  And be flexible with last-minute and crisis needs that arise.  Companies that are aware and responsive to these needs are those that retain working parents.


2. Children with autism or other special needs who are attending camp programs may need an aide or frequent parent availability, plus private therapies are often added to the mix.  This means appointments, handling transportation, securing name a few. 

SOLUTION:  Allow parents access to a specially-designated office or private space for them to make telephone calls, Skype with camp personnel or support staff, schedule appointments, and confer with doctors, clinicians, and others as needed.  It can reduce time away from the office and will provide employees with the privacy they need.  Plus, it demonstrates that the company understands the stressors involved with exceptional caregiving responsibilities, not only on a daily basis but also during the challenging summer months as well.


3. Children with autism spectrum disorders, ADHD, or similar needs require structure and predictability, and the summer months are often when this is difficult to achieve and maintain.  Parents prepare as best as possible, yet situations often develop that require them to adapt and adjust quickly.  A particular camp may not work.  A childcare provider may leave.  A therapist may request additional evaluations.  These situations mean that employees need time and resources to help. 

SOLUTION:  Communicate to all employees that their EAP is available to assist with issues that relate to summer needs, whether locating a last-minute child care provider or addressing stress-related issues.  Providing employees with access to resources to help them manage their children’s needs as well as their own work/life issues is key to employee retention.  And if employee assistance or work/life programs or services are not yet available, now is the time to start.

One of the things we consistently hear from working parents is that they need more support and assistance, whether managing their children's needs or understanding how to navigate through school.  And these needs are year-round, often intensifying over the summer months which is the time to evaluate the past school year and plan for September. 

Employers play a pivotal role in creating family-friendly workplaces where supports throughout the parenting continuum are available to help working parents remain productive employees.   

-Debra Isaacs Schafer


It's True...Working Women Are Mothers Too

Working parents with Special education Special needs children including Autism ADHD Learning disabilities  Employee benefits Employee assistance Employee support Voluntary benefits. 504 Plan, IEP Program

If you're a woman who works outside of the home and a mother as well, you get it in spades.  If not, it's time to. 

Women are more than 50% of the workforce.  And many of these same women are also mothers, raising children.  Problem is, the business world doesn't seem to fully understand what this means.  Yet.

There are some areas where businesses are starting to listen and beginning to understand -- wage equality, paid family leave, and the push for more women in leadership positions.  All important issues, not only for women but for our society as a whole.  

And most of us would agree that work/life issues as they impact working mothers (and fathers) are "at the table" today in many business discussions.  Steps forward.  Yet particularly for working mothers, the steps aren't far enough.  The realities are that millions:

Are unable to achieve and maintain any modicum of work flexibility; are being challenged in terms of their commitment to their jobs when a need arises regarding their children (and make no mistake about it...these "needs" continue for 21+ years); and are being forced -- often in subtle but powerful ways -- to choose between their careers/jobs and being a parent. 

I don't know anyone who would want to face these kinds of choices.

Let's think about a few things:

Do companies -- and we're actually talking about those in senior leadership positions (i.e. those who establish the culture and acceptable behaviors in their respective businesses) -- think that it's okay for such struggles to exist for working mothers?   Would they want the same for their wives, daughters, or granddaughters?  And yes, I realize that women can be the ones exerting this pressure too.

Do companies think choosing motherhood means that their education and experience becomes an afterthought or that the time they've spent investing in and creating their careers suddenly has no meaning?  Or value?

Do companies not understand the big picture and think that the time (measured in years) working mothers spend raising and instilling values and qualities in their children -- the same ones companies want in their future employees ... things like integrity, honesty, respect and kindness -- happens in only a brief few months?  Or by age 5?  Or by chance?

An article just appeared (child care gap) addressing what mothers should do in terms of their resumes when a "gap" appears during the years they decided (if they even have the ability to choose) to remain at home.  Why is stating that raising the next generation something to be ashamed of, to excuse or to hide?  Since when did raising a child equate to something to apologize for?  What messages are we giving and being forced to accept? 

I'm a working mother too and spent years devoted to my work and to my child.  Still do.  And if anyone questioned my commitment to either role/job or would ask/expect me to "explain away" years when my child's needs were the priority, well...need not say more.  The value, importance, and necessity of being a present, engaged, and responsive parent and caregiver cannot be overstated.  And the skills required to do so easily translate into value-added skills for any employer.

Working women who are mothers deserve to have their abilities *and* their needs supported, both as parents and employees.  And this happens when "family-friendly" companies -- their culture and behaviors up and down the organization -- resonate with every working mother no matter their position, title or role.  Policies are great, but don't replace attitudes and actions.

For those companies truly embracing working mothers and not asking or expecting an explanation or apology about their life choices or how they've spent or spend their time, hats off.  And for those who aren't there yet, it's okay...the journey of a thousand miles begins with one step (Lao Tzu). 


Villanova's Victory and One Amazing Mother

Working parents with Special education Special needs children including Autism ADHD Learning disabilities  Employee benefits Employee assistance Employee support Voluntary benefits. 504 Plan, IEP Program

There's so much to be said about Villanova's incredible victory last night.  I've never quite seen teamwork like this before.   And with each replay of those final seconds (which I watched until 1:00 in the morning), you simply can't help but smile and rejoice in their victory.

These amazing young men could teach companies a thing or two about what true collaboration looks like.  About what the word "team" mean.  About how the success of the group hinges on allowing -- and encouraging -- others to shine.  This is a business case study waiting to happen.

Yet there's something more about Villanova's victory that hits the heart.  It's that the amazing shot made by Kris Jenkins makes this story -- his story -- one for the ages.

They say that behind every man is a strong woman, and if ever there was one, it's his mother.  This woman personifies the definition of the word "selfless," making a life-changing decision that gave her son an opportunity for a better life.   

Yes, she taught him basketball at a young age and these early skills surely helped over the years, yet most parents try to impart knowledge in their children.   But when she saw that life was creating difficulties for her son, she opened her arms and asked another family to raise him so he could have a shot.  At life.

Can you imagine?  Having such love for your child that you decide that giving him to another family would be in his best interest.  Talk about strength of character and fortitude.

Every parent makes sacrifices for their comes with the role.  Yet a sacrifice like this goes beyond.

The pride we all feel, including those of us in Philadelphia area, at what these amazing young men accomplished is palpable.  And what can't be forgotten is that behind each of these students are parents who gave their children the chance to succeed in ways that will carry them for the rest of their lives.

In the afterglow of this victory, admiration for Kris Jenkins' mother and the family that welcomed this young man into their lives is really the story behind the story.  Such generosity of heart changed this young man's life.  And everyone who surrounded him.

So congratulations to an amazing team of young men...and to one mother whose devotion to and love for her son has to have our utmost respect and admiration.

3 Areas Where Autism Awareness Matters

Working parents with Special education Special needs children including Autism ADHD Learning disabilities  Employee benefits Employee assistance Employee support Voluntary benefits. 504 Plan, IEP Program

April.  Autism Awareness Month...30 days of focus on autism spectrum disorders.  A good thing for those who need to learn more about it.  Yet for parents who are living it every day, there's another need.  Planning.

1.  School

The need for parents to effectively advocate for their children in school cannot be overstated.  Understanding the diagnosis is a given, yet the real need is correlating it to their child's individual needs.  Key word = individual.

ASD (autism spectrum disorders) is not one thing, but many things and each child is unique.  Their needs continue to change as new skills are acquired, as they move from childhood to the teenage years, and as environments, expectations, and demands change.

Today must be the priority.  Yet tomorrow is coming, and planning for the many transition points, both large and small -- moving to middle school, going from having an aide to flying solo -- requires focusing on today, ensuring school is building a strong and lasting foundation, and keeping a keen and careful eye on what's coming next.  And when. 

2.  College

The need for parents to think about college may seem a long way off if the focus right now is on learning to play at recess.  Or it may seem out-of-reach at the moment. 

Yet if higher education, whether community college or a four-year university, may be the child's goal, their transition plan must address it.   And this means more than goals stating:  "Megan will research post-secondary education options" or "Tim will visit two colleges".

And, if colleges are already being explored, parents must plan to evaluate each school's disability services departments.   Before acceptance and a commitment, you need to know about them.  Afterward, you need to know them.

3.  Work

The need for parents to think about and plan for *that* transition -- from school to employment -- must begin early.  The skills needed for employment based upon the child's interests and abilities need to be evaluated and gaps filled. must be individualized vs. a boiler-plate program.

Also, employers need to recognize that they have employees with Asperger's Syndrome, Non-Verbal Learning Disability, and other "hidden diagnoses" already in their employ.  And more are to come. 

Many companies, such as Microsoft & SAP, are already actively recruiting employees with ASD, yet the net must continue to widen.  Employers need to recognize that many of these employees may need accommodations, and that embracing their strengths as well as their needs is what results in success. 

Parents already know that one day, school will end and so too will the services and supports their child has been receiving.  If college comes next, it's a different arena with different rules and different expectations.  And if it's employment, the changes are significant.

This reality makes even the strongest parents weak in the knees.

This is why the need to prepare for life is really what this is all about.  And we all have a part to play -- extended families, schools, colleges, employers, religious institutions, the community, and more.

Children with autism spectrum disorders become adults.  They become part of the fabric of our world with astonishing strengths and gifts to share.  And they become adults with needs that continue to require support.

April may be Autism Awareness Month, but we'll really be integrating those with autism spectrum disorders into every aspect of life when the awareness is ongoing.  That's when we'll know that it no longer requires 30 days of attention.


Brussels Attacks and Our Children

Working parents with Special education Special needs children including Autism ADHD Learning disabilities  Employee benefits Employee assistance Employee support Voluntary benefits. 504 Plan, IEP Program

What do we tell our children about the Brussels attacks?

How do we explain to them, whether they're 8 or 15, what happened?  Again.

How do we keep our fears in check when they're there...right at the surface?

We know that in today's world of social media and a 24/7 news cycle, we can't shield them from things like this.  Sure, we try... overseeing their online activities, vetting their friends, making sure they're checking in with us and visa versa.  And most of the time, we do a pretty good job of it.  And then another day of senseless attacks happens and then what?

We learn that innocent people a world away have been hurt.  We feel a sense of unease and want our children near.  We hear "thoughts and prayers" one more time while we feel sorrow for the families whose lives have been shattered on another typical morning.  Like our typical mornings.  We again hear it's a "dark day" when we're trying to keep our children in the light.

What do we tell our children when we don't even know what to tell ourselves?

How do we reassure them that they're safe? 

To most of our children, Paris and Brussels are a world away.  San Bernadino is not. 

We do our best to handle our own daily struggles and issues, yet how can we not worry about the immediate and longer-term impact all of this is having on our children?  Their sense of security.  Their mental health.  Their ability to grasp such uncertainty.

So I ask again...what do we tell them?


Working parents with Special education Special needs children including Autism ADHD Learning disabilities  Employee benefits Employee assistance Employee support Voluntary benefits. 504 Plan, IEP Program

For working parents raising an 8-year-old with autism, supporting their 11-year-old with a learning disability, or closely monitoring their 17-year-old with depression, the needs are monumental.  The conflicting work and family needs are often insurmountable.  Working caregiving parents need support and access to resources, yet most would say they’d like nothing more than 20-minutes to take a walk.  It’s called respite.

Added to all the "typical" parenting responsibilities, which are often anything but typical, is another layer of daily life -- securing, scheduling and facilitating their child’s services and supports, managing school issues, working outside of the home (even part-time), maintaining a marriage, dealing with sibling and family needs ... it’s a life of complexities that few understand.  And often without help.

The Gift of Time

Respite care is one of the most important ways parent caregivers can continue doing what they do -- providing care for their children.  That saying about putting on your own oxygen mask before you can help another definitely holds true here.  Yet there's often no one to help these working parents even reach for their mask no less give them a few minutes to breathe. 

The Caregiver Action Network has provided information (including a forum) that focuses on respite care -- caregiver resources.   It’s important to remember that working parents with exceptional caregiving needs are raising tomorrow’s generation, and their ability to do so rests on their ability to care for themselves. 

If someone in your life is providing care for a child they love, the best way you can show them you're aware and care is with the gift of time.  Don't wait for them to ask or for a crisis to arise.  An hour can make all the difference...

The Real Truth About Parental Leave

Working parents with Special education Special needs children including Autism ADHD Learning disabilities  Employee benefits Employee assistance Employee support Voluntary benefits. 504 Plan, IEP Program

I can't say enough about all the recent attention regarding parental leave and the companies expanding opportunities for new mothers and fathers to spend critical time with their newborns. 

Recognizing the importance of new parents being able to bond with their children speaks volumes...about the fact that families matter in our society and that companies are focusing on establishing family-friendly cultures.  All good stuff (and smart business) and steps that are long overdue, a comment I can comfortably make having been in the work/life arena since the late 90s and can see where progress has been made.

And while more companies are now providing paid parental leave, a critically important workplace benefit, the truth is that there are millions of working parents whose parental leave needs are not being met.  Or even addressed.  Those with elementary-aged, teens, or college-aged children.  And while this isn't meant to be a comparison, anyone who thinks managing a child during infancy is the same as raising a child or teen struggling in school or life isn't looking at parenting and the needs of working parents realistically.  Each age and stage has its challenges and for many parents, sleepless nights and gray hair come with it.  But opening the lens -- and discussion -- to the truth means recognizing that the needs of working parents don't stop at several months.  Or at age 5.

There is nothing more important than establishing a solid foundation for a parent and child during the early years.  I could barely stand to leave my child as a newborn or toddler myself, and I was self-employed at the time so didn't have the restrictions and limitations that many parents face.  No question...these were glorious years, yet we cannot be short-sighted nor can we forget that babies and toddlers grows into children and young adults whose needs become as complex as they are.

As every parent will tell you, parenting is lifelong and the challenges intensify as our children get older.  The issues facing kids today are nothing like they were when we were growing up, and this requires parents to be more...involved, engaged, vigilant, accessible...present.  All we need to do is look at the numbers of 8, 15 and 22-year-olds struggling with autism, depression, ADHD, cyberbullying, anxiety and more, and the facts are clear.

I applaud every company moving toward or already providing paid parental leave.  And those offering on-site childcare, maternity massages, lactation rooms, and "flying nannies" (yes...and here's the article about it) are surely adding to supports being provided.  Yet companies need to recognize that parenting and the needs of working parents are for decades vs. months...or a few short years.  Unless and until this lens opens all the way, we're only seeing a small part of a much larger picture and are sorely missing the mark.  The truth is that parental leave for new parents is important.  For veteran parents, it's essential.

Hidden Disabilities -- 5 Things You Need to Know

Working parents with Special education Special needs children including Autism ADHD Learning disabilities  Employee benefits Employee assistance Employee support Voluntary benefits. 504 Plan, IEP Program

I think we'd all agree that it's easier to believe and understand what we can see and doubt or question things we cannot.  For children, teens, and adults with an invisible, or hidden disability, this increases the obstacles and the barriers to getting support.

There are some basic things to know about things you cannot see:

1.  The issue of no visible supports.  It's extremely difficult for a 5th Grader to explain to a teacher that he/she needs to stand vs. sit in a classroom.  Or to once again explain that their inability to read social cues in high school requires teacher assistance.  In school, disclosure is needed to access supports and services, yet many children struggle to convey and explain what they need even with these supports in place.  And because what they need isn't seen, they often face push-back and misunderstanding due to the hidden nature of their needs. 

2.  The issue of stigma.  No one wants to acknowledge that they're struggling and this is particularly true in the workplace.  The issue of "conceal or reveal" exists for every employee with an invisible disability and much depends upon the person, his/her needs and diagnosis, the company and environment, external support, and what guidance is received related to making their needs known.

In school, there are supports such as IEPs or 504s and parents are the front-line advocates in this arena.  Yet in the workplace, it's up to the individual to self-advocate.  Disclosure and the associated stigma and possible ramifications of doing so have real implications.

3.  The issue of being misunderstood.  Parents of children and teens with developmental disabilities, auditory processing deficits, learning challenges, and mental health issues (just to name a few) know the fight they often face to have teachers, family members, and others understand that their children's needs are real.  Far too often, children/teens with invisible disabilities are penalized - in school, in the community, at family functions, and in the juvenile justice system - for needs that cannot be seen. 

4.  The issue of permanence.  While there are services, supports, and strategies that can strengthen areas of need, many invisible disabilities are lifelong.  The issue often heard, when is comes to children and behavior, for example, about it being a "stage or phase" does a disservice to the struggles faced.  It also makes learning to self-advocate harder when others doubt your word and your realities from childhood into adulthood.

5.  The issue of struggle.  We tend to empathize with someone who uses a visible tool to aid in their functioning, yet often ignore or underestimate the needs of those whose struggles cannot be seen.  The physical, emotional, and mental toll of invisible or hidden disabilities are as real as any that can be seen, if not moreso.  The challenges faced go beyond learning to live with ADHD or a mental health diagnosis -- they are intensified by having to convince or prove that what they're dealing with is real.

From parents advocating for their children in school and teaching teens how to self-advocate, to acknowledging invisible disablities in college and the workplace,  the words of a very wise man are words to remember:

"Everything that we see is a shadow by that which we do not see." -Martin Luther King, Jr.

Worrying...What Parents Do

Working parents with Special education Special needs children including Autism ADHD Learning disabilities  Employee benefits Employee assistance Employee support Voluntary benefits. 504 Plan, IEP Program

I often find myself thinking back to when my child was a newborn. How could such a tiny human being possibly be kept safe and how could I make sure of it.  Such an overwhelming feeling of vulnerability, mine and his.  And the worrying began.

I think back to driving 45 vs. 60 mph as I would look in the rearview mirror at him in his car seat.  Cradling his head when the wind was blowing after he would leap into my arms to get out of the cold.  Watching him on his bike without training wheels and hoping for no broken bones.  Advocating for him in school when other kids thought bullying was fun.

I remember late nights - even when he was a teen - as I would check on him sleeping, feeling that all was right in the world because he was home, in his bed, and safe.  I wondered how I could safely carry him through a world that seemed poised to challenge his gentle nature and innocence.  I was intent on keeping him safe.  No matter what.  

But the world was bigger than I was and life took hold.  The school years went by and with the arrival of college came the reality that my ability to protect him had just about slipped away.  Only thing was, my worries had not.  If anything, they were greater. 

Incidents on college campuses, not knowing his whereabouts, being unable to reach him via text.  Yes, of course I know it's part of the transition to young adulthood and no, I wasn't sitting by the door biting my nails, but my worries were palpable.  And some for good reason.  I really thought it would get easier when he got older, but I was wrong. 

The worries change as our children do.  First, it's school, friends, and camp that may worry us.  Then it's social media, dating risks, and mental health issues that do worry us.  And then it becomes the unknown and those things we hope never happen that most definitely worry us.  Truth is, the worrying never ends.  We may not wear it on our face every day, but it's there, right behind the smile.

We send our children out in the world to do what we've encouraged them to do...learn, explore, and experience.  We urge them to be smart, safe, and aware. We give them roots, as the saying goes, and also wings, hoping our safety net is positioned right beneath them at just the right place and moment should something happen.  But often it's not.  And then, another tragedy occurs and if you're anything like me, all your strategies of parenting a young adult fly right out the window and you want your child home.  In footy pajamas.  In their bed.  Safe.  No matter their age.

It's easy for some to say, "They're adults now" or "Your job is done," yet the truth is, for most parents, the worrying never ends.  Whether they're a mile away or 10 states away.  If only I could figure out how to replace the safety net with that protective bubble I used to think about so many years ago...

CEOs and Work-Life...A Hidden Need

Earlier this week, I participated in a podcast on WorkLife HUB, an international broadcast focusing on the work/life arena.  Our discussion revolved around working parents who have children with autism, ADD, learning disabilities and mental health needs and how employees are struggling with these exceptional caregiving responsibilities both at work and at home. 

We discussed a number of topics, including the obstacles facing employees in terms of disclosing to their managers and colleagues that they have a child or teen with special needs.  We touched on the fact that this is now an issue impacting mothers and fathers alike vs. being a “mommy” issue, and that parents are leaving the workforce because the demands – e.g. time, resources -- are simply too great.

One Piece Of Advice To CEOs

At the end of the podcast, I was asked what one piece of advice I would like to share with CEOs.  It was this -- that while CEOs may not see something, it doesn't mean that it doesn't existWhat I meant by this was that employees, particularly working parents and especially those whose children have ongoing and complex needs, tend not to discuss their lives and their daily juggling.  These issues are hidden from the people who need to know about it the most, because they're the ones who can bring about the organizational change and acceptance needed. 

It’s Time To Normalize

Ask any working parent raising a child with autism, depression, or any number of diagnoses and they'll tell you that they could use 12 more hours in a day and another set of hands at a minimum.  Yet until we "normalize" these issues and recognize that these unseen needs are often more intense and demanding than those we can readily see or discuss, these employees will continue to play - and live - a "smoke and mirrors" existence.  CEOs need to know so they can lead the changes needed.

With Microsoft just announcing that they are actively recruiting employees with autism, the shift is underway.  Companies are recognizing that a diagnosis does not mean unemployable and that many with autism and other unique needs can be valuable and valued employees.  Now companies need to know that it's today's working parents who are raising these children and they need support themselves.  And this starts with the support of the people at the top.

To listen to the podcast mentioned in this blog post, please click HERE.

-Debra I. Schafer





Debra Schafer, the founder and CEO of Education Navigation, and the 2012 winner of the Rising Star Award of the WorldatWork Alliance for Work/Life Progress imparts important advice on employees with a child with special needs.

The Tiger Mother - Parenting Run Amuck

I seem to be doing a lot of head shaking these days and the column that just appeared by The Tiger Mother is no exception.  Maybe it’s because some of the things people say are simply unbelievable to me.  Or maybe I’m just getting old.  No matter…what follows is what turned an otherwise relaxing Sunday morning on its ear.

In the Life and Style section of The Wall Street Journal appeared a column – “A Week in the Life of the ‘Tiger Mom’ Amy Chua.”  Now perhaps you read her 2011 book, Battle Hymn Of The Tiger Mom, or simply heard about it.  It tossed another catch-phrase about mothers and parenting into the ring which now also includes helicopter parents, free-range parenting, and others.  And while every parent approaches parenting differently (and has the right to do so), this column stepped over the line for me and maybe for you too.

The Sentence That Threw Me Overboard

Working parents with Special education Special needs children including Autism ADHD Learning disabilities  Employee benefits Employee assistance Employee support Voluntary benefits. 504 Plan, IEP Program

First, it's important to say this – if I’m going to take my time to read something, I expect it to have some value.  Whether an insight to consider or a line to make me laugh, make it worth my time.  In Chua’s tale of a day in her life (why printed space was given to this in the first place is another issue; i.e. no value), she makes this statement referring to her 19 and 22-year-old daughters who were returning to college after winter break … “Dogs are so much nicer than daughters.”  I stopped and re-read it, figuring that I must have missed something that would have framed this statement differently.  I missed nothing.

No question about it – parenting is tough and there are days when we’d much rather be stroking our dog than our child’s ego.  But can you imagine being someone that many apparently follow in terms of parenting advice and, whether in jest or not, thinking no less saying that you think your pet is nicer than your child?

A Line In The Sand

Whether she intended her statement to be humorous or not, it simply crossed the line.  And how do I define this line?  Like this – no matter what parenting approach you prescribe to and no matter how difficult your parenting road may be, how about showing gratitude for having the privilege of simply being a parent, for not everyone can achieve this title.  It’s not the same as the titles Chua has after her name, but for many, it’s the most important one there is.

The Greatest Gift

Is Chua aware that there are millions of parents who yearn for a daughter? Women struggling with infertility and couples trying to adopt.  Is she cognizant of the millions of parents who have daughters with disabilities, hoping beyond hope that their daughters *can* attend college and will be grateful when they return home for winter break?  Is she aware that one of her colleagues may have a daughter with mental health issues where every day is fraught with both fear and hope?  Is she clueless about the parents who have lost a daughter to suicide or another life-ending tragedy?  While I typically don’t write like this, I simply have to say…Gimme a break.  

I’m all for differing opinions.  If you want to share parenting insights that some might find valuable, do so.  If you have advice that might help another, advise.   But if you’re fortunate enough to have the ability to impact others through the written word or otherwise and you've been given one of life's greatest gifts, you better be sure you’re taking the realities of others into consideration.

Here’s my bottom-line to Amy...  

Degrees and accomplishments don’t take the place of common sense and sensitivity.  No question you love your daughters, yet the fact that you also asked whether they may want to come home again speaks volumes.  Your dogs may be wonderful companions that don’t give you a run for your money, yet they also don’t give you the pride of the accomplishments that you value so dearly.  So remember…you're regarded as the tiger mom for one reason only.  And it's not because your dogs are your sole dependents.  Be thankful.  You have the most important credentials ever...M.O.M.

-Debra I. Schafer, CEO

He's Just A Troubled Kid

Working parents with Special education Special needs children including Autism ADHD Learning disabilities  Employee benefits Employee assistance Employee support Voluntary benefits. 504 Plan, IEP Program

I recently connected with a former friend from many years ago in one of those "So, how's life been treating you" conversations.  I'm not terribly fond of these catch-up calls, but he called me so I was able to ask questions and listen which I prefer to do.

In the course of family updates, my friend spoke of his nephew, saying he was struggling, was not terribly social, spent most of his time in his room, and said, "He’s a troubled kid.”  My first reaction was - what an antiquated phrase - yet kept asking questions, hoping to perhaps offer some insights into how he could help him.  Wrong assumption on my part.  Understanding his issues and wanting to step in to help was far less important than conveying - multiple times - that he’s troubled. 

After hanging up, I thought to myself ... why is this phrase still used to describe a struggling child?  I can't ever recall hearing anyone refer to an adult as a troubled adult.  It's not only a poor generalization, but it conveys nothing of substance.  To me, it's like looking away from something unpleasant.  You're aware of it or may have seen it but no...not getting involved.

We’re quick to toss around “labels” (both accurate and otherwise) when it comes to adults – he’s depressed, she’s bipolar.  And while labels can be obstacles based in fear and the unknown, once *it* has a name, we've got a starting point.  And this certainly holds true when we're talking about a child or young adult.

I understand well the reluctance of parents to label a child or teenager and many resist at every turn.  It's easier to say that he's going through a phase or she's just introverted.  But that's not good enough and certainly not for the child him/herself.  Not only do parents need to know why their child is struggling, but sharing this information - and relevant details - is important particularly when it comes to family and those close enough to the child to try to make a difference.  We already know the alternatives and few have positive outcomes.  Not to mention the need for the child to learn self-advocacy skills based on their understanding of themselves.

We’re quick to label one of *those* kids as being in special education yet even today, many lack real understanding about just what this means.  Just listen to the line in the film Admission where one of the college admissions officers exclaims, “The kid was in special education.”  So what?  The uninformed assume that this is an automatic roadblock preventing a struggling child from succeeding in school, college, or life.  I think not.

Much continues to be said - and needs to be said - about mental health issues and our children.  There’s a push to bring these issues to the fore to ensure that those who are struggling can access the support they need.  And while our words (or labels) can harm if used as a weapon, they can also embrace.  Failing to use the appropriate words to describe a struggling child is the same as looking away.  It's not an easy choice to make and there are risks involved, yet the same applies to any new ground.  The longer we remain in the past and keep looking away, the harder it's going to be to turn a troubled child into a supported child making strides forward. 

- Debra I. Schafer, CEO

Parental Leave ... Time For Parents To Be Parents

Working parents with Special education Special needs children including Autism ADHD Learning disabilities  Employee benefits Employee assistance Employee support Voluntary benefits. 504 Plan, IEP Program

Could it be that we’re finally at a tipping point when it comes to parental leave?  I’m almost afraid to ask the question, but it’s long overdue. 

Supporting the needs of employees who are also parents is simply smart business.  Not only does it reduce costs (e.g. recruiting/replacement, absenteeism), but companies seem to forget a critical point when evaluating their support for (or objection to) paid leave and similar programs -- working parents are raising the next generation of employees, so doesn’t it make sense to give these children the benefit of parents who can be fully-present? 

I’ve been saying this for years…no working parent should have to choose between being a good employee and a good parent.  And many have had to make this choice for far too long.

Working parents with Special education Special needs children including Autism ADHD Learning disabilities  Employee benefits Employee assistance Employee support Voluntary benefits. 504 Plan, IEP Program

Considering the fact that we rank along with Oman and Papua New Guinea as one of only three countries that does not provide paid parental leave, to say that the respect and support for working parents has been lacking would be a serious understatement.  Employees who are essentially juggling two full-time jobs, who excel at multi-tasking and problem-solving (two key competencies companies seek), and who are raising their children while helping to keep their companies profitable.  If I wasn't one myself, I'd be shaking my own head in amazement. 

There's no better way for companies to truly "walk the talk" than by recognizing the needs and providing supports for working parents over the lifecycle of their children's lives.  Some of these needs (e.g. raising a child with autism) are more complex, yet company support remains integral to retaining these top employees.  And this begins by providing parents the quality time they need with their children from the start.

Enter Intel’s new benefit - “bonding leave” - which provides employees (Moms and Dads alike) with eight weeks of paid leave to be with their families.  Add this to the 13 paid weeks that new mothers can take anytime within 12 months of their child’s birth, adoption, or foster care placement.  The result?  A company that gets it.

Whether it’s called parental leave, bonding leave, or anything else, if it allows working parents the time they and their children need to become what we want every family to be - a strong unit - without the paycheck worry, let’s call it anything we want as long as the end results are the same.

-Debra I. Schafer, CEO  

Helicopter Parents...Keep Those Rotors Spinning

Working parents with Special education Special needs children including Autism ADHD Learning disabilities  Employee benefits Employee assistance Employee support Voluntary benefits. 504 Plan, IEP Program

The January issue of Real Simple had an article - “How To Raise A DIY Kid” - that had me intrigued then left me shaking my head, left and right, once again.  It raised the issue, albeit somewhat differently, of “helicopter parents” and then some.

First, let’s all agree on a universal truth – parents want their children to be happy, healthy, productive, and safe.  I surely do for my child.  Yet that’s where many, if not most, similarities end because, when it comes to parenting, one-size-fits-all advice simply doesn’t fly. 

No one can truly tell a parent how to do their job for one key reason.  No one knows their child better than the person (or people) who changed the child’s diapers, helped with homework, refereed playdates, soothed hearts, nursed illness, provided a safety net, and given them the tools and room to grow.  And while asking for and receiving input is fine, in the complex world of parenting, viewpoints from the outside are like watching a tennis match from the stands.  Unless you’re sweating it out on the court, you’re only an observer.  With a mai tai in your hand.

In this article, some of the advice still has me shaking my head:

·  “Kids need to fly solo as they mature.”

·  …”young adults who had been ‘overparented’ in childhood were more likely to have depression, anxiety…”.

·  And for parents whose older children “slip” and need their help, “Admit that you (i.e. the parent) messed up and tell them that you’re sorry.  Let them know that the expectations are changing as of this minute, and then teach them how to do things as necessary.”

This advice begs a number of questions…

How many parents hope that their children never learn to fly solo?

How many young adults struggling with depression, anxiety and more are doing so because of “overparenting,” or do they need additional support *because* of these diagnoses?

And how many parents feel they should apologize to their 18-year-old who needs help, as if the parent screwed up in some way.  Or that their child should be taken to task because…they need help.  Talk about using guilt as an attempted motivator.

And there are “guidelines” by age as well…

·  Ages 5-7 - load backpack and go through a mental checklist of what will be needed for that day in school.

·  Ages 8-10 - keep school materials organized.

·  Ages 11 and up - take initiative to organize long-term school projects.

Agree with all in principle.  Yet do these contributors think that all or even most kids are capable of achieving these goals by these ages?  And without the oversight, support, and yes…”helicoptering” of their parents?

There are thousands - no millions - of bright and capable children and teens who need support, and many far more than they’re already receiving and not because their parents don’t have their rotors spinning.  Some lack the executive function skills to organize their materials or handle long-term assignments solo, whether in 5th Grade or college.  Others are struggling with ADD or depression and is precisely *why* these parents need to continue to helicopter or otherwise.  And still others have been expected to achieve things because of an arbitrary age or grade and today are struggling often outside of the purview of others…some until it’s too late.

Transitioning into middle school doesn’t mean that a child should simply be able to handle multiple classes and teachers without support.  Turning 16 doesn’t mean that the teen should be standing at the DMV for their permit.  And attending college doesn’t mean that the artificial transition to adulthood as mandated at college orientation is applicable for all.  These are individual milestones, requiring the keen oversight by whom?  The parents.  Their eyes, knowledge, and intuition trumps all else.

Telling parents to let their children fail, which is very situation-specific, and using words like “coddling” and “indulgence” (insulting to caring and involved parents) greatly oversimplifies the realities and assigns an overlay of guilt onto an already complicated role. 

Parents today take the brunt of criticism and often feel like they're spinning in an attempt to meet the needs of their children, which is the top priority, and societal expectations.  What really needs to happen is that helicopter parents all, including myself, should tighten their seatbelts, make sure their earbuds are working to hear everything going on below, and hover as close to the ground for as long as needed. 

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photo credit: Eugene Kaspersky  via photopin 

Autism, ADD, and The Holidays...When Ho-Ho-Ho Turns to No-No-No

Working parents with Special education Special needs children including Autism ADHD Learning disabilities  Employee benefits Employee assistance Employee support Voluntary benefits. 504 Plan, IEP Program

For parents of children with autism spectrum disorders, ADD/ADHD, sensory, or other special needs, the holidays can be nothing short of a nightmare.  One that continues for more than a sleepless night.  Knowing your child's abilities, limitations, and preferences and adapting accordingly can make this time of year far more bearable, for everyone involved...

Visiting.  If family and friends are coming to your home, make sure your child knows when (day and time...and use a countdown timer as well if that helps) and that he/she can go off by themselves (with mindful supervision) whenever they wish.  Insisting that they greet people at the door or that they sit with everyone to "catch-up" could be a meltdown or escape moment waiting to happen.

If you’re heading to the homes of others, do everything possible to ensure a short visit (brief is better)…that as few “new” faces are there as possible (try to visit during an "off" time)…and that a quiet place is shown and available to your child upon arrival.  And, if your family or friends are unaware of your child’s diagnosis, sharing this information may be the greatest gift you can yourself, your child, and to them.

Peers.  Seeing the cousins in a group or having the neighbors visiting in one evening may create major social issues, even if your child or teen may otherwise have a positive experience when it's 1:1 or a small group.  Give your child every opportunity for social success by limiting who comes when, making sure your child knows the plan. and changing things if it appears as though the timing might not be right.

Food glorious food.  Be aware of what’s being served on those platters and in those bowls.  If your child is on a gluten-free or other restrictive diet, bring the foods that you child can eat and in the typical dishes or bowls, particularly if your child is younger.  Now is not the time to introduce new foods and fancy ways to serve them.

Attire.  That brand new dress or shirt or those fancy socks could cause sensory issues that ruin a holiday moment before it begins.  Allow your child to dress as they prefer or introduce the "new attire" well before the official wearing, asking them if they want to “dress it up” a bit.

Music.  If music is soothing or if Jingle Bells happens to be a favorite, play music as much as possible during the holidays.  If attending holiday religious services is planned and if it's a new experience, a brief introduction is better than expecting your child to sit through two hours of services.  Crowds, tight seating, sounds, smells ... each alone may trigger sensory and auditory overload, so anticipate.  Arrive early to allow your child to see the environment.  Sit in the back.  Bring a snack.  And leave when it’s clear that enough is enough.

Chanukah, Kwanzaa, and the Christmas tree.  Lighting the Chanukah candles and the Kwanzaa feast can be a wonderful gatherings for family, but your child or teen may find these activities difficult.  And keep in mind that the blinking lights and singing ornaments on the Christmas tree (or Chanukah bush) can also create problems and may trigger sensory overload.

Shopping.   The mall with its crowds and loud noises are a recipe for a meltdown or resistance to even going.  If the picture with Santa is important, find a garden shop, bookstore, or other smaller venue where Santa pictures are being taken.  And if your child feels about Santa as many do about clowns (i.e. forget it), use photoshop to put them in the picture.

Schedules and routines.  The holidays mean changes which can result in havoc for children and teens alike.  This is also a time where therapies are on hiatus, creating even more need for structure and predictability.  Prepare a visual schedule – with your child’s assistance if possible – to show the plans for the days and nights.  And try to continue with some aspects of your child's therapies at home (another reason why ongoing communication with providers is essential).  Preparation is key.

Flexibility.  More important during the holidays than at any other time.  Bedtimes can be pushed.  Snacks can be expanded (unless there are dietary issues).  Time spent on video games can be extended.  Sleeping in their clothes is just fine.  The key is monitoring your child and making adjustments accordingly.  And listen to their wishes as these can be more important than anything in a box.

Gifts.  If the expectations on Christmas morning exceed the pleasure, forgo it.  Some children and teens find the pressure of opening gifts and then having to appear overjoyed more than they can handle.  In fact, many prefer to open their gifts alone.  Christmas Eve or Christmas evening after dinner work just fine too.  And ask family and friends what's in those nicely-wrapped packages as gifts with sounds or requiring two hours of assembly can be meltdown-provoking.  Same with your gifts.

The most important part of the holiday season is showing your child - based upon their personality, needs, expectations, and limitations - that the holidays can be fun and that you're listening to and watching for their cues.  This will make things far more enjoyable for everyone and will bring you a little "ho, ho, ho" in the process.  Happy Holidays...