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

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.

The Holidays are a Time to Give Back to People

The Holidays are a Time to Give Back to People

This past Tuesday was a Giving Tuesday and there will be more during the Holidays. 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 an organization such as, St. Anthony’s kitchen. This cost nothing and you can give back to your community. This can be a great family activity during the Holidays. The Holidays are a time to acknowledge everyone and that every person is important. They also are a time to share love and kindness with our community members. Sharing this experience with your family can be a very positive experience for you and your family. It can be a very special way to spend the Holidays. You are also teaching your children to treat every human dignity regardless of how much money they have or where they live.

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. Yes there are children who sleep on the streets in the United States and there parents have full time jobs. However, their jobs do not pay enough to cover all of their family expenses and the parents are often lucky to have the these jobs. 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.

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 way rather 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.

Teenagers Abusing ADHD Medication

Teenagers Abusing ADHD Medication

As a psychotherapist, who specializes in treating teenagers, I often hear parents concerns about their teenager using marijuana or alcohol. Besides the concern that their teenager may be using there is also the concern about their teenager becoming addicted to alcohol or marijuana. In addition to marijuana and alcohol, parents are concerned about their teenagers using other drugs such as, methamphetamine or heroin. While there is an epidemic of methamphetamine, heroin and opioid addiction in our Country, there is another drug parents need to be concerned about.

Methamphetamine is a very popular drugs with teens because it is easy to get and there are a number of ways to use it. Also many teenagers like the effect that they receive from methamphetamines. They get an adrenal rush and can stay up for days at times. Therefore, it makes it easier for them to get all their work done and study for tests. Many teenagers are involved with numerous school activities, trying to maintain a good grade point average and want to spend time with their friends. They often find out that they don’t have enough energy to keep up with their schedule. The boost they receive from the methamphetamine helps them keep up their schedule and to complete all their school assignments. However, buying methamphetamines can be a dangerous thing to do and if they are caught with methamphetamines, they are in a lot of trouble.

Many teenagers do not want to run the risk of being caught with or buying methamphetamines. Therefore, teenagers have found away around the risk, medications for Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). Most medications for ADHD such as Ritalin or Concerta are stimulant based. In other words, they contain a form of methamphetamine. Therefore, if a high school student who does not have ADHD takes Concerta, they experience the same effect as if they took methamphetamine such as cocaine. They get a burst of energy and can stay up all night so they can finish their work.

During mid terms and finals (which are occurring now), I hear many teenagers talk about taking Concerta or other ADHD drugs so they have the energy to study and complete all their assignments while still spending time with friends. Some teenagers will complain to their parents they have noticed they have problem paying attention in class and concentrating on their homework. They hope their parents will think maybe they may have ADHD and need medication. If they are successful, their parents will take them to the physician so they can get a prescription for ADHD medication. On the other hand, teenagers who are suppose to be taking medication for ADHD often sell their medication. They can sell it very easily to friends at school and they can make good money too. Many of these teenagers feel they don’t need their medication so they are happy to sell it.

The buying and selling of ADHD medications on high school campuses is a daily occurrence. Most research studies indicate it starts in 8th grade and continues in high school. Many teenagers rely on ADHD medications to help them when they feel they are falling behind in school. Many teenagers see no problem using the ADHD medications because they were prescribed by a doctor. However, they were not prescribed to them. Therefore, the dosage they are taking may be too much for their body. If this is the case, one negative side effect is a very rapid heart rate which can damage the heart muscle. Also I have seen teenagers combine these medications with energy drinks which have very large amounts of caffeine. I have had teenagers report they felt like their heart was going to come out of the chest because it was beating so fast. In addition, they also report not being able to sleep for days because they are “wired”.

This is a major danger when teenagers use ADHD medications to stay awake. They can become wired the same way as if they used cocaine or smoked methamphetamines. Also taking these ADHD medications opens the door to teenagers experimenting with such drugs as cocaine. They like the effect of the ADHD medication and wonder how other drugs may feel or they may not be able to get their ADHD medication any longer so they start experimenting. In fact, research indicates that teenagers who abuse ADHD medication are more likely to use methamphetamines or heroin.

In addition to opening the door to other drugs, they are risking their health and life. If they heart rate is racing and their blood pressure is rising they can induce a heart attack. Also parents may notice there is something wrong, but if they do not know their teenager has been taking ADHD medication, there is no way for a parent to tell a physician. Therefore, the teenager may not get the medical help they need in time. In addition to the physical symptoms, using too much methamphetamine can cause psychotic symptoms and the teenager may need to be hospitalized. The bottom line is just because the ADHD medication came from a pharmacy does not make it safe for everyone. I have included a link for parents which discusses the dangers and symptoms that parents need to be aware of regarding teenagers abusing ADHD medications https://drugabuse.com/library/adderall-abuse/#effects-of-adderall-abuse.

Hopefully, parents can take this information and discuss the situation with their teenagers. Encourage them that if they are feeling overwhelmed by school and life to talk to you not to turn to a drug. A drug will never solve the problem and more likely create more problems. Also let your teenager know all you expect is the best they can do naturally. You do not expect perfection.

Dr. Michael Rubino is a psychotherapist with over 20 years experience treating teenagers and children. He is a founding member of the National Advisory board for the Alive and Free program. For more information regarding Dr. Rubino’s work or private practice visit his website http://www.RubinoCounseling.com or his Facebook page http://www.Facebook.com/drrubino3.