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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Screen Time Creates Mental Health Issues

Screen Time Creates Mental Health Issues

Research continues to show that the more time teenagers spend on line the more mental health issues they have such as depression & poor social skills. Screentime and Arrested Social Development | Psychology Today https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/mental-wealth/201606/screentime-and-arrested-social-development

Dealing with Grief During the Holidays

Dealing with Grief During the Holidays

The Holidays are typically a happy time for many people. However, for others it can be a very difficult time. If you lost someone close during the year, the first Holiday season can be very difficult. Also maybe the death occurred last year, you can still be grieving the loss of your loved one. Our society doesn’t really acknowledge grief and that makes it very difficult on the person who is grieving.

Part of the grieving process is learning how to continue your life without your loved one. This can be a difficult process especially depending on how the death occurred and if you had a chance to say good bye. Regardless of if it was sudden or expected there is a grieving process people undergo. There are stage theories about grief, but I encourage people not to worry about those theories, grief is an individual process and you need to allow yourself to experience it the way you need to.

In terms of the feeling of grief, the best way I have heard it explained is think about it as an ocean wave. You never know when the wave will come in or when it will go out so you just have to experience as it happens. However, you know the wave will eventually go out so you do your best to deal with it until it goes back out. However, it’s important to remember it will be back again until you are finished grieving.

During the Holidays you need to take care of yourself and ask others to understand and be supportive. Maybe you cannot do what you have always done during the Holidays. Maybe this year you need to do something totally different such as go on a trip. Maybe you need to allow yourself some quiet time so you can remember your loved one in the way which feels appropriate to you. The important thing is to do what you feel is appropriate for you.

It’s also important to remember that you need to be flexible. You may have a plan for the Holidays which sounds like it will work and at the last minute you discover it won’t work and you need to change it. If that is the situation, then change your plans at the last minute. You need to do what you need to in order to get through the Holiday.

When developing a plan include the immediate family because everyone is grieving and you can support each other. If there are children involved, pay close attention to the children. They may have difficulty expressing their thoughts and feelings and may be very confused.

Also remember there is no timeline on grief. So it may take you a year to process your grief, while it may take someone else two or three years. The main point is do not impose a time frame on yourself or anyone else. If you notice grief is paralyzing you or a family member, you may want to suggest therapy so they can get the additional support they need. Again grief is a very individual process so some people may need psychotherapy and others may not.

The main point is to remember this Holiday will be very different and not to put a lot of expectations on yourself. Do what you can and if you cannot do something do not force yourself. Do not be embarrassed to ask others for emotional support or to cry. Cry as much as you need to. The bottom line is this Holiday is going to be different and you may not be happy and filled with joy. If that is the case, you are not doing anything wrong. You are simply experiencing your grief and it is important to allow yourself to grieve.

On last point, some people find volunteering at a homeless shelter or food bank to be helpful. Helping others and helping others to live without having to struggle can help with some of the helplessness you may be experiencing. Again, do what you and your family need to in order to make it through the Holiday. Do not worry how others may possibly be judging if they are judging you. They are not dealing with the grief, you and your family are dealing with the grief.

I have also included a link to a website that provides additional information about grieving during the Holidays. Having a list to refer back to can be helpful. Please take care of yourself and family during this emotional time. Coping with grief and loss during the holidays – https://go.shr.lc/2AoQ1yR via @Shareaholic.

Dr. Michael Rubino is a psychotherapist with over 20 years experience treating children and teenagers and working with people who are grieving. 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.

Expressing Empathy and Compassion for Others during the Holidays

Expressing Empathy and Compassion for Others during the Holidays

Today is Giving Tuesday. It is a day to help us remember that many of us are very fortunate and that there are other people who are not as fortunate as we are. This day also points out how many people assume that in order to enjoy the Holidays that you must go into debt. However, it is not necessary to go into debt if you want to enjoy the Holidays. How much money you spend does not equal how much you care about someone. In my opinion, the Holidays are about spending time with people in your life that you care about and are important to your life. It is a time to acknowledge these people and to thank them for being in your life.

Therefore, one thing you can do is to take advantage of the Holiday activities happening in your cities. Most of these activities are free and offer a great opportunity to spend quality time with family and friends. Most cities websites post the Holiday activities planed for that city. You can also check your local patch.com for Holiday activities occurring in your area.

Another place to check is your church if you belong to one. Many churches offer free Holiday activities to their members and to those who do not belong to their church. For example, during Hanukkah in Broadway Plaza in downtown Walnut Creek, each night they have singing, games for the children and food. This is all free and can be a very festive and fun time even if you are not Jewish.

Another thing to do is not place so much emphasis on gifts. Maybe set a limit on what people can spend or draw names out of a hat and you only buy for one person. You can also make gifts or give someone a card telling them what they mean to you and how they add to your life. This does not cost a great deal of money.

Finally, another thing you can do is to volunteer at the food bank or St. Anthony’s kitchen. This cost nothing and you can give back to your community. This is what the Holidays are about and can be a very positive experience for you and your family. It can be a very special way to spend the Holidays.

Gratitude is a very important lesson to teach children. By not emphasizing gifts you can teach them to be grateful for what and who they have in lives. There are many children in the United States who are homeless or do not have enough to eat. In our family we take each child to a store so they can pick out a gift for a child who will not be receiving gifts this Holiday Season. This helps to educate them how fortunate they are and to have empathy and compassion for others. This is the spirit of the Holidays. Hopefully they remember this lesson all year and treat other’s in need with empathy and compassion.

This Holiday season is one where we really do need to have empathy and compassion for others. With the fires in California and hurricanes in other parts of the country, many people have lost everything. They have lost their homes, all their possessions, possibly their jobs and some of their family members may have been killed. These people need our support. They do not need pity, but they do need empathy and compassion from other people to help them through this difficult time. Again this is the meaning of the Holidays, helping our neighbors and those in need and feeling grateful for what and who we have in our lives.

These are just a few suggestions for how you can celebrate the Holidays without going into debt. These are also some ways of celebrating the Holidays in a more meaningful manner than spending a great deal of money and creating a great of stress for yourself and your family.

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

Political Issues that Prevent Suicidal Teenagers from being Treated

Political Issues that Prevent Suicidal Teenagers from being Treated

Suicide is at an epidemic rate in the United States. According to the CDC it is the third leading cause of death for children between the ages of 10 to 18 years old. Using a gun in the third most common method of suicide in the United States. For boys it is the most common way to attempt suicide (CDC). For many people this may not be surprising. However, it is time that we seriously try to prevent children from attempting suicide and eliminate this epidemic.

The problem with eliminating this epidemic is the access to mental health care and the stigma society places on mental health care. As a psychotherapist who treats suicidal teenagers, I have run into numerous difficulties with insurance companies when I have a suicidal teenager or child. Many insurance companies will only allow the child to be seen once a week. If the child is acutely suicidal, they usually need to be seen twice a week. Many parents can barely afford their copayments and cannot pay for an additional session on their own. This places a great deal of stress on the parents and places the child in danger.

Some people will say the teen should then be hospitalized. This is not an easy answer either. There are not many pediatric or adolescent inpatient psychiatric units in our area. I have had numerous situations where a child or teen may spend over 48 hours in an emergency room because there are no inpatient beds at any of the psychiatric units. In fact, one Thanksgiving I had a mother page me and I had never seen her son before. He was suicidal, but the hospital said they had no beds and gave her my number to call and told her she had to leave the hospital.

If a teenager is hospitalized, often they are only allowed to stay 72 hours and then discharged home. They have to be discharged because the insurance will not authorize more time. It doesn’t matter what the psychiatrist on the inpatient unit recommends. The insurance makes their own decision based on the treatment guidelines. Again this places the child in danger and creates a great deal of stress on the family. Often parents give up and accept the insurance companies decisions. It is too much dealing with a child who wants to die and getting the run around by your health insurance that you have been paying high premiums to for years. Additionally, many times the child or teen is discharged back into my care but I am never notified by the insurance company or hospital and the insurance company does not want my opinion, but they discharge the teen to me for psychotherapy treatment and to monitor.

In addition to the access to mental health care there is the negative stigma associated with it. Many parents wait a few weeks before bringing their teenager to be assessed for suicidal thoughts. They do not wait because they are bad parents, they wait due to the shame. If there child is diagnosed as depressed they are afraid about how people will react to their child and them. In fact, if a child is out of school due to being hospitalized for being suicidal, we instruct the school administrators to tell the staff the teen was out due to appendicitis or a death in the family. They are afraid if teachers or students find out the teen was suicidal that people will think the teen is crazy and not want to associate with the teenager. This may sound bizarre, but it’s true. Most patients schedule their psychotherapy appointments at times when no one will notice they are gone and try to come into the office without anyone seeing them. Our society has a very strong negative stigma about mental health. Many people with mental health issues have difficulty making friends, finding jobs or just being treated as a normal person, if others know they have mental health issues. This stigma is causing many people not to seek help. As a result, many teens due commit suicide because they kept their feelings a secret. They did not want to be labeled a “freak.” However, this stigma is ruining the lives of many children and teenagers and destroying numerous families.

Mental health care is no different from physical health care. No one is ashamed of being diabetic so why should a teen have to be ashamed of having depression? We must demand that insurance companies treat physical and mental health care the same. Additionally, our society needs to treat them the same and not be afraid of someone who is depressed or embarrassed if you are diagnosed with depression.

Finally, the last issue I want to address is the method many teenagers use. Many teenage boys use guns because they believe no one can stop them and it is guaranteed to work. However, this is a myth. Guns have a strong kick to them when fired and often move slightly. Many teenage boys try to commit suicide with a gun and instead of committing suicide, they shot their face off. Instead of dying they end up in ICU in worse condition having to undergo numerous surgeries and being scared for life. This is one reason why we need sane gun laws. We have laws about how old you have to be to drive or smoke. We also have laws mandating that we must where seat belts. We have these laws because research has shown they make us safer. These laws have not restricted our freedom so sane gun laws will not restrain our freedom.

The ABC News show 20/20 did a story about a young man who was depressed and finally attempted suicide with a gun. It goes into all the difficulties he faced when the gun moved. He was fortunate because he was eligible for one of the first face transplants. However, this story shows the destruction that occurs when they use a gun as their method of suicide and it fails. Please watch and see what this young man and his family must undergo. While watching the after effects of this failed suicide attempt, think about how senseless it is the millions of teens and families undergo this situation when it could have been prevented if they were not ashamed and had easy access to mental health care. Please watch this show, 26-year-old’s incredible face transplant journey: ‘I see me’ – ABC News – https://abcn.ws/2OLXuL5 via @ABC.

Dr. Michael Rubino is a psychotherapist with over 20 years experience treating teenagers and children. He is an expert at treating suicidal children and teenagers. For more information about his work or private practice or if there is an issue you would like him to address visit his website http://www.RubinoCounseling.com or his Facebook page http://www.Facebook.com/drrubino3.