Thursday, December 18, 2008

The Holidays are Here! How to Thrive During this Busy Time of Year!

The Holidays are Here! How to Thrive During this Busy Time of Year!
By: Courtney Kowalczyk, M.Ed.

The snow is falling here in Michigan, and the winter season has begun to set in. Neighborhoods are buzzing with children sledding down snow covered hills, and families are busily decorating their homes. It really is “beginning to feel a lot like Christmas!”

Before we know it, school winter breaks will be here and our children will be home for a couple of weeks. With the holidays right around the corner, I thought it might be helpful to share some tips and activity ideas that will help you and your family thrive during this busy time of the year.

  • Keep a consistent schedule. During this busy time of the year, it is very easy for families to get away from their regular routine. Before you know it, the kids are eating breakfast at noon and staying up until all hours of the night. It is important for families to keep a fairly consistent schedule even through the holidays. Keeping regular bed, wake, and meal times will be important to maintain your routine.
  • Have some jolly holiday fun. There are so many fun activities that you can undertake during this holiday season. Making holiday cookies and snacks, having a red and green meal, going sledding or caroling, decorating the house, and making holiday ornaments for friends and relatives are just a few of the fun activities that you and your family can enjoy.
  • Don’t overdo it! The holidays tend to be an extremely busy and stressful time of the year. When you are looking at your calendar and scheduling activities, be sure that you are limiting them so that you are also including time for just your family.
  • Make a family new year resolution. The new year is a great time to start a new endeavor. Are there things that you would like to work toward in the new year? Keeping the house clean, sharing chores among family members, and saving as a family for a desired trip are all great things to work toward. As a family, sit down and create a family resolution for the new year. Be sure it is something reasonable to which all family members will be able to contribute.
  • Enjoy the season. Even though the holidays can be a busy and stressful time of the year, it is important for everyone to sit back, relax, and enjoy the season. Be sure to take time for yourself to get some well deserved rest and relaxation.

By following these simple suggestions, your holiday season will be merry and bright. I wish you all a wonderful holiday season, and look forward to sharing more with you in the new year!

Monday, December 15, 2008

Help for the Holiday Hmm’s

Help for the Holiday Hmm’s
By: Michelle VanderHeide, BSW

If your life is anything like mine near the holidays, it’ll probably sound a little like this: “Mom, can I get that for Christmas?” “I’ll put it on your wish list honey.” As the next commercial comes on, “Mom can I get that for Christmas?” “That does look like fun. I’ll put it on your wish list.” The television, newspapers, and billboards are inundated with advertisements for all the hot toys and gadgets for this year. As parents, aunts or uncles, and grandparents, it can be very overwhelming to know what gifts to buy that will be both fun and “educational.” Knowing what gifts will be best for our children – that they’ll enjoy – leave many of us going “hmmm.”

Here are a few things to keep in mind when shopping for all children:

  1. Television, movies, and video games can be nice for some relaxing times, but should be limited. I read in a recent study that the average child watches 50-60 hours of television a week! As a result, children are being negatively impacted, including increased aggression and decreased attention; plus other negative side affects such as robbing the mind of important things like reading, writing, creative play and story telling, friendship development and so much more.

  2. Board games can be a wonderful way to help children learn important lessons such as taking turns, graciously winning and losing, and team work. This is also a great way to encourage family time. One of my greatest memories as a child is sitting downstairs with my family, by the wood burner, playing the game of LIFE.

  3. Arts and Crafts are a great way to encourage creativity. It also develops fine motor skills, building of competence, and doing things for others. My children love to make things for other people and feel great about doing it!

  4. Building sets of blocks, WEDGiTS, or LEGO’s are also great gifts that encourage creativity, playing with others, or self play. There are so many things you can do with these sorts of things. Kids love to build fences for their animals, castles, or event cities with any building materials they can find.

We’ve been creating a list at Horizons of both family and consultant favorites. Here’s my top ten list for this holiday season:

  1. WEDGiTS – These have been suggested by a couple of Horizon’s families, and have very good online ratings. They are wonderful for kids of all ages: even small children can easily use them, and older children love to build with them.

  2. Ned’s Head – This is a fun and grotesque game that boys especially will love. Reach into Ned’s Head and see what you pull out! This is a great opportunity to build anticipation, and share what you’ve found. A nice variation to this game is Gassy Gus. As I was searching the Internet on these two games, I found Alfredo’s Food Fight. If your child is resistant to new foods, this may be a fun way to decrease the anxiety of food by using it to fling at “Alfredo.”

  3. Model Cars – Building a model car or other item can be a lot of fun. It’s something that you can work on together, and what a great accomplishment when its all done!

  4. Stickers – There are so many kinds of stickers these days including my favorite – foam shapes. Kids have fun creating all kinds of original pictures, or just sticking them on paper. Use them to decorate hats, identify your cup at holiday parties, or make your own Christmas cards.
  5. UNO – This is a wonderful card game for kids of all ages with several different game options available. If you already own the basic game of UNO, try UNO Attack or UNO Spin. These are nice variations to a great family game!

  6. Cranium Fort – I have enjoyed playing with this at work so much that I bought it for my kids and they love it. We have built rocket ships, cars, and forts of all different shapes and sizes. My kids enjoy coming up with their own creations, and then play in it for a very long time! We’ve had a great time pretending to take a trip to Colorado, fly to the moon, or just seeing how many different things we can build.

  7. Jenga – This is a more challenging game in which you have a tower of long flat blocks from which you take turns pulling one block out at a time, until it falls over. This is a great game to build anticipation, work as a team to see how high you can get the tower, or to work on taking turns.

  8. Doodle Dice – This is a simple yet entertaining game that is similar to Yahtzee. The rules are easy to learn, and the game is fun for the whole family.

  9. Power Balls – Create and make your own bouncing balls. This is a great activity to do with children who will feel proud that they made it! There are several options of Power Ball kits available.

  10. Digital Camera – Although not as cheap, this is a fun toy for kids. They can take the pictures, download them, and edit them. This is a wonderful way to take pictures during the holidays to capture those special moments! This also provides a great opportunity to help your child think about what they might want to remember about the holidays. Once the pictures are downloaded, you can work together to make an album.

Happy holiday shopping!

Friday, December 5, 2008

Language Processing

Language Processing
By: Erin Roon, MA CCC-SLP

Over the course of the last month, I have been doing some renewed thinking on language processing. With this reflection, I have come to realize that I take processing for granted so often that I wonder just how much gets missed on a day to day basis. If we really stop and think about processing and the great deal of effort it takes, it is a wonder that we are able to have so many rapid fire exchanges.

Earlier this year, a few of us in the office tested out a processing exercise that one of my colleagues had created for some of the families with whom she works. She wanted to be sure it would work, so we were the guinea pigs. She gave one of the staff members the easy version, and I was stuck with the harder rendition of the task. Of course, the other person finished within minutes, while I took at least 15 minutes to finish mine. For me it was not a matter of if I would finish, but only when. The task took a tremendous amount of brain power, and I commented when finished that I was tired and my brain felt like it needed a rest.

Having that experience made me think about how important it is to remember that many children on the autism spectrum have language processing delays that must, in some way, make them feel just how I was feeling. The other thing I thought about was my determination and resilience to keep going, even though it was hard. How many of our children on the spectrum have this resilience when we first start remediation in the RDI process? Not many.

That is why it is so important to slow down and allow for processing time, take away as many distractions as possible, and work for a while on one mode of communication at a time.

Can children on the autism spectrum become better processors? You bet they can! I've seen it with my own eyes on numerous occasions; but it requires that the adults in the environment be aware of the need to allow time for the child to process. Once your brain gets experience in processing information so as to make sense of it, the better it gets at doing this. Just like the processing task in my example above, I was very slow at first; but once I had processed through a few of the problems, I got faster.

Our children on the autism spectrum can become faster as well; but only if we start giving them the opportunity to process information rather than just accepting any old answer from them, giving them the answer, or prompting all the time.

What would take a neuro-typical child 5 seconds to process might take a child on the spectrum upwards of 30-60 seconds; and then they may not even process the whole message. For others, it may take as many as 5 minutes; and for those in the extreme, it may be as long as 20 minutes. Now think about that in the context of our ever changing world, especially in the context of school.

I’m not putting down schools, as there is a ton of information that needs to be taught in a day; but would a little processing time hurt anyone? Have you ever been in a classroom when the teacher is asking questions? The scenario usually goes something like this: The teacher asks a question, and within 5-10 seconds he/she is calling on a student to answer. Now if you are a slow processor, will you ever get a chance to answer; or will your answer most often be wrong if you by some chance just randomly get called upon? Interestingly enough, it isn’t just our students on the spectrum that need more processing time. Even the children who are quick to answer may actually come up with more thoughtful answers given a little more time to think and process. I read a book about creative intelligence not that long ago claiming that processing time is directly tied to a person’s ability to respond creatively. The thing is, people who are slow processors may actually have some of the most creative answers/solutions to questions/problems if given the chance to respond.

Think about how frustrating it must be always to be several steps behind. It is no wonder that our children’s responses often don’t make sense to us or are echolalic – repeating what was said. Children on the autism spectrum quickly learn the rule that when someone asks me a question, I need to give a response whether it makes sense or not; and I need to hurry, because they aren’t going to wait. They have also learned that if they just use echolalia, people will quickly give up and stop asking questions.

There is, however, what I would call “good” echolalia - and we all do it from time to time. We all use “good” echolalia to help us process, but we might not do it out loud. You can tell the difference between “good” echolalia and meaningless echolalia. The difference is that good echolalia, is being used to help process what has just been said. You don’t have to admit it to anyone but yourself, but you know you do this. We often call this self-talk, and it is our brains way of making sense of the world. The amazing thing is that I see children with autism spectrum disorder’s processing speed increase as they begin to use this type of processing. So modeling self-talk not only helps with self awareness, but also with processing.

So how do we help our children with processing? Slow down, slow down, slow down. Give your child time to process. A good way to do this is to count to ten slowly in your head after making a comment, to give your child time to process what you have said. If they don’t respond after this, you can try a prompt. Modeling self-talk as a way of processing information is another great strategy that can assist your child in understanding how we process information. Processing is a difficult task, and it takes time and effort to improve the speed at which an individual processes information it can however, be learned and improved!