The Holidays and Special Need Children

The Holidays and Special Need Children

The Holidays are here and many people expect it to be a great family time and a great deal of fun for the kids. However, this is not true for every family or child. The Holidays can be a very difficult time for a child who has Autism or is on the Autistic spectrum or have other types of Cognitive Disabilities. The noise and having a lot of people being around can be upsetting to them. Also many children on the spectrum are use to a certain daily routine. The festivities of the Holidays can disrupt their routine and upset them.

The Holidays, as I said above, are supposed to be a happy time. Therefore, when parents, who have a child on the autistic spectrum, see their child getting upset or agitated, it is difficult for them. Additionally, many parents who have children on the spectrum worry about how other people will react or judge their child.

All of this worry for the parents and change for the kids can make the Holidays a stressful time for autistic children. I did read a very good article by Lori Lite which has good ideas for parents to use during the Holidays. These ideas can help make the Holidays a happy time for your child and for your family. I would suggest trying these ideas and not worrying how other people may or may not judge your child. Being Autistic is nothing to be ashamed about. I treat many autistic children and they are usually very caring, smart children. We need to change our views regarding autism. It is a medical condition like diabetes or being blind. We make accommodations for children with these issues so we can make accommodations for a child with Autism. Therefore, try some of these ideas to help you and your child enjoy the Holidays.

Get Ready: Social stories, books, and movies can be a big help in preparing your child emotionally for holidays. Comfortable clothing and small dose exposures to holiday sounds can help physically. Think ahead with an eye for anxiety causing issues. If wrapping paper too loud? Use easy open bags or just decorate with a bow. Are the electronic bears with bells at Grandma’s house going to cause sensory overload? Ask her to unplug them before you get there. Let friends and family know about triggers ahead of time. If your child doesn’t like to be hugged suggest a handshake or just a wave. Your friends, family, and special needs children will be glad you did.

Prepare Your Children For Gatherings: Eliminate unnecessary anxiety associated with getting together with family members you rarely see by looking through photos of relatives prior to your event. Play memory games matching names to faces. This will help your children feel more comfortable with people they may not have seen in a while. Aunt Mary won’t seem quite so scary when she bends down to greet your child.

Use Relaxation Techniques: Incorporate deep breathing or other coping strategies into your day. Let your children see you use techniques when you are feeling stressed. Encourage them to use relaxation techniques on a daily basis. Breathing, visualizing, and positive thinking are powerful tools.

Incorporate Positive Statements Into Your Dinner: This is empowering and reflective. Each person at the table can state an attribute of their own that they are thankful for. For example, “I am thankful that I am creative.” Feeling stressed? Try, “I am thankful that I am calm.” Your special needs child can prepare ahead with a drawing or sign language if they want to participate without speaking.

Don’t Rush: It’s simple; none of us are very good at rushing in a relaxed way. The two just do not go together. It is impossible for children or teens to rush without getting angry. Make sure you leave enough time to enjoy the journey and avoid meltdowns. Children with special needs should be given notice of transitions.

Write Things Down: Getting the constant chatter and lists out of your head decreases stress and anxiety. Kids love making lists. Give them a clipboard or dry erase board. Help your child make a list of what they want to do for the holiday. It might be helping decorate or what to pack for self-care relaxation bag. This will help you relax and help your children feel involved. Encourage them to add happy words like laugh or draw a smile face on their list.

Schedule Downtime: Don’t overbook your children. It’s important to use holiday time for relaxation. Try staying in pajamas till noon. Pop your favorite popcorn and watch a movie when you wake up. You’ll be surprised how an hour or two of relaxation can rejuvenate your children’s bodies, minds, and spirits.

Shopping: Avoid taking your children shopping on the busiest shopping days of the year. The chaos, noise of large crowds, and long lines will definitely add stress to your life. If your child is absolutely known to meltdown during shopping you can select a few gifts and bring them home. Set up a shopping experience in your home for your child. The whole family can participate. Have a checkout counter and a gift-wrapping table.

Be Flexible: Relax your expectations and definitions of what a fun experience is for your children. Most of us do not need the full blown exhausting experience of holidays to reflect that we had a good time. A few positive minutes is worth a lifetime of memories!

Let The Children Participate: Let your children do one thing for the holiday that makes them feel proud. Kids can collect acorns or place a few jingle bells into a bowl for a beautiful stress free centerpiece.  Children can fold the napkins or put the forks out. Let them draw a special picture to place on your guest’s chair. Be prepared to accept their participation as perfect and wonderful. Restrain for correcting or straightening out the napkins and enjoy the holidays with your special needs child!

Dr. Michael Rubino is a psychotherapist with over 20 years experience treating children and teenagers. Many of these children and teens are on the Autistic Spectrum. For more information regarding Dr. Rubino’s work or private practice visit his website http://www.RubinoCounseling.com or Facebook http://www.Facebook.com/drrubino3

Surviving Winter Break with Your Teenager Not in School

Surviving Winter Break with Your Teenager Not in School

It’s the Holiday Season and most people are excited and feeling overwhelmed too. Teenagers are very excited about Winter Break. They have no school for at least two weeks and are looking forward to staying up late, sleeping in and spending times with friends. However, many parents are not so excited about Winter Break. Most parents have to work full time so they are concerned about what their teenager will be doing while they are working and there are some family activities planned which means their teenager cannot spend all of the break with friends. Therefore, parents are starting to wonder how to handle this situation so Winter Break is enjoyable for everyone.

It might help parents, to have a better understanding of how their teenagers look at Winter Break. In their minds, they have spent a great deal of extra time during December studying for midterms, finals and completing final projects. They have had to give up some time with friends and there were several nights they had to stay up late studying. Therefore, they feel they are entitled to sleep in and spend time with their friends. Additionally, a number of juniors and seniors have friends who will be returning from their first year at college. Therefore, Winter Break is the only time they have to spend with them. Again, they feel entitled to the time because they spent a lot of extra time studying so they are entitled to some free time. Another factor is that many teenagers consider some of the family activities scheduled to be boring compared to hanging out with friends.

Now parents can just say this is what you will be doing over Winter Break because we are your parents. This will result in a great deal or arguing and teenagers sneaking off to spend time with friends. This approach is not very effective and results in a great deal of unhappiness for parents and teenagers. Winter Break feels like a prison sentence not anything to celebrate.

I recommend sitting down with all your children and developing a plan for Winter Break. First explain how you envision the break going and the activities you have planned and want your children to participate in. Explain to them why you want them to participate in these activities and what it means to you. Next let your teens discuss what plans they had for break and why these plans are important to them. This allows you and your teenagers to discuss everyone’s plans and a solution that will work for everyone. Remind your teenager that your daily expectations regarding vaping, alcohol and their over all behavior still apply. You are not setting up new house rules. You are simply setting up a schedule for Winter Break.

As for the days, I recommend setting a time they need to up by such as 10:30am. This gives them time to sleep but not sleep the day away. Also leave a couple chores they can help with when they get up. Such as cleaning up their own dishes and maybe cleaning the kitchen or doing some laundry or putting some clothes away. After that they can spend time with their friends. Ask them to tell you what they plan on doing the night before and ask them to check in by text at certain times. Also agree on a time they need to be home. During the week maybe require they are home three nights a week for a family dinner. The other nights and weekends, they can have dinner with friends or bring a friend home for dinner. Whatever they do, they need to tell you before, check in occasionally by text and be home by a certain time. As for bed time don’t spend a great deal on that one. Allow them to go to bed when they want as long as they are able to get up by the agreed upon time. If they miss getting up on time 3 times in a row, then you set a bed time. This is only for teens in high school. For children in middle school and elementary school, you need to set a bed time.

As you are coming up with these agreements, you are also writing them down on a contract that everyone will sign and get a copy to keep. Therefore, if there is a misunderstanding, you just refer back to the contract. You also should agree upon consequences if someone violates the contract and include them in the contract.

Now the big issue to confront, how much evening time your teen will spend with friends and what activities you have planned that they will attend. This is not easy. I usually suggest if the activity is a big family activity including extended family or a family tradition then your teenager needs to attend. Depending on the activity may be the can bring a friend or leave early. As for time with their friends, ask what they have planned and see how it fits into the family schedule. Most often teenagers won’t know their plans yet because they need to talk to their friends. Therefore, give them time to talk to their friends and add their events to the calendar. One important thing to remember, your teenagers are becoming young adults and need their social time too. Therefore, try to be flexible with them. If it is a family event, they definitely should be present and participate. If it is a community event or neighborhood party, it is probably fine to allow them to miss it and spend time with their friends.

As for the time they spend with friends, it is fine to require that they tell you what they will be doing and where they will be. Setting a time to be home is appropriate too. Also it is fine to ask them to check in by text too. One thing you may consider is setting up an activity with your teenager and their friends so you can spend time with them and see how they are maturing. If you decide to try doing an activity with your teen and their friends, only do it if your teenager is agreeable and allow them to plan the activity.

Remember, everything you agree to with your teenager, you will write down in your Winter Break contract. Everyone will sign it and get a copy so if there is a misunderstanding you simply refer back to the contract.

Finally, let your teenager know you are aware that they are getting older and they are starting to have social lives of their own and this is why you are having this discussion. Explain that hopefully this will help eliminate fighting over their break, but nothing is perfect. Therefore, issues may come up that you have not discussed. Ask, if an issue does occur, that everyone tries to discuss it remembering you all have the same goal of everyone enjoying the holiday. Hopefully if you keep this in mind and discusses any issues that occur it can be a happy holiday break for everyone.

Dr. Michael Rubino is a psychotherapist with over 20 years experience treating teenagers and children. For more information regarding his work or private practice visit his website http://www.RubinoCounseling.com or his Facebook page http://www.Facebook.com/drrubino3 aa

All I Want for Christmas is A Blanket

All I Want for Christmas is A Blanket

A teacher did a typical holiday activity and asked her first grade class to write letters for Christmas. She asked each student to write one thing they want and something they need. One of the children wrote this heartbreaking letter:

See the video above

The fact that is even more heartbreaking is she was not the only child in the class to write such a letter. Several children requested food and blankets too.

We assume that hunger is not a problem in the United States. However, one in five children live below the poverty level and do not have enough to eat on a regular basis. Many of these children are homeless too. It’s not because they have drug addicted parents either. Many of their parents work 2 or 3 jobs, but the cost of living in the United Stares is so high, they still cannot provide their children with the basic necessities of life.

I do see children in this situation for psychotherapy. These children are often depressed and see no hope for the future. They feel that they will be homeless for their entire life. I am able to provide these children psychotherapy because I see them pro bono.

The other sad fact is that the United States government is considering cutting programs which assist these families and this will make life worse for these children. Many of these programs are their only source of food. The children are the future of our country. Why would the United States, considered the richest country in the world, cut programs that will increase the number of children living in poverty? Should a child in the United States, need to be asking Santa Claus for food and a blanket? Are we really willing to cut these vital programs that these children who are legal United States citizens and turn around and spend $5 billion dollars on a wall. Where are our priorities?

We cannot control what the government is doing except by voting and speaking out to our Senators. In addition, especially at this time of year, we can donate to food banks, churches and non-profits which assist families in need. In addition to donating to these organizations, you and your family can volunteer some time over the Holidays to assist these programs. The Holidays are the busiest time of year and they can always use volunteers. Furthermore, besides donating or volunteering during the Holidays, it is something we can do throughout the year.

There is no reason that a child who lives in the richest country in the world needs to be asking for a blanket at the Holidays. Leaving the children and families in this situation only creates more problems later in life. Research shows children who grow up under these conditions are more likely to have mental health issues as adults. We can change this by donating to non-profit

Dealing with the Holidays when you have Mental Health Issues

Dealing with the Holidays when you have Mental Health Issues

For many people the Holidays can be a stressful time. For some people there is the stress of not having enough money. For others, they lost a loved one this year and this is the first Holiday without their loved one. For others, there are family issues that make this a difficult time of the year. Finally, for people with mental health issues, the Holidays can be a very difficult time.

For people with mental health issues the Holidays can be difficult for many reasons. They may be dealing with family issues, financial issues or not feeling happy. Not feeling happy can be difficult because everyone is supposed to be happy during the Holidays. At least this is what we are told by society. Also some people with mental health issues may find the Holidays difficult because their condition is not stabilized yet or the Holidays can be a trigger for their mental health issues. I see this with the patients I work with who are Bipolar or patients who are dealing with eating disorders. Just to name a couple of mental health issues that are triggered by the Holidays.

People who are suffering with mental health issues that are triggered by the Holidays need support and understanding. You cannot just tell them to pull it together or to take a pill. It is not that easy for them. If it was, they would automatically take those steps on their own to solve the situation.

There are some things that people with mental health issues can do that may help them. Dr. Pooky Knightsman, who deals with her own mental health issues, describes some of these options in her video. I have included a link to it so you can watch it. If you have a loved one who has mental health issues, please watch this video and may be you and suggest some of these ideas to your loved one. If they work that would be fantastic for the person coping with mental health issues. If they do not work, please understand the person is not having issues on purpose. If you love them you need to be patient and understanding and help them through this difficult time. Here is the link to Dr. Knightsman YouTube video https://youtu.be/ch5JLIYyPtU.

Dr. Michael Rubino is a psychotherapist with 20 years experience treating children and teenagers many of them are Bipolar. For more information regarding Dr. Rubino’s work or his private practice visit his website http://www.RubinoCounseling.com.

Dealing with Christmas after A Divorce

Dealing with Christmas after A Divorce

The Holiday season is usually a difficult and stressful time for many families. Everyone trying to make plans and trying to see grandparents and other family members. It can be especially difficult for divorce families. After a divorce the issues often become even more stressful.

One thing that parents need to remember is that they decided on the divorce the children did not. I often hear arguments about parents want their time or wanting to continue their family’s holiday traditions. However, they often ignore what the children want to do.

Many times a divorce may be finalized, but the parents are not done fighting with each other. Therefore, the use the Holidays as a reason to continue to argue or try to hurt each other. What they forget is they are really hurting their children more than each other.

Based on dealing with families who are divorced, I make the following recommendations to parents. First, parents need to remember that Holidays are more about the children and family not their divorce. Next they need to develop a plan together regarding the Holidays. The first step is for the parents to talk together about what the children seem to enjoy the most about each Holiday. Also parents should also ask the children what they enjoy most about the Holidays.

After you have this information then sit down civilly and see how you can allow the children to do what they enjoy most about the Holidays. Another thing to remember is the children should not be forced to choose between Mom and Dad. Come up with a plan where the children have equal time with both parents. Also they should have equal time with grandparents, cousins and other Extended family from Mom and Dad’s side.

The other thing is don’t turn the Holidays into a competition. Gifts should not be used to influence the children. You should discuss with each other what your children want and what you plan to get the children. When you were married you discussed what to get them so even after the divorce you can coparent and discuss what is realistic and what is not.

Finally, remember the Holidays are a time to get together as a family and enjoy each other. Therefore, for the sake of your children put your divorce aside and decide how this can be a happy family time for everyone. If you can do things together, that would be the ideal situation. If you can’t then being kind to each other and making the Holiday season fun for the children is the goal for you as parents. Stated another way, the children should still feel like they have one family during the Holidays not two. Maybe things are being done a little differently because of the divorce but they still have a mother and father.

If you achieve this goal, it will make you feel better too. A divorce should not wreck your lives. Obviously, your lives will change after a divorce but you can still be a family.

Dr. Michael Rubino has over 20 years experience as a psychotherapist working with children/teenagers and families. For more information about Dr. Rubino’s work or private practice visit his website at http://www.rcs-ca.com or Facebook page http://www.Facebook.com/drrubino3.

Happy Holidays versus Merry Christmas

Happy Holidays versus Merry Christmas

Last year there was a big debate between people saying Merry Christmas or Happy Holidays. The United States has people from various ethnic backgrounds and religions living in our Country. There are also many people who have no religious beliefs. Our Country is suppose to be the “great melting pot.” Therefore, we are suppose to all live together peacefully and respectfully together.

Unfortunately, it does not appear we are living up to the goal of being the “great melting pot.” We have people who are singling out certain nationalities and trying to prevent them from immigrating to the United States. We have also seen a 57% increase in crimes against people of Jewish decent. For example, last year the largest amount of Jewish people in the United States where killed at one time as they were worshiping in their Temple. This type of violence has not occurred for decades, but it is baaack. Freedom of religion is one of the core beliefs of the United States. However, it does appear that core belief is eroding and possibly disappearing.

In addition to increase discrimination towards ethnicities and religions, there is an increase in the discrimination towards people who are homosexual or identify as anything other than heterosexual. The United States Declaration of Independence states, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” These are the beliefs that our Country is based on and what our Country represents. It states “all men” not just Caucasian people, not just Christian people and not just people who are heterosexual.

The Declaration of Independence and Constitution assume that we may have differences in our cultures or religious beliefs, but that we can all live together peacefully and respect one another. Unfortunately, when we see a 57% rise in hate crimes towards people who are Jewish, we are not living together peacefully or respectfully.

This brings me to the debate between Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays. I am a proud Italian, Catholic, American, however, my family taught me to respect people regardless of ethnicity, religion or sexual orientation. Therefore, I always wish people Happy Holidays. In the United States during this time of year we celebrate Thanksgiving, Christmas, Hanukah, Kwanzaa (I am sure there are some religious celebrations I missed) and New Years. If I am going to be respectful, Happy Holidays is the most appropriate saying not Merry Christmas. Some one may not be Christian and they may have no religious beliefs at all. However, most likely they celebrate Thanksgiving and New Years. Happy Holidays covers this without imposing my beliefs on someone else. Everyone who is Christian think about this point, what if you were not allowed to say Merry Christmas or if the entire Country acted like Christmas did not exist? How would that make you feel? You probably would not like it.

Therefore, I think we need to return to our roots: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” This is a very powerful statement and in order to honor it we must respect all cultures, religions and sexual orientations. This statement is what makes the United States so different from every other country in the world. If we are going to honor our Country then Happy Holidays is the appropriate greeting during this time of year not Merry Christmas. If you are Christian it is appropriate to say in your home and at your Church not at work or out in public.

We also need to look at the amount of violence that is occurring in our Country. Besides fire drills at schools, now children are having to do mass shooting drills. Schools are actually practicing and teaching first and second graders what they need to do if there is a mass shooting at their school. Many children are frightened by these drills. They do not know if they are practice or real and they are afraid that they will be killed at school. There are a number of reasons why we have these mass killings, but the lack of respect we show to each other cannot be helping the situation. Therefore, out of respect for everyone when you are in public try using Happy Holidays. When you are at home or among family and friends use the greeting that works for your family.

Dr. Michael Rubino is a psychotherapist with over 20 years experience treating children and teenagers. For more information about his work or private practice visit his website http://www.RubinoCounseling.com or his Facebook page http://www.Facebook.com/drrubino3.

Helping You Teenager Survive Finals

Helping You Teenager Survive Finals

The end of the Fall semester is around the corner and it is a time of year that students panic because it’s Finals time. Your teenagers are probably very stressed or getting stressed. There is a lot going on right now. Seniors are trying to complete college applications, seniors and juniors are worried about grades because these grades will impact which colleges they can go to. In addition, there is time off for Thanksgiving and Christmas so many teenagers are focusing on spending time with their friends. However, they also need to allow for time with their families too.

As I stated besides finals, teenagers are having to balance between friends and family. In addition to spending time with friends there are the parties that occur over Thanksgiving and Christmas break. Besides having to balance time between family and friends, they still have to keep the homework current and study for finals or complete semester projects.

In many classes the final may be worth fifty percent of the students grade. The final grade in a class is very important. This grade will be part of their overall GPA which can affect what colleges Juniors can apply to and their ability to get scholarships. Also for seniors these are the grades colleges will be using to determine who they accept or reject. Seniors know they need a decent Fall semester GPA to have a chance of being accepted by a college.

As you can see there is a great deal of pressure on high school students during this time of year. Also since the competition to get into colleges has increased and the competition for scholarships have increased so has the stress on high school students.

Many students will do what ever they need to in order to survive this time of year. This includes using alcohol or weed to help them relax or sleep. They will also take friends ADHD medication, use cocaine, or start taking caffeine pills or start drinking a great deal of coffee or energy drinks so they can stay awake and study. They don’t realize how much caffeine those energized drinks contain. Also the combination of weed to sleep and caffeine to stay awake can cause mood changes, psychosis and even death.

Most teens want to do things on there own so they will tell you everything is fine and they have it covered. They think it is fine because of the substances they are using. Remember a teenagers prefrontal lobes are not fully developed yet. Therefore, they only focus on the here and now and not on the future. They also do not always think about the long term consequences about some of the things they are using.

If your teenager is getting anger very easily or crying easily this is a sign that something is going on. If you notice a change in their eating habits such as going from eating a lot to eating nothing, this is another sign. Also if you notice a change in their sleep pattern such as awake all night and falling asleep at odd times this is also a sign.

What do you do if you notice anything that is making you worry, you should sit down and talk to your teenager. Explain you know there is a lot of stress right now and point out the changes you have noticed and what you are concerned about. Reinforce you are not having this conversation because you are mad and they are not in trouble, you are having this conversation because you love them. If they are using things or doing things because they think it will help them study, let them know you are there to help. Explain some of the dangers associated with what they are doing. Remind them no grade is worth their life.

One thing you may want to do, is say to your teenager you know the end of the semester is a stressful time. Ask them if they need any help studying or help organizing their time. Let them know if there is any way you can help, you are there to help. Remind them, all they need to do is ask you for help and you will help.

Hopefully they will listen to you and confide in you. If they continue to deny everything, then go to any local pharmacy and buy a drug testing kit. Explain you are only doing this for their safety and they are not in trouble. They may be afraid or embarrassed to tell you. They may feel like a failure in your eyes. As their parent they really need your love and support right now not a lecture. Again remember when you were in high school and how difficult it was to tell your parents certain things. Good luck.

Dr. Michael Rubino specializes in working with teens and has over 20 years experience and his work is nationally recognized. To find out more about Dr. Michael Rubino visit his website at http://www.RubinoCounseling.com or his Facebook page at Facebook.com/Drrubino3