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.

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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.