Children with Special Needs and the Holidays

Children with Special Needs and the Holidays

As a psychotherapist who treats children, I work a great deal with children with special needs. Children who have Autism, ADHD, difficulties with being over stimulated by noise, processing difficulties etc. These children can respond differently to all the Holiday activities. Therefore, parents need to be prepared to cope with the Holidays. I recently read a blog by Lori Lite which gives good tips for how parents can prepare. I have provided some of her tips below.

Set Up a Safe Brain Break Space: Your child can enjoy downtime when they feel over-stimulated at your house or at your relatives. Set up a brain break space and be sure that the other children and guests know that this space is off-limits. Empower your special needs child to recognize when they need to go to their brain break space. Practice, practice, practice…. ahead of time to recognize when mood is escalating… Did I say practice? Empower children by packing a relaxation bag they can go to if they are feeling anxious. Bring earphones and their special relaxation music or stories. Play dough, stress ball, music, video game, even a camera can help children relax and give them a focus if they have social anxiety.

The Indigo Dreams Series gives you stories that incorporate actual relaxation techniques. The stories and music can be downloaded to an iPod or iPad. The other kids may actually be jealous…give them their own space to de-stress. You may start a new trend!

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 has over 20 years experience working with teenagers and children with special needs. For more information regarding Dr. Rubino’s work or private practice visit his website http://www.RubinoCounseling.com.

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Caregivers Need Help Too

Caregivers Need Help Too

We often forget about caregivers, but they need to take care of themselves too. If you are raising kids & helping your parents, you are a caregiver too. Supporting Your Own Mental Health as a Caregiver | NAMI: National Alliance on Mental Illness https://www.nami.org/Blogs/NAMI-Blog/November-2018/Supporting-Your-Own-Mental-Health-as-a-Caregiver

Why Are We Ashamed about Mental Health?

Why Are We Ashamed about Mental Health?

When people hear about mental health they often think about people sleeping in the street or eating out of garbage cans. However, this is not the reality. Mental health issues are the same as physical health issues. They need to be treated. Diabetes is caused by a chemical imbalance, the chemical being insulin. Depression is caused by a chemical imbalance. The amount of serotonin is off for a person dealing with depression. Therefore why should we treat them differently?

This stigma does result in people succeeding at Suicide and it can destroy families because someone does not seek mental health care. If they commit suicide, this impacts the entire family. The shooting in Thousand Oaks is an example of what can happen when people don’t receive mental health care. The mother said she had been afraid of her son for a long time and tried to seek help. The mother lived for years in fear of her son and now she has to live with the fact that her son murdered 12 people and injured many more. All because of the negative stigma associated with mental health care and the lack of mental health care.

I have included a link to a video by Heads Together where a husband and wife discusses how the stigma associated with mental health impacted their family. https://www.facebook.com/201404780244288/posts/671244049927023/

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

How to Transition an IEP From High School to College

How to Transition an IEP From High School to College

Working with children and adolescents I have had many parents ask about 504 plans and Individual Educational Plans (IEP). Parents tend to focus on the assistance their child may need in elementary or high school due to a learning disability or mental health issues. From my 20 years experience as a psychotherapist, what I have seen is that if a child need assistance in elementary and high school, they typically need assistance in college.

From my experience, most families assume there is no assistance in college. However, typically if a child has an IEP, they are also entitled to assistance in college. Most colleges in their Counseling departments have programs designed to help disabled students. A student with a physical or learning disability or mental health issue such as ADHD or depression would qualify for assistance by the Disabled Students Program at a college. I have recently been receiving many questions from Parents about what happens to their child’s IEP when the go to college and questions from parents who have college freshmen asking about their child’s IEP. Therefore, I thought it would be beneficial to provide information about how IEPs are handled by colleges. This was in a previous article, but it appears this information is needed again.

First, if you live in California and you have a physical or learning disability or a mental health issue and had an IEP while in school, you may qualify to be a client of the California Department of Rehabilitation. This Department is responsible for assisting people in California ,with a disability, find a job and get the education they may need to find a job. The Department may assist their clients by providing tuition assistance for community or state colleges and provide financial assistance to buy text books and school supplies. What they are able to do depends on the State budget.

This is another reason for parents to insist when their child does need an IEP that the school district places the child on an IEP. The lies schools tell parents that an IEP will prevent their child from getting into a college, the military or getting a job is not true. Another reason to insist on the IEP, if your child qualifies for an IEP, is because your child can be granted accommodations on the SAT or ACT that students need to take when they apply for college. I have had many teens with ADHD come to me seeking accommodations on the SAT or ACT. A common requirement that the testing boards require is that a student needs to have had an IEP if they are seeking accommodations on these tests.

Therefore, many students who have disabilities or mental health issues can receive assistance in college. While many people may be surprised, it is true. However, for many college students finding the assistance can be confusing and overwhelming. For a Freshman in college dealing with heath or mental health issues the confusion and embarrassment people deal with because of society stereotypes can cause students to give up. However, I was contacted by bettercollege.com with a resource guide they developed for college students with mental health issues. While their guide was created for students with mental health issues, it can also be used as a guide for students with physical or learning disabilities.

Since I feel this is a valuable guide to Freshman students and their families, I am including a link to this resource guide below:

Guide to College Planning for Psychiatrically Impaired Students – https://www.bestcolleges.com/resources/college-planning-with-psychiatric-disabilities/

Dr. Michael Rubino is a psychotherapist with over 20 years experience working with children, teenagers and college students. For more information about Dr. Rubino’s work and private practice visit one of his web sites http://www.RubinoCounseling.com or http://www.rcs-ca.com or his Facebook page http://www.Facebook.com/drrubino3.

Facts about Bullying at School

Facts about Bullying at School

Many kids, despite what they say, really enjoy school. They like seeing their friends, their teachers and learning. However, some kids are not as excited and even worried about going to school. Many of these kids have been bullied and they are afraid of being bullied again. October is National Bully Awareness month and these article will provide you with information you need to protect your child from being bullied. Hopefully, we may even be able to stop bullying.

Often when a child is being bullied they do not say anything to their parents until the bullying is really bad. They are afraid, especially boys, that you will see them as weak. They are also afraid that you will be disappointed in them for not defending themselves. Parents you have not said anything or done anything to create this feeling in your child. Our society teaches children these messages, especially boys. Children receive these messages from television, music, video games about being strong and defending yourself. This is what the documentary “The Mask You Live In”, is trying to address. It is on Netflix and it might be helpful if you watch it.

It is very important to take bullying very seriously these days. It is no longer just one kid calling another kid names. The bullying today occurs at school and may include threats of being killed and it goes beyond school. Now bullies can continue their bullying via text messages, emails, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat. So the bullying becomes non-stop. It can really make someone feel worthless and that they would be better off dead. We have an example of this from a 13 year old boy, on the east coast, who committed suicide because he could not tolerate the bullying any longer. The boy committed suicide to escape the bullying. He is not the first child to commit suicide due to bullying. One 15 year old girl committed suicide due to bullying and she left a note to be placed in her obituary. In the note she asked kids to be kind to each other. Some kids are turning to drugs and alcohol to numb the pain and we are seeing a significant number of accidental overdosages resulting in teenagers’ deaths. We assume they were accidents, they could also be suicides staged to look like accidents.

Bullying is not just an elementary school issue. It occurs in High School and College too. Remember a few years back a college student committed suicide because his roommate secretly filmed him in his dorm room with another guy having sex. When the tape was posted on the college’s email for others to see, the boy was so ashamed because he had not made it publicly known that he was gay. He did not know what to do and ended up committing suicide.

As the rates for bullying, suicide and drug use increase with kids in middle school and now beginning in Elementary school, we must take this issue seriously. I know it is now a very serious problem in Elementary schools because the third leading cause of death for 10 year old children is suicide according to the CDC statistics.

Also a common problem I see elementary children for in psychotherapy is bullying. Many of these children are embarrassed because they feel they should be able to stop the bullying. They are also embarrassed and often don’t want me to tell their parents because they believe they must of done something to deserve being bullied. I explain to them they do not deserve it and they should not have to stop it on their own. I also explain that their parents would want to know so they can help them. I need to emphasize that Mom and Dad won’t blame you or be ashamed of you. It is amazing to see how relaxed these children become when I tell them this about their parents.

What should a parent do? One thing is parents should watch for the following warning signs that your child is a victim of a bully:

Avoiding activities they used to enjoy

Loss of friends or avoiding social situations

Problems sleeping

Complaining of stomachaches or headaches

Loss of appetite

Declining grades

Missing or damaged clothing or belongings

Self-destructive behaviors like running away from home

If you notice any of these or just have a sense something is wrong then talk to your child. However, when you talk to your child reassure them they did nothing wrong, there is nothing wrong with them and you are not upset or disappointed with them. Try to develop a game plan of how you are going to deal with it together and ask how you can be supportive. Also ask your child to promise you if they feel really sad like they want to hurt themselves that they will talk to you before they do anything. You may think this is ridiculous, but I use a no suicide contract with many children that I work with and they honor it. The contract lets them you know that you care about them.

The other thing you can do as a parent is go to your child’s school and ask what is the school’s policy on bullying. You can also ask how the school watches for bullying, how is the policy enforced and what is being done to prevent bullying. You may ask the school to contact or you can volunteer to contact a group such as Challenge Day. This is an international organization that addresses bullying and they are located in Concord. I have seen their work and it is fantastic and kids love it.

Another thing you can do as a parent is start talking to your child about bullying on an occasional basis. This gives you a chance to let them know it’s not their fault and to develop a plan of action if it does occur. You should also discuss drugs and alcohol at the same time. I work with kids all day long and at times I am still shocked at how young kids are when they are starting to get involved with drugs and alcohol.

Keeping an open line of communication with your child is very important if you want them to come to you. Research still indicates that children are more likely to turn to their friends when they have a problem. This is good that they have this emotional support, but their friends don’t have the answers or solutions that they need. Remember it is best to speak to your child when you are in a calm environment and no one else, such as brothers or sisters, are around. Also remember the word HALT. It stands for:

Hungry

Angry

Lonely

Tired

If you sense your child is experiencing any of these feelings it is not a good time to talk. When you talk with your child you want it to be productive and for your child to feel like they are not being judged. Therefore, sometimes it is better to put off a conversation so you don’t end up in an argument. This is more likely to close the line of communication with your child.

I have mentioned several times that being bullied is not their fault. What I have seen from working with children who are bullies, abusive men and reviewing the research is that bullies really have very low self-esteem. In fact many times they lack a sense of themselves. The only way the feel important or alive is by putting someone else down. They do this because they are afraid the other kids might be able to figure out how lousy they feel about themselves. It is often said the best defense is a good offense. They hope that by acting like the big guy on campus that other people will see them as the big guy and they are able to keep their secret. Kids usually do this because it was done to them too.

Therefore, we need to remember the bully is usually a kid who has been abused too and is crying out for help. If we are going to stop the problem of bullying we need programs to help the bullies too. They are only repeating what they have been taught.

One last comment, I saw a school install a “buddy bench.” If anyone had been bullied, having a bad day, feeling lonely, all they had to do was sit on the buddy bench. Another student or teacher would then go over and ask how they could help. There was no shame associated if you sat on the buddy bench. It was presented as a brave choice. The school was using it as part of their program to stop bullying at school. This fantastic idea came from a 10 year old student. Children often have fantastic answers and we need to listen.

Dr. Michael Rubino specializes in working with children and teenagers. He has over 20 years experience working with children and teens especially those who are victims of trauma. For more information about Dr. Rubino’s work or private practice visit his website at http://www.rubinocounseling.com or his Facebook page at Facebook.com/drrubino3.

Helping Special Needs Children Cope with Holiday Stress

Helping Special Needs Children Cope with Holiday Stress

As a psychotherapist who treats children, I work a great deal with children with special needs. Children who have Autism, ADHD, difficulties with being over stimulated by noise, processing difficulties etc. These children can respond differently to Holiday activities. Since the Holidays are just around the corner, we need to consider this fact. In just about two weeks we have Halloween, then Thanksgiving and then Christmas or Hanukkah. Therefore, parents need to be prepared to cope with the Holidays and how their child might respond. I read a blog by Lori Lite which gives good tips for how parents can prepare. I have provided some of her tips below.

Set Up a Safe Brain Break Space: Your child can enjoy downtime when they feel over-stimulated at your house or at your relatives. Set up a brain break space and be sure that the other children and guests know that this space is off-limits. Empower your special needs child to recognize when they need to go to their brain break space. Practice, practice, practice…. ahead of time to recognize when mood is escalating… Did I say practice? Empower children by packing a relaxation bag they can go to if they are feeling anxious. Bring earphones and their special relaxation music or stories. Play dough, stress ball, music, video game, even a camera can help children relax and give them a focus if they have social anxiety.

The Indigo Dreams Series gives you stories that incorporate actual relaxation techniques. The stories and music can be downloaded to an iPod or iPad. The other kids may actually be jealous…give them their own space to de-stress. You may start a new trend!

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 has over 20 years experience working with teenagers and children with special needs. For more information regarding Dr. Rubino’s work or private practice visit his website http://www.RubinoCounseling.com.

What Is The Least Restrictive Environment ?

What Is The Least Restrictive Environment ?

Parents this video explains that least restrictive environment at school refers to the best environment for your child based on their needs. Therefore, some times being placed in a general education classroom may not be the least restrictive. The Court has decided that the lease restrictive environment is the environment where your child will benefit the most from their education. This is an important concept for parents. It is also very important that parents understand this definition when they attend their child’s IEP meeting. I have included a link which defines this term further. IDEA Basics: (LRE) Least Restrictive Environment https://youtu.be/sc5pgXhyLoQ via @YouTube