Sunday, November 30, 2014

Teaching self-advocacy to a child with special needs

Teaching a child with special needs self-advocacy skills can have a tremendous impact on a child’s future success in all aspects of his/her life. Self-advocacy involves knowing when and how to approach others in order to negotiate special accommodations that are needed to achieve maximum success. For a child with autism, this can involve learning how to articulate when a particular situation is overwhelming and asking for help. For example, imagine a student with autism being asked to take an important test in a room illuminated with fluorescent lights. This kind of lighting can be very distracting to a person on the spectrum and might hinder test performance. If an individual knows how to self-advocate, they will know how to appropriately request special accommodations.

Parents should begin teaching self-advocacy at a very early age by taking advantage of real life situations and modeling good advocacy skills. If you see that your child gets very easily over-stimulated by the sights, sounds and smells of large stores like Target, you can teach your child to recognize and articulate those feelings. Even before children learn to speak, parents can begin to teach them to express feelings in an appropriate manner in order to get their needs met. For example, if you see that your child is starting to get uncomfortable (most parents recognize the pre-meltdown signs - it is helpful to become aware of those signals), you can ask your child if he/she is having a difficult time.  Model the words for your child and request that they repeat it back if they can. You can model by saying “Mommy, it’s very loud in this store, I need to go somewhere quieter”. For a young child, this will go a long way in preventing tantrums and meltdowns. As the child gets older, being able to express these needs could mean the difference between success and failure at school, college, in relationships or in the workplace.

When a child with special needs reaches school age, teaching self-advocacy should be continued by the schools. Parents should request that it be part of the IEP as it is a necessary part of the child’s education if they are to become more effective citizens.

As the parent of a hearing impaired child, I witnessed first-hand the outcome when a child is taught to self-advocate at a very young age. At first it may be the role of the specialist to advocate on behalf of the child but as the child gets older, he/she learns to do this in a completely independent manner. Currently in 7thd grade, my daughter has had the benefit of working with deaf and hard-of-hearing (DHH) specialists who have taught her self-advocacy since a young age. Now at the age of 12, she always knows to request to sit at the front of the class and to request that the teacher repeat instructions if she misses something important. When there are spelling tests, she doesn’t hesitate to remind the teacher to face her when reciting the spelling words, or even ask that they be used in a sentence if there is a word she can’t decipher.

Once we were out to brunch with our extended family when my 6-year old niece asked my daughter if she would sit next to her at the table. My daughter said no. At first I thought she was just being difficult and told her to mind her manners. As parents we tend not to give our kids the benefit of the doubt. My daughter quickly put me in my place. She insisted on sitting across from her cousin. After we settled at the table and were all quietly reading the menu, my daughter looked up at her cousin, and without any prompting explained to her that the reason she wanted to sit across from her and not next to her was so that she would be able to see her mouth and therefore understand her better (she relies on lip-reading to an extent and especially in noisy environments). I was amazed by her maturity and ability to be so self-aware. She instinctively recognized that it was going to be difficult to hear her cousin in the noisy environment of a restaurant and that it will be easier to converse if she had the ability to see her face and read her lips from across the table. Even more impressive was the fact that she was completely unapologetic about it, simply stating very matter-of-factly that this was what she needed and why. 

As this example demonstrates, there are important benefits that come with learning about one’s strengths and challenges in order to successfully adjust the environment to accommodate one’s needs and it can be accomplished at a very young age.


Daniel Adatto, BCBA

Friday, November 21, 2014

Another look at stress management

Stresses of everyday life are virtually unavoidable, whether they are job or business worries, family problems, or social stresses. People who feel themselves to be competent are generally able to cope with these stresses and make the proper adjustments, often bringing the problems to satisfactory resolutions. On the other hand, for other people normal stress situations can be overwhelming, not because the challenges are actually so enormous, but because they feel unable to cope with them.

For more information and tips about stress management please see our February 2012 blog

Today I want to give you another perspective on this important topic.
I recently learned that patience is not equivalent to delay of gratification. Delay of gratification involves a choice to wait. Patience does not always involve a choice to wait or not, patience is deciding how to wait. Instead of changing the situation, patient people change themselves to fit the situation.

As I discussed in previous blogs we, behavior analysts, work on changing the situation, not the person. Environmental variables are arranged to prevent the challenging behaviors and trigger the desired ones. So, how does this definition of patience fit here? How does it apply to parenting?
Modern life requires multitasking, which is proven to lead to high stress and frustration levels, involves a dispersion of minds: doing several things at the same time reduces your capacity to focus. Patience here could be focusing on the priority at any given time. Try to stay focused. When you are engaged in something important (taking care of your kids, for example) nothing else exists (i.e. turn your phone off). Anything not pertinent to the matter does not exist right now. If you’re playing with your kids, feeding them or dealing with a tantrum, your kids are the most important thing at the time; that should be your priority.     

Use your time successfully. You can’t add time, but you can make the most of it. 

Here are some tips:
-        Cut the things you can cut. Unclutter your life.
-        Speak about your worries with somebody else, somebody who will listen without judging.
-        Cast it away, forget about it. You worry if you think about it. If you forget, you don’t worry. Distract yourself with something else, it’s not enough to try “not to think about something”, you need to direct your mind to other matters. When you feel overwhelmed, try playing solitaire on your computer, listen to your favorite song, or read a book you like.
-        Learn to prioritize.

Take care of yourself. That’s the first step.

Daniel Adatto, BCBA