Parenting Older Children With Special Needs: And It Gets Harder As They Get Older

I'm a major Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young fan and their song "See The Changes" tops my list of favorites.  So I hope they won't mind that I've changed the word "we" to "they" because I'm talking about children. 

It does get harder as they get older...much harder. Ask any parent and they'll tell you in vivid detail the age and stage that was or is the hardest.  Every parent knows well the challenges of raising children today, so when an Autism Spectrum Disorder, learning difference, or mental health issue is part of the equation, the concerns intensify.  And parenting gets harder.  Much harder.

During the preschool and elementary years, bullying and exclusion often occur, creating indelible issues related to the child's sense of self plus issues with peers frequently emerge.  Move into middle and high school and the challenges intensify as social media and texting, sexting, gaming, and posting plus dating and driving arrive, making a complicated picture even more complex.

These school years alone and the issues that emerge are enough to weaken even the strongest parent, but it doesn't end with high school graduation.  The real challenges emerge when college and life arrive and services and supports fade away.

Parents of younger children work hard to build a foundation to help prepare them for the teen years.  Parents of teens say that their worry (and hope) is that they have solid footing for what comes next.  And parents of young adults quickly realize that the challenges of life are often greater than the preparation.  And this includes in college, where the "safety net" is often larger and looser, creating more risks and dilemmas.  And when this happens, the real struggles begin.

Just as life gets harder as we get older, it also gets harder as they get older too.  Watching a toddler stumble is expected.  Watching a teen do so is something entirely different.  The world suddenly expects more from them.  They expect more from themselves.  And parents hold their breath because getting older is only part of it...

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 children...it 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.

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?

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...

So…How Was Your Working Parents Day?

Just wondering…did this week’s recognition of Working Parents Day change your life in any way?  I’m not a betting person yet I’ll wager not.  Yesterday was likely the same as today and tomorrow will likely follow suit.

Here’s the thing…I’m all for bringing attention to causes.  Hell…I support many myself and applaud those who work tirelessly to raise awareness and generate support for anything that will help another person.  Or many other people.  But I do have a problem with a day coined “Working Parents Day” when the reality is that a day hardly does this cause justice.

I’ve said it before and will continue to say it — working parents have a herculean task that faces them at sunrise every day and doesn’t end until their weary bodies fall into bed at night.  And why do they do it?  Because they value their efforts and contributions at work as they hold dear their roles as Moms and Dads.  As they should.  And they shouldn’t have to choose.

Married or single parent.  One child or several.  Raising a middle schooler or guiding a college junior.  Family support or at the rodeo alone.  Self-employed or employee.  Each and every working parent deserves recognition that goes far beyond the day set aside to do so.  Instead of assigning a name to a day, why don’t we start to truly listen to working parents and do better at meeting their needs.

Many companies are definitely doing a great job of providing a multitude of supports and programs to help all their employees be productive, engaged, and healthy.  Yet many companies are still far behind the curve and even in those organizations where exceptional benefits are the norm, working parents continue to struggle.  And part of the reason is that their needs, for better or worse, are different.  And these differences mean different solutions.

We tend to take notice when a societal crisis hits and then scramble to try to figure out why it happened and what immediate solution can mitigate the seriousness of the situation.  It’s the reactive vs. proactive mode of operation, one that rarely succeeds.  And if we really take a minute to examine this crisis, it involves our children who require far more from their parents today — and I don’t mean more i-Phones or designer clothes — than ever before.  They need time.  Years ago it was latchkey kids.  Today it’s an explosion of afterschool programs to keep children involved vs. walking the streets.  But the buck begins and ends with parents and many are unable to stretch any farther.

So for those who created Working Parents Day, I say forget the day.  Instead, let’s take a look at how we can help the Dad who can’t get out of the office before 6:00 knowing his son’s softball games start at 4:30.  Or the Mom whose childcare provider continues to call in sick…at 7:00 when she leaves for work at 7:15.  These are real issues facing real people with real children depending upon them to find solutions.

If this day is celebrated next year, how about giving every working parent Working Parents Day off.  Now this would make a difference.

Sticks And Stones Got It All Wrong

Years ago, I vividly recall telling my son that words hurt as much as, if not more than, a physical action.  This was when he was experiencing daily torment by classmates in school because he was "different" - a book reader, creative, and not into sports.  Even the word different bothered me because it came with baggage that I wanted him to shed. On last night's news, there was a story about a man who ended his life after what appeared to be a lifetime of struggle.  The reporter said that the man "was mentally ill" and all kinds of images came to mind, even for me who has spent years advocating for children/young adults with a range of diagnoses and labels.  I then wondered how people without any frame of reference reacted to this statement vs. how they may have responded if the reporter said... the man "suffered for years with mental illness" or the man "struggled for years with depression."  Perhaps it would have softened - and brought a level of humanity and understanding - to an otherwise tragic situation.

Much attention is being paid these days to three topics - issues of mental health/illness, bullying, and struggles of our youth in the LGBT community - and all for good reasons.  Our mental health system is in shambles and many children, teens, and adults cannot access the services and supports they so desperately need.  Not a day passes when we don't hear about another child who has been and continues to be bullied in school.  And several days ago, I read words written by a student on a college blog about feelings of desperation - and wanting to die - because of being gay and excluded.

Many of our children and young adults are struggling and suffering, the results of which are often devastating for them and others.   Diagnoses and labels are often affixed with little regard for the weight of the words themselves and without the cushion of support needed after these words/terms are affixed.  Autism.  Bipolar.  Gay.  One single word can change everything for a person ... whether they're accepted, included, supported, loved, hired.   Imagine having your life defined by a single word or phrase.

No question ... short snippets of information and catchy terms often help us hook on and remember something.  But many times the thing that helps us remember is also the thing that makes us forget ... that behind the label or term is a person.  A person who may be struggling, trying desperately to overcome obstacles that sometimes even they don't fully understand.

One of the statements I make frequently to parents, educators, and to groups is this ... a diagnosis or label does not "define" but rather it "describes."  A definition is fixed, but a description is fluid and provides more room for explanation and information.  Words can and often do change everything, particularly when the words are facing outward toward another person.  Words also can and do hurt, but they can also explain, empathize, embrace...and heal.  And we need as much healing today as we can get.

What Are People Thinking...Or Not

Maybe it's just me, but I find myself shaking my head in disbelief at some of the words and comments that come out of the mouths of adults these days.  And to be honest, I ask myself,  "Who raised these people?" with increasing frequency too.  No, I'm not blaming parents for everything - I'm a parent too - but there's no way *not* to question it sometimes. Two weeks ago, it was a security guard at Whole Foods who told the sister of a young man with autism that he should be kept on a leash.  I was speechless.  No, I was fuming and wanted (still do) 15 minutes with this person.  And double that amount of time with CEO John Mackey (still do and have attempted the same).  I couldn't believe that anyone would think no less speak such words nor could I believe that someone could even think this about another human being.

Last week, I watched a child staring at a slightly older child in a wheelchair.  The parent stood there and watched his child doing the staring, never bending down to quietly say, "It's not nice to stare" nor attempting to explain to his child why the other child might not be able to walk.  It was the parent's responsibility to capture this as a "teaching moment" vs. basically giving his child staring rights.  I wanted to take this on myself.

And today I just read about a situation whereby a family in a restaurant asked for their table to be moved because, "Special kids need to be kept in special places."  This was regarding a child with Down Syndrome (fortunately the waiter refused to serve them - this man deserves a raise).   Can you imagine being the parents who overheard this statement about their own child?  Or being the child himself hearing it?  I'm still speechless yet close to foaming at the mouth with things to say.

I am not naive, but do know that adults/parents are role models for behavior and attitudes.  Children see and hear what we as parents do...the good and the bad, and this learning often translates into perpetuating thoughts and behaviors that should be extinguished.

I am not affixing blame, but rather assigning responsibility to those whose antiquated thinking requires an upgrade, even if it's the thinking of a child.  If we as parents don't understand something, we need to take it upon ourselves to learn.  And if we are unaware that our words are harming others, we need to be adult enough to let someone point it out.  Life is about learning and even old dogs can learn new tricks.

And I am not unaware that discrimination -- blatant or otherwise -- continues today.  But it's the short and long-term impact of such attitudes that can destroy a life.  "Sticks and stones" has never been an accurate saying in my book.

Children, teenagers, or adults who are on the receiving end of bullying, discrimination, or worse deserve better.  Parents raising children with disabilities and special needs deserve better.  Companies who employee individuals lacking the awareness and sensitivity to treat every person with respect and dignity deserve better.  And we as a society need to demand better.  The phrase "stop and think" has never applied more or resonated louder.  Words that tumble from a person's mouth can be weapons and we all know painfully well what weapons can do, don't we.

When It Happens To You, Everything Changes

This post is personal.  Very personal, in fact.   But if it helps one parent, it's worth sharing. I always believed that unless you experience something yourself, telling someone, "I understand" is like listening to a symphony without the strings section.  You can hear it but you can't fully get it.  I was wrong.

Several days before Christmas, my young adult son went missing.  At first I thought it was just a misunderstanding...a mixup of where and when to meet.  But it quickly became far more.  Hours of social media attempts to make contact.  Reaching out to people -- and people who knew people -- day and night.  Walking the city streets.  Distributing flyers.  Contacting authorities.  It was a nightmare.  He was found unharmed on Christmas Eve, yet the scars from this surreal experience will last a lifetime.   At least they will for me.

There are thousands of parents whose children go missing every year.  Some are lost.  Some have been told to leave.  Some are confused.  Some are trying to figure out life.  Some are struggling to make the leap from child to independent adult.  Some are struggling with mental illness.  No matter the reason, each of these children has a parent or parents, many of whom are doing little more than breathing as they search for their child.

About a week before my life went into a four day tailspin, I was leaving a suburban shopping center around dusk when there was a young man holding a sign that said "homeless."  I was sitting in my car, waiting for the light to change and found myself staring at him.  I just couldn't take my eyes off of his face.  Mind you, this was an upscale suburban area where SUV's and gourmet market bags of imported cheese defined everything.  Yet here was this young man, standing in the cold on a small strip of grass ... homeless.  He glanced my way as I pulled some money from my purse and opened my window.  I handed him the money while looking into his eyes and said, "Eat something."  He grinned and said, "I will, thank you" and then said, "Happy holidays to you."  As I pulled away, I looked back to see where he was going and saw him headed to the market, likely to buy himself something to eat.

As I drove home, I couldn't get him out of my mind.  Why was he homeless and why there.  What happened that had him without a warm bed and someone to care for him.  What would he do once the shops closed.  And then I thought about his parents.  Did they know he was on the streets?  Were they looking for him?  The entire situation had me twisted and distressed.  I felt guilty for that momentary rush of gladness I felt, knowing that my own child -- around his age -- was safe at home that evening.  Little could I know what was to come only a few days later.

So why am I sharing this.  It's because we often talk about work/life and what takes priority given conflicting obligations.  It's family...no questions asked.  Whether during times of crisis or not.  No matter what else is going on.  It's family first.

It's because we have a responsibility to our children.  Our own and others.  We are facing a societal problem unlike anything we've dealt with before and regardless of the reasons, the reality is that children -- even if they're 18, 21 or 28, are struggling and suffering.  Today there's more stress.  Higher expectations.  Less certainty.  Many children are slipping through the cracks whether in school or out in the world.  And this includes children of well-intentioned, caring parents who believe they are doing everything right.

And it's because we have a responsibility to not look away when we see a child who may be in need.  It's difficult to know whether a teenager walking the streets at 10:00 on a weekday morning or a young adult sitting alone at night at a fast food restaurant may be in need.  But it's not difficult to ask or to make a gesture, similar to the 26 acts of kindness to honor those lives lost in CT.  It's really about being aware and a willingness to lend a hand.  Or a heart.

During our days of frantic searching, I encountered some wonderful strangers who quickly became more.  People who jumped without hesitation to help in some small way.  Their kindness was matched by their understanding -- whether they themselves were parents or not -- of what it must feel like to know your child is missing.  I used to think that you had to live something to truly get it, but I was wrong.  I now know that it's really all about being human and recognizing that the adage "there but for the grace of God goes I" can apply to each of us in a heartbeat.

Carry You...

Many years ago, when my son wanted me to carry him, he would say, "Carry you?" and nothing more.  It was such a simple phrase yet little did I know the impact it would have so many years later. Today, after speaking with several parents whose children are really struggling, those two little words came to me as if my son had said them yesterday.   I'm not sure what triggered that memory, but it suddenly resonated with me differently.  As parents, we all carry our children yet it typically ends when they are either too heavy or too large to lift.  Not for parents of children with special needs.  The carrying continues for years and sometimes, for a lifetime.

These parents have the job of lifting their children and keeping them hoisted high above their heads at all costs.  And while their children need their strength to move forward, who lifts the parents?  Even the strongest parents find that sometimes, the weight is just too much.

As is the case with so many parents, one of them is completely exhausted...no fried, from months and months of endless struggle.  With school.  With family.  And yes, with their child as well.  From home to school and back again, the issues have continued mounting with little chance to catch a breath no less take a shower.  And this is on top of a full-time job that was asking for more yet giving less.

During our conversation, I told this parent that their job was to "carry you" -- meaning their child -- but that they also needed to be carried.  By a spouse, a parent, a friend -- by anyone able and willing to lift them, even briefly, so they can regain their strength to continue their march ahead.  Many parents never ask to be carried and many fail to notice that these parents are going down for the count.  Yet when we're talking about the parent of a 2nd grade child with autism or a 15-year-old with a learning disability, carrying is what it's really all about.

So if your life is touched by a parent who is struggling to carry it all, a little lift will help enormously.  They will continue to "carry you" (meaning their child), yet carrying them ... even for a brief time, will help them continue to put one foot in front of the other while lifting their child into the future.

10 Things To Help Us All

I'm really not one to complain, but something has become painfully apparent to me over the past few weeks.  It actually has been obvious for the past few years but it's become moreso lately. It has nothing to do with what I do every day nor the issues that capture my time and attention.  It has to do with people and their behavior.  So with the new year approaching and everyone fixated on resolutions and new beginnings, I wanted to offer a few insights that perhaps could become part of the resolutions of others at this time of year.  They will be part of mine...

  1. Smile.  Just a little.  Even when you don't feel like it.  Even when the other person does not expect or even deserve it.  It's disarming plus makes you feel like a "mensch".
  2. Be kind.  To others.  At times and places when it's least expected.  I've had several people over the past 10 days stop and tell me, "You're a really nice person" when I did nothing more than allow an elder to walk through a door before me or nod to allow someone to step ahead of me in the deli line.  That elder, by the way, commented that she's never seen so many "nasty people" in her life.  I hope she only meant *out and about* but perhaps she meant everyone.
  3. Say thanks.  For things like acknowledging with a simple wave the person who allowed you to merge onto the highway ahead of them or for the cashier who, without asking, double-bagged a fragile item.
  4. Notice things.  Like the person who forgot to close the trunk of their car (and yes, I did close it and notified the customer service desk as well) or the child who dropped a toy while their parent was frantically strolling them out of a crowded store.  Just a few days ago, I witnessed a teenager who was sitting with a few friends stand, walk over, and pick up a piece of newspaper that fell from the hand of a woman who was wheelchair bound.  And yes, I told him that he is the kind of teenager every parent wishes for.
  5. Slow down.  That mocha-choca latte won't suddenly turn cold if you wait to grab it until after you put your change away and are able to balance your laptop, smartphone, briefcase, keys, biscotti, and drink in your two hands.
  6. Stop complaining.  Everyone is busy, harried, stretched, and juggling.  And some are busy-plus with young children, aging parents, financial worries, health concerns, and a host of other things on their minds.  Yes, just like you perhaps.
  7. Be gracious.  If someone defers to you in any small way, recognize it vs. expect it.  Entitlement looks tacky and really makes others shake their heads in disbelief.
  8. Think.  If you don't like the way someone is treating you, consider that perhaps things are not going swimmingly for them and that they are barely hanging on themselves.  It's easier to react but the outcomes are often less fruitful.
  9. Ask.  Rather than assuming something, ask.  You'll be amazed sometimes at the answers.
  10. Be grateful.  If you have warm clothes on your back, a hot meal to eat, a comfortable bed to sleep in, a book or a CD to bring you joy, and at least one person whose presence in your life makes you feel grateful, it's a good thing indeed.

Somewhere along the way, our lives have become so complicated that we have forgotten how we were raised -- to be decent and caring people willing and able to understand that others are carrying burdens just as we may be.  So at this time of holiday merriment, family gatherings, and gift-giving, my wish for everyone is for a kinder, more humane 2012.  Maybe it won't be an easier year and maybe the burdens will still be as heavy but maybe, just maybe, a simple smile or kind gesture will make one moment lighter for you and another.

Happy Holidays to all.

They're "Hitting The Wall" -- Now What?

Virtually every day, children struggling is what keeps me awake late at night.  I wish all kids were succeeding in school and no parents faced the angst that comes with knowing that their child is not doing well.  But enough for my holiday wishes... Not enough, however, for the rallying cry that I make when kids are "hitting the wall" in school.  What's disturbing is that each academic year, I'm making the cry earlier and more frequently.  Yes, it's true that while not every child does well in every class, every grade, and every year, many children are indeed struggling in every class, every grade, and every year.  It's not the occasional struggle that's the problem, but rather, it's a pattern of struggling -- whether with academics, socially, or behaviorally -- that is the "call to arms" for parents to act.

For some kids, they hit the wall shortly after the school year begins.  For others, it's after the novelty of a new school year has faded and the expectations for performance become the norm.  And still for others, it's late winter/early spring when they can no longer compensate for the gaps that exist.  But no matter when it happens, a child hitting the wall is tantamount to the worst scene in a movie any parent could imagine seeing.

At this time of year, after school has been underway for several months, many children and teens are indeed "hitting the wall"... and hard.  Whether diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder, ADD/ADHD, or not diagnosed yet at all, grades are plummeting if they were decent to begin with, homework is not being completed, teachers are expressing concerns, and the child is suffering.  So are the parents.

Trying to figure out what's happening and then what to do about it is truly overwhelming for most parents.  And once some of these initial questions are answered, the tough part begins -- working to figure out how to secure whatever services and supports the child needs and then monitoring whether improvements are occurring once services and supports are in place.  This is particularly hard for working parents when ongoing therapies, school meetings, and crisis calls fracture their work day.

So what should parents do when their child is either hitting the wall or has already hit it full force?   First (and I know this does not relate to all parents), step out of denial mode and into mobilize mode.  The longer you wait to figure out what's happening, the greater the likelihood that the interventions will be more extensive and longer in duration.  There is a reason advocates push for early intervention services -- the sooner the supports are implemented, the greater the possibility for progress.

Next, secure evaluations.  Whether through your school district or, ideally, privately, you must determine what is happening before any interventions can be put into place.  A comprehensive psychoeducational or neuropsychological evaluation would give you data and information targeting your child's educational programming and would indicate whether further specialized testing (e.g. speech or occupational therapy) is warranted.  The goal is to gather as much information as possible so you need to ignore the "I don't want my child labeled" trap and be ready and willing to take on whatever it is that the evaluation results show.

And a word about evaluations.  If the numbers read like football scores or a foreign language, the clinician who conducted the evaluation must explain them to you so ask.  Prepare yourself with questions; e.g. "What do the standard scores mean" or "Why is there a discrepancy between reading comprehension and word attack scores."  Before you discuss the evaluation report either with the school psychologist or your independent clinician, a copy of that report should look like a Christmas tree -- plenty of red and green markings that indicate everything that is confusing or unclear to you.

Then, if your child does not already have an IEP or 504, you need to convene your school team to discuss eligibility (another topic to be discussed later).  The key is after eligibility is confirmed, you want to develop an IEP that has measurable goals or a 504 that has accommodations that meet your child's specific needs.   And after these documents are created, the work of ensuring that implementation occurs begins so you must ensure that you receive ongoing communication to gauge progress.  None of this is easy but neither is watching your child in crisis.

No parent wants to know that their child is reading at a 4th Grade level when he/she is in 8th Grade.  No parent wants to know that their child is unable to have a reciprocal conversation with a peer.  No parent wants to know that their child spends more time in the nurse's office than in the classroom because he/she cannot sit still in class.  Yet all parents want their children to be successful in school.

I know all too well what it feels like when your child hits the wall.  It feels like a roller coaster ride that someone tossed you on when you weren't ready.  But as parents, we have the ability to pull it together, mobilize, and get things done.  When you were younger, didn't you think your parents could make anything happen?  Well now it's your turn to whip out the wand and start making magic happen.  It may not be a straight or simple path, but at least the twists and turns of that amusement ride will become a bit more familiar.

Ninja Employees & Parents

While talking with a friend earlier this week, I indicated that I won't "be a ninja" in the situation we were discussing.  Yet as I thought about it, I realized that in two areas -- work and parenting -- being a ninja is precisely what separates those who make due and those who *do*. The definition alone is wonderful -- a person who "commits a crazy act with unbelievably good results."  Think about it for a minute ... it doesn't describe a ninja as someone who is aggressive or "takes no prisoners," alienating everyone in their path.  It says that the person is thinking and/or doing something "out of the box" to generate stellar results.  Isn't that precisely what every organization wants -- employees who are not afraid to think creatively, to develop new strategies and solutions, and to help generate stellar bottom-line results?  It's employee engagement on steroids.  And isn't it precisely what every parent wants?  Stellar results (defined very differently for each child) for their children in school?

Many organizations are striving to develop innovative ways for employees to contribute to the health of their companies.  They are encouraging cross-functional collaboration, allowing for flexible work options which can often generate creativity, and "loosening the reins" so that new products and services make it into their pipelines.  It's one critical way to enable employees to make their talents known and voices heard.  They become ninja employees.

Many parents are striving to do the same as they work to jump the hurdles necessary for their children to succeed.  Working with different people and teams, bringing creative thinking into problem-solving, and changing their own status quo.  Often times, in business and parenting alike, the first step involves asking the right questions which may seem basic -- e.g. who, what, where, when, why and how.  Then, the "what to do next" phase is where ninja mode comes into play.

I like the ninja concept.  It paints a picture of an employee and a parent not afraid to question and think innovatively and describes a person willing to take some risks in order to achieve "unbelievably good results". It's the difference between shooting wildly and aiming carefully. Wouldn't it be great if more organizations encouraged ninja thinking and allowed every employee to assume an ownership role in the health of their companies?  And imagine what would happen to the millions of children failing at their job -- i.e. school -- if their parents became "ninja parents".  My sword quivers at the mere thought of it all...

One Year Ago...

We began sharing our thoughts with you in an effort to "raise the volume" on critical issues even when immediate or easy solutions were not apparent.  Kicking things into gear (i.e. ideas, behinds, whatever comes our way) is what we are all about. Some things remain as they were since last fall and warrant another quick go-around:

  • Companies concerned about employee engagement, productivity and retention need to recognize that supporting the fast-growing number of *parent employees* raising children who are struggling in school has a direct correlation to the bottom-line;
  • The numbers of children being diagnosed with ADD/ADHD, autism spectrum disorders, learning disabilities and "hidden differences" continues to skyrocket and this equates to complex issues (e.g. families, finances, health) facing the parents standing beside these children;
  • All children and teens deserve every opportunity -- along with the services and supports they need -- to succeed in school for school is the pathway to life;
  • Bullying of any sort (i.e. school, cyber) must not be tolerated and each adult has a responsibility to intervene at every turn *and* to teach the social thinking and behavior skills needed to end this epidemic; and
  • Parents ... every Mom and Dad ... hold the keys to their child's ability to succeed in school and beyond.

Last year around this time, some statistics were eye-opening to many yet supported what we already knew:

  • That 68% of 8th grade students cannot read at grade level;
  • That 85% of children with special needs report being bullied; and
  • That 100% of all children need an adult -- whether a parent, guardian, or extended family member -- on their side to advocate for their needs.

We can all discuss policy change, education reforms, teacher accountability, school choice, testing, and a host of other child and education-focused issues and each has their place and importance in the realm of raising productive children into adulthood.  Yet one thing is for certain -- it all starts with one parent or parent team armed with the information and strategies necessary to turn their child's frustration and failure into progress and promise.  We hope you agree.

End of Year Musings

Something happens at the end of a year.  People make resolutions that are often not kept.  Friends decide to become friends again...if only for a short while.  And parents hope for a better year for themselves and their children. I, on the other hand, see the start of a new year as a continuation yet one with possibilities for a better tomorrow.  Continuing to work with parents of children with learning differences and to work with students moving toward the end of their high school education is nothing short of life-changing.  Few things can quite compare to knowing that your efforts have changed a life and if helping parents means helping their children, life is good.

My hope for the new year is that more parents become empowered to truly help their children succeed in school.  Eliminating the confusion and fear associated with advocacy is another hope as without adults willing and able to stand up for children, those with the most to lose (i.e. the children) will continue to struggle.

We as adults have the ability to do miraculous things.  It takes determination, guts, passion, and an unwillingness to accept failure as an option.  Each of us...adults and children alike...are individuals and as such, we need to accept the differences and work to ensure that every one of us -- particularly the children -- have an equal opportunity to succeed.

It might sound like talk but it's actually reality.  Success is defined differently for each of us, true, yet show me one child who doesn't want to read or who doesn't want a friend and I'll show you a flying car.  Stand by your children and let them know that you will carry them through whatever comes because this is what makes a parent a parent.

Happy New Year to all...

 

Children At Risk

Over the past several weeks, we have heard far too much about our children ending their lives because of relentless bullying and harassment that has left them vulnerable and, they believed, without choices.  And just when it appeared as though adults were starting to "get with the program", recognizing that they need to make the message of tolerance and acceptance part of the everyday method of operation -- including President Obama's message that bullying is *not* just part of the teenage scene -- in walks Clint McCance. In case you were not aware, McCance is a school board member at the Midland School District in Arkansas who, on his Facebook page, made his feelings clear about gays and suicide -- he approves and, in fact, he stated that the day he will wear purple is the day that all gays follow suit.  He also stated that he would disown his children if they were gay.  Need I say more?

Actually, I do need to say more.  When we typically think of children at risk, we think of children from underprivileged households or those with learning disabilities.  Rarely did our thoughts go to the adults charged with keeping our children safe as putting our children at risk.

Despite a public apology (using that term loosely) and an announcement of his resignation on CNN (Anderson Cooper), there is absolutely nothing that shows me that this individual has any intention of changing his feelings or perspectives nor has any plan to educate himself and/or engage with the gay community to begin to integrate understanding, acceptance, and tolerance into his repertoire.

The message cannot be stated powerfully enough...the safety of our children is paramount.  They must be safe to be who they are regardless of their sexual identity, religious beliefs, or political views.  They must know that there are people around them who are "on their side" and are supporting them as they spread their wings from childhood into adulthood, allowing them to develop their path freely and without fear.

The dialogue is starting -- a first step.  Yet it is not enough.  Until parents and adults step-back and consider their role in creating an environment -- whether at home, school, or the community -- whereby *all* children can be safe, we all remain responsible for putting our children at risk.

Navigation means...

Determining a course... Plotting a route...

Heading a movement.

I suppose heading a movement is precisely what I'm doing -- the movement to educate and empower parents to be informed and skilled parent advocates for their children.

For some, it's navigating the route into and through special education.   Perhaps you have a 7-year-old who was just diagnosed with Asperger's Syndrome or a 13-year-old who has had an IEP for years yet things simply are not working and progress is not being made.

For others, it's determining the course for transitioning between middle and high school or high school into college.   Perhaps your child just entered the middle school "madness" and is already struggling or you and your 11th Grader are trying to figure out whether college is a real option and if so, how.

Whether you find yourself in the early phases of the process (i.e. a "novice") or have been working to maneuver for some time (i.e. a "veteran") ... whether you regard yourself as a "full-time, stay-at-home" parent (a term I truly dislike) or are working to balance your job and home responsibilities, I'll be sharing information, resources, and yes ... thoughts (some you'll like and others you may not) to help you navigate through the most important job your child has ... education.  Your child needs your voice and my role is to be sure it's strong, clear, and expert-level.

I hope you will share your thoughts as well.  Looking forward to this new dialogue...

Debra