Posts Tagged ‘stress’

Back to school is hard on kids and PARENTS!

Wednesday, September 3rd, 2014

back to schoolIt is back-to-school time… for parents. Yes, I know your kids are the ones who go to school, but going back to school is a feat for parents, too.

First, you need to buy all the school supplies (if you have not misplaced the list), including the all too important backpack. Then, there are the school clothes, shoes, sneakers, boots, and sports equipment. If your child has special needs, you may have even more items to buy. Depending on the age of your child, there may be lockers to decorate and books to purchase. Shopping and gathering all these items is time consuming and expensive. The entire process can be exhausting and stressful. It is so important to try not to let all of these tasks get the better of you, and to keep the focus on your child in a positive way. If you are stressed out, your child will be, too.

Before your child starts school, there are fears of the unknown. The anxiety may keep your little one up at night. Then, once your child starts school, there is the huge adjustment that comes with getting used to a new teacher, new faces in the classroom and a new routine. Little things as simple as a different kind of chair, lights, sounds and smells may bother your child and cause upset. Getting yanked into a whole new environment can be incredibly unnerving to any child, but it is especially difficult for a child with special needs.

Adding to the overall stress of returning to school, is the challenge of figuring out what actually happens during the school day. One of my kids had a teacher who told parents “I will only believe half of what your child tells me about you, if you believe half of what your child tells you about school.” At first I found it somewhat alarming, but then I realized it reminded me of the game of telephone. The more a message gets passed on, the more the message changes.

As your child becomes acquainted with the new school routine, he may come home and tell you information that is slightly incorrect. Or, he may tell you absolutely nothing. (Often, just getting through a school day from beginning to end is a monumental feat for a child with special needs, and once home, the last thing he wants to do is talk about his day. Rather, quiet time is the preferred escape.) If you need to know specific information, consider emailing the teacher or the Class Parent because your child may be too overwhelmed to tell you the information you seek. And, if he does talk about his day, you may not get all the facts you need to answer your question.

If you think that you are the only parent who finds back-to-school tasks stressful and overwhelming at times, you are not alone. But, the important thing to remember is that as stressed as you are, your child is much more stressed. Try to keep a cheerful perspective and know that in time your child will adjust to the new routine, and so will you. With a little luck, you may both grow to love this new year, too.

Note:  This post is part of the weekly series Delays and disabilities – how to get help for your child. It was started in January 2013 and appears every Wednesday. Go to News Moms Need and click on “Help for your child” on the menu on the right side to view all of the blog posts to date. As always, we welcome your comments and input.

Have questions? Send them to AskUs@marchofdimes.org.

Accommodations help vacationers with special needs

Wednesday, August 27th, 2014

mom and daughter in poolGetting a change of scene, even for a day, is GOOD for you and your child with special needs. And now, it is getting easier to do.

I have blogged about the importance of taking time for yourself, and have posted tips on traveling with a child with special needs. But, often parents of kids with special needs don’t go on vacation as a family because they feel that their child’s special needs may not be met at hotels, restaurants or in theme parks. But, the chronic stress associated with your daily life can catch up with you; it is not good physically, emotionally or mentally for you to never re-new your energy. Here is some good news if you are thinking of spending a day at a theme park or going away for the Labor Day weekend.

My two grown kids and I just got back from a vacation where we visited several theme parks. We had a fabulous time going on rides, swimming at the hotel pool, and just spending time together. The breaks from our usual routines were much needed, and we all returned home with renewed energy and enthusiasm.

At the various theme parks we visited, I was heartened to see accommodations for individuals with special needs. “Family Restrooms” are common, where you can take your child into a restroom in privacy, comfort and safety. Ramps or special entrances enable buildings with attractions to be wheelchair-accessible. Amphitheaters are outfitted with numerous seating sections for groups that have a family member in a wheelchair. Sign language interpreters accompany certain shows, and braille can be found on park maps. Many theme parks have staff especially devoted to making sure that guests with disabilities or special needs are accommodated and welcomed. Often sports stadiums or ball parks have days especially dedicated to individuals with disabilities.

At many of the restaurants we went to, gluten free menus were prominently displayed. At our hotel, we observed accommodations for guests with disabilities:  the outdoor hot tub had a chair lift to assist individuals who cannot go down steps, and special room accommodations were available for hearing impaired guests.

Often you can find theaters that offer “sensory friendly” movies or performances, where the lights are dimmed but are not fully off, the sound or music is lowered, and families can bring their own snacks. Children are not discouraged from getting out of their seats to dance or wiggle around on the floor.

Although the American with Disabilities Act (ADA) has been the driving force behind many of the physical changes in public places, organizations or businesses often go above and beyond the requirements of the ADA to make sure their guests are able to take full advantage of their offerings. The inclusive, welcoming attitude of these organizations is apparent and makes it easier and more enjoyable for you to spend a fun day with your entire family.

Bottom line

If you are heading out of town for the weekend, thinking of going to a theme park or sports stadium for the day, or simply wish to go to a restaurant to eat, check out the website of the venue or call them to see the kind of accommodations they offer.  The information is usually listed under Guest Services, Accessibility Guide, Access Guide, Disability Services, or a similar title. With so many recent positive changes, there are fewer reasons to stay home and not take full advantage of a wonderful family outing.

Note: This post is part of the weekly series Delays and disabilities – how to get help for your child. It was started in January 2013 and appears every Wednesday. Go to News Moms Need and click on “Help for your child” on the menu on the right side to view all of the blog posts to date. As always, we welcome your comments and input.

Have questions? Send them to AskUs@marchofdimes.org.

Laughter helps your body, mind and mood

Wednesday, August 6th, 2014

woman laughing“I love to laugh.” That is a famous line in the movie Mary Poppins.  It is sung by the character Uncle Albert, who is floating on the ceiling due to his incessant laughing. The very image of the scene makes me laugh. Over the years, there have been some studies that show laughter is good for you. The more you laugh, the happier you may be – just like the song says.

Here are some of the lyrics:

I love to laugh
Loud and long and clear
I love to laugh
It’s getting worse every year

The more I laugh, the more I fill with glee
And the more the glee
The more I’m a merrier me
The more I’m a merrier me

(Songwriters Richard Sherman; Robert Sherman, Published by Wonderland Music Company, Inc.)

How does laughter help?

In my post last week, I mentioned how moms of kids with special needs need special care. The chronic stress and pressure associated with caring for a child with multiple needs can take an enormous emotional, physical and mental toll. Taking frequent breaks or respites, keeping up with hobbies, exercise and friendships can help to restore balance in your world. And, frequent laughter is being shown to have many benefits, too.

Laughter can lift your mood. It can lower the stress hormone cortisol and release endorphins and dopamine (which make you feel happy). It can ease tension in your muscles. Laughter can increase blood flow which helps with cardiovascular health, and lower your blood pressure. It may even help improve short term memory. That’s a lot of health benefits from a fit of laughter.

How much is enough?

It appears from the research that just 20 – 30 minutes of viewing a funny video or TV show can have a positive effect on your body and mind. There is no known downside to laughing – no contraindications. It is easy to laugh and can make you feel better instantly. It is an inexpensive, fun way to lift your spirits.  And, science is showing that it has real physiological benefits.

So, why not give it a try today – click on a favorite video or TV show for a while, fill with glee, and become a merrier you!

Note:  This post is part of the weekly series Delays and disabilities – how to get help for your child. It was started in January 2013 and appears every Wednesday. While on News Moms Need and click on “Help for your child” in the Categories menu on the right side to view all of the blog posts to date (just keep scrolling down). We welcome your comments and input.

Special moms need special care

Wednesday, July 23rd, 2014

two women meditatingA new study published in Pediatrics shows that groups led by other moms reduced stress in mothers of children with disabilities. It helped to improve “maternal well-being and long-term caregiving for children with complex developmental, physical, and behavioral needs.” These support groups were uniquely focused on learning specialized techniques to reduce stress.

Mothers of children with developmental disabilities experience stress, anxiety and depression more often and to a greater degree than mothers who parent children without disabilities. It is thought that the chronic stress and the associated poor health that often result may impact a mom’s ability to parent effectively.

This study looked at what would happen if a program were put in place specifically for moms of children with disabilities (or what I will call “Special Moms”).  Researchers randomly assigned 243 Special Moms into two groups to attend a program led by peer mentors (eg. other Special Moms who received training to lead the groups).

One group learned Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) techniques while the other group learned Positive Adult Development (PAD) techniques. MBSR and PAD are evidence-based practices, which mean that they have been shown, through research, to be beneficial.

The MBSR group learned meditation, breathing and movement techniques and the relaxation response. The PAD group learned ways to “temper emotions such as guilt, conflict, worry and pessimism by identifying and recruiting character strengths and virtues…and by exercises involving gratitude, forgiveness, grace and optimism.” All the moms attended weekly group sessions and practiced what they learned at home on a daily basis.

What were the results?

According to the study, the moms in both groups experienced less stress, anxiety and depression, and improved sleep and life satisfaction.  After 6 months, these improvements continued. There were some differences between the two groups that related to whether they received the MBSR or PAD practice, but the important take-away from this study is that both treatments proved beneficial to the moms.

There are programs in place to help children with disabilities, but few programs exist to help their parents, especially when the stress causes mental, emotional and physical fatigue. Moms often become anxious or depressed, which does not help them as they face the intense daily challenges of parenting a child with a disability. This study shows the positive effect of proven stress reduction techniques when taught in a peer-mentored program.

The authors conclude that “future studies should be done on how trained mentors and professionals can address the mental health needs of mothers of children with developmental disabilities since doing so can improve maternal well-being and long-term caregiving for children with complex needs.”

Bottom line

If you are a Special Mom, your personal take-away message from this study is to try to include a stress reduction program into your daily life, such as meditation, yoga, or another relaxation technique. If you can do so with a group of other Special Moms, all the better!

Note:  This post is part of the weekly series Delays and disabilities – how to get help for your child. It was started in January 2013 and appears every Wednesday. While on News Moms Need and click on “Help for your child” in the Categories menu on the right side to view all of the blog posts to date (just keep scrolling down). We welcome your comments and input.

One year anniversary of this series!

Wednesday, January 15th, 2014

one-year-oldIt is hard to believe that a year has gone by since the Delays and Disabilities – How to get help for your child blog series began. Due to the response of readers on News Moms Need as well as Facebook and Share Your Story, this series has evolved into a weekly column where parents of children with special needs can find critical info and tips. Topics have ranged from how to get early intervention or special education services, to discussions of pediatric medical specialties, to how you and your child can survive and thrive in a variety of settings.

If you are new to the series, or just wish to read posts that you may have missed, here is a table of contents that recaps the past year’s blog posts.

Table of Contents

Why this series?

A new blog series is here

How to get Early Intervention and Special Education services

Understanding developmental milestones and delays
How does your state define “developmental delay?”
Getting early intervention services for babies and toddlers
What is an IFSP?
Turning 3 – the leap from early intervention to special ed
Getting services for children ages 3+ (special education)
What is an IEP?
IEPs and LREs- the nitty gritty
IEP or 504 – that is the question
April is IEP month – how to develop a good IEP
Who qualifies for summer programs or extended school year services (ESY)?

Delays, disabilities and the law – what you need to know

Delays, disabilities and the law
Learning the lingo (common terms and phrases)
Words and terms – a whole new world – list of acronyms
Changing a program for a child with special needs
Keeping track of your child’s records
What is “peer-reviewed” research and is it important to your child?
What is Prior Written Notice or “PWN”? How can it help your child?

Surviving and thriving – Your child with special needs, your other children, and you

Flu can be serious for children with special needs
An easy way to find resources for kids with special needs
Preparing for disasters when you have a child with special needs
Caring for the caretaker – put on your oxygen mask
Do siblings of children with disabilities need help?
Caring for the siblings of a child with special needs
Vacationing with your child with special needs
Re-entry: life after vacation
A transition tip (help for kids who have trouble with change)
Summer to September – tips to survive the transition
Bracing for the holidays – survival and enjoyment tips
Shopping for toys for kids with special needs
Sensory friendly malls
Let it go! Let it go! Let it go!
Adjusting to life after the holidays
Can sleep affect your child with special needs…or you?

Pediatric medical specialties

What are pediatric specialties?
Finding pediatric specialists
What is a developmental behavioral pediatrician?
What is a pediatric neurologist?
What is a child psychologist?

Different kinds of therapies

What are related services? (includes different therapies)
What is speech therapy?
What is physical therapy or PT?
What is occupational therapy or OT?
What are recreation services?
What are hippotherapy and therapeutic riding (THR)?

Understanding the diagnosis

Did you hear me? The child with an auditory processing disorder

What’s happening in the rest of the world?

International focus on kids with disabilities

What’s on your mind?

Please feel free to drop us a line (AskUs@marchofdimes.org) and tell us what you would like to see in this series. I would like to write about topics that are of concern or interest to you.

Note: This post is part of the weekly series Delays and disabilities – how to get help for your child. It was started in January 2013 and appears every Wednesday. Go to News Moms Need and click on “Help for your child” under Categories on the right side, to view all of the blog posts to date. Just keep scrolling down to see the entire archived list.

Have questions? Send them to AskUs@marchofdimes.org.

Let it go! Let it go! Let it go!

Wednesday, December 18th, 2013

snow-scene

Oh the weather outside is frightful
But your child is so delightful
Holiday prep is going slow
Let it go, let it go, let it go!

It doesn’t show signs of stopping
Holiday chores keep you a hopping
Your tasks seem to overflow
Let it go, let it go let it go!

Focus on keeping it light
Not on taking your shopping by storm
And by holding your baby tight
All of the time you’ll be warm.

The season is all upon us
Try not to make a big fuss
Your baby brings joy and so,
Let it go, let it go, let it go!*

For children with special needs, holidays can be an especially stressful time. The “less is more” motto is helpful to so many families with children who have difficulty with transitions, new situations, places and activities, and even just wearing new clothes. If you simplify your activities, you may find that the season is much more enjoyable for everyone.

As this holiday season gets into full swing, it is important to keep your perspective. Try to limit the items on your to-do list. Better yet, do less than usual. See my post on Bracing for the holidays for practical tips on how to get through the holidays. And, when in doubt, let it go, let it go, let it go!

(*Loosely based on Let it Snow! Let it Snow! Let it Snow! by lyricist Sammy Cahn, and composer Jule Styne, 1945.)

Note: This post is part of the weekly series Delays and disabilities – how to get help for your child. It was started in January 2013 and appears every Wednesday. While in News Moms Need, click on “Help for your child” on the Categories menu on the right side to view all of the blog posts to date. As always, we welcome your comments and input. Send questions or comments to AskUs@marchofdimes.org.

Shopping for toys for kids with special needs

Wednesday, November 20th, 2013

giftsWith the holiday season fast approaching, shopping for gifts for kids is upon us. When you have a child with special needs, relatives and friends may not know the kind of gift they should get for him. The toys that a typically developing child would be able to handle or enjoy may not be the same for a developmentally challenged child. Yet, kids with challenges enjoy playing with toys just as much as their typically developing peers.  What can you do?

Toys for developmentally delayed children

There are companies that offer product lines that cater specifically to kids with special needs.  Toys may not be labeled with age ranges because a child with delays may enjoy a toy that is originally targeted for a younger child. If a company does label toys with age ranges, pick out a toy with an age range that corresponds to your child’s developmental age or adjusted age (if he is a preemie), not his chronological age. You have to remember that you need to look at your child as he is right now, and pick out a toy that suits his particular interests and abilities at this point in time. You don’t want your child feeling frustrated by not being able to play with a toy. Toys are meant to bring happiness, not frustration.

Companies may group toys by categories, such as toys that provide sensory stimulation, or those that are geared for kids with fine or gross motor issues, speech delays, etc.  With a little online searching, you are bound to come up with lots of appropriate choices for your little one.

Shopping for the holidays…NOT!

Tis the season for shopping, but taking your child to the mall or busy stores may prove to be more tension building than it is worth. This is the time when catalogs and online shopping can be a lifesaver. When your tot is napping, with Daddy, or after he has gone to sleep, whip out the laptop or catalogs and let your fingers do the shopping.  You can shop from the comfort of your home with your fuzzy slippers on.  If you shop early enough, many companies offer free shipping. Sparing your child the intensity of hours at the mall could be the best gift you give to him AND to you!

Of course, there will be times when you want to take him to the mall, for holiday photos or just to witness the festivities. But, try to keep the visits short, so that your child does not get overloaded. You know your child best – you know the warning signs of when a fuse is about to blow. Heed the warnings early on, so that your fun does not end up becoming a fiasco.

Keep it to a low roar

The holidays are a time when a child can easily feel overwhelmed. Too many new toys and new items at one time can put your little one on stimulation overload. Even just the noise and activity of wrapping paper being ripped off and strewn about can create tension. Try to keep the excitement to a low roar so that your little one can absorb and enjoy the festivities without unnecessary stress.

Bottom line

With a little planning and extra vigilance, you can not only get through the holidays – you and your child can enjoy them!

Note:  This post is part of the weekly series Delays and disabilities – how to get help for your child. It was started in January and appears every Wednesday. Archived blog posts can be found on News Moms Need under “Help for your child.” As always, we welcome your comments and input.

Have questions?  Send them to AskUs@marchofdimes.org.

Bracing for the holidays

Wednesday, November 13th, 2013

holiday-tableIf you have a child with special needs, chances are you may find holidays especially stressful. Any difference in routine may make your child anxious and his behaviors may change dramatically. Many kids with special needs seem to be extra in-tune with change. Entertaining extended family, driving to/from relatives’ homes or visiting friends can strike terror in a parent’s heart. Once you remove your little one from his routine and the “sameness” of his world, who knows what will happen!

What can you do? Here are some tips:

Simplify, simplify, simplify.

• Limit holiday dinners – either stay at home and keep guests to a minimum, or travel only short distances to see familiar friends and relatives.
• Keep dinners short and get home before crankiness sets in.
• If you are doing the cooking, limit the amount you do. Two side dishes are just as delicious as five. Ask guests to bring a dish all ready to serve. Supplement your sides or desserts with store or bakery bought items.
• Keep noise to a minimum (music, loud TV) as many kids find the auditory stimulation painful or anxiety provoking.

Know your child.

• Know your child’s limits – if he can only sit at the table for 10 minutes at a time before needing to get up, only have dinner with friends/family who understand his needs.
• Provide ample quiet time for your child to re-charge his batteries. He may need more quiet time than usual to process all the stimulation and confusion around him.

Sameness helps…a lot.

• Try to keep bedtime routines and lights-out time the same every night.
• Holidays are not the time to start new routines. Stick to what your little one knows.
• Often wearing a new outfit will produce a negative reaction in a child. If you want your child to wear a new outfit for a holiday dinner, let him see and even wear the outfit at least one time before the dinner, so that he can get used to it.

Reward, reward, reward.

• Reward positive behaviors. This is the time to heap praise on your little one for all the things he gets right. Change is hard for him, so let him know you recognize and appreciate it when he does well.

Rest up

• Expect that things will be bumpy, and be sure you are well rested to handle the bumps. Your little one will pick up on your anxiety and stress. And you will be more stressed-out if you don’t get enough sleep. So, let getting enough sleep be a priority for you.

Bottom line

Remember – less is more. The goal of a holiday dinner is to enjoy time with family and friends. If you keep things simple, you will find that you will enjoy it more, and your child may enjoy it too! The key is for everyone to be as relaxed as possible. Try to keep your perspective and don’t sweat the small stuff.

Note: This post is part of the weekly series Delays and disabilities – how to get help for your child. It was started in January 2013 and appears every Wednesday. Go to News Moms Need and click on “Help for your child” on the menu on the right side to view all of the blog posts to date. As always, we welcome your comments and input.

Have questions? Send them to AskUs@marchofdimes.org.

Do siblings of children with disabilities need help?

Wednesday, August 14th, 2013

unhappy-little-boyBrothers and sisters of a child with special needs are often negatively affected according to a July 2013 study in Pediatrics.

If you have a child with special needs, you know all too well the enormous time, energy and resources you expend to take care of her. You do it lovingly and willingly, and often to the exclusion of everything else. But what happens when you have more than one child? As much as you try to divide yourself among all of your children, it may be impossible to give attention to your other children when your child with a disability is in need of support or attention at that same moment. You can’t read a bedtime story to Johnny if Susie needs her therapy. It would be like going out for coffee instead of putting out a fire. It just doesn’t work. You try to divide yourself as equally as possible, but the responsibilities of caring for a child with a disability often make it impossible to be equitable. But, will there be long term effects on the “typical” siblings?

The results of this study

Although there have been other studies that have looked at the effects on brothers and sisters, this study was much larger. More importantly, it looked at families with children who live with a sibling with a disability and compared them to families with children who live with siblings who are typically developing.

This study examined how the parents’ care of a child with special needs impacts the other children in the family. The study found that children who have a sibling with a disability are more likely to experience difficulty functioning at school, in sports or activities, and with friends. They tended to get sick more frequently and experience more relationship problems, especially with their mother. They also experienced more psychological or emotional difficulties than children who did not have a sibling with a disability. But, children who had another typically developing sibling (in addition to a disabled sibling) tended to do better than a child with only one sibling who is disabled.

I don’t find these results surprising, do you? When you parent a child with special needs, your world centers around your child with a disability – it is only natural. Often, this is such a time-consuming task that your other children may feel that they do not get enough time to bond with Mom or Dad. You do your best, but your typically developing children definitely get a different kind of upbringing. The study authors commented “It is not that parents overlook their other children who are typically developing. Parents worry that they can’t provide enough for all their children.” Sound familiar?

This study emphasized the financial, physical and emotional toll of caring for a child with a disability. All of these stressors can lead to not noticing or having the time to deal with early signs of trouble in your “typical” children. If left untreated, these problems can lead to mental illness (such as depression and anxiety) and behavioral problems that negatively impact a child’s life. (Not to mention that all of this stress can affect you and your spouse or partner, too!) But don’t beat yourselves up parents – you are not super-human. Instead, let’s look at possible solutions.

So, what is the upshot?

First of all, not all siblings wind up having problems. But if they do, the study authors suggest “a family-based health care approach for all family members.”  Interventions aimed at helping parents learn better ways of juggling and managing stress, as well as providing strategies to help the brothers and sisters cope, can be very helpful.

• Check to see if your town has any support groups for parents of children with special needs. You may learn time management skills and other tips to help you balance the parenting load, and spend more time with your “typical” children. The extra coping and parenting skills for Mom and Dad will have a trickle down effect and help everyone in the family.

If you see any of your children acting out or turning inward and withdrawing, explore getting him help as soon as possible. You can do this in a several ways:

• take your child to his pediatrician for a check-up and discuss your concerns;
• have your child join a siblings support group;
• have your child speak with the counselor, social worker or psychologist at his school. Often, in a private setting with a non-family member, a child will open up about his feelings. This relief may go a long way in modifying his behavior and lifting his mood.

Try to get the ball rolling on getting your typical children help as early as possible. Early assessment and interventions can make a huge and lasting difference.

Bottom line

There is no doubt about it – life with a child with a disability affects all family members. You are not alone in your journey. Reach out for assistance and you will see that every little bit of help…helps.

What has worked for your family? We’d love to hear from you.

Note: This post is part of the weekly series Delays and disabilities – how to get help for your child. It was started on January 16, 2013 and appears every Wednesday. Go to News Moms Need and click on “Help for your child” on the menu on the right side to view all of the blog posts to date. As always, we welcome your comments and input.

Have questions? Send them to AskUs@marchofdimes.org.

Pregnancy – not an excuse to stop exercising

Thursday, March 21st, 2013

bikingSome women think that pregnancy is a time to sit back and put their feet up. Not so! For most women, it’s important to exercise during pregnancy. In fact, it has many health benefits, so put down the remote, step out of your office and tie up your sneakers.

Healthy pregnant women need at least 2½ hours of exercise each week. This is about 30 minutes each day. If this sounds like a lot, don’t worry. You don’t have to do it all at once. Instead, split up your exercise by doing something active for 10 minutes three times each day. Take Fido for his morning constitutional. Walk around the block or parking lot with friends on your lunch hour. Go for a walk or bike ride after dinner to pick up a decaf at the local café or to check out the neighborhood gardens. Exercise doesn’t have to be boring.

For healthy pregnant women, exercise can:
• Keep your heart, body and mind healthy
• Help you feel good and find the extra energy you need
• Help you stay fit and gain the right amount of weight during pregnancy
• Ease some of the discomforts you might have during pregnancy, like constipation, backaches, trouble sleeping and varicose veins (swollen veins)
• Prevent health problems like preeclampsia and gestational diabetes
• Help your body get ready to give birth
• Reduce stress

If you’d rather keep going to the gym, you probably can. With their health care provider’s OK, exercising during pregnancy is safe for most expecting moms and their babies. So talk to your doc or midwife before you start any exercise program, and ask about what kinds of exercise are safe for you to do.