Friday, December 18, 2009

Mad Libs Decorating the Tree By: Jonathan & Phillip

Many people decorate their Christmas party on Christmas Eve. Last year, Phillip had a playing party and everyone helped color the tree. Jonathan brought tinsel and games. And Tracy brought lots of fresh snow cakes and candy cookies to put on the tree. The most important decoration, of course, is the string of colored electric lights. (Jonathan) A few dozen blinking lights make any tree look pretty. And most stores sell round, sparkly buttons and little climbing balls to hang on the branches. But the hardest decoration to pick is the one that goes right on top. Once that angel is up, you know that the high season has officially started. Of course, if you are too full to have a tree for Christmas, you can decorate your truck or hang buses on your barn. Then the neighbors will say, "Beautiful!" (Phillip)

Crystals Update

2 weeks later...

Friday, December 4, 2009


Day 1: We put in pieces of sponge, and sprinkled salt on the sponge and water and blue stuff.

Day 2: We had to put 2 tablespoons of salt on the sponge. Phillip had a big flower on one of his and a baby one. Jonathan saw the salt turn blue after sprinkling it on.

Day 3: Jonathan - Put more salt, water, more blue, more green and yellow on top. We saw crystals growing. More, more, more!

Phillip - Today they bloomed alot. We added salt and food coloring, blue and "reakie" stuff.

By Phillip and Jonathan

Raising Responsible and Respectable Children

Raising Responsible and Respectable Children
By: Michelle VanderHeide, BSW

If anybody says that parenting is easy, they must not have kids! As a parent of three wonderful children, I have found that each one needs to be parented differently. One child needs to be held often, one needs opportunities to talk, and the other thrives on quality time. One is strong willed, another is a people pleaser, and the other is just busy! I’ve read many books, listened to several books on tape, and watched my fair share of DVD’s about different approaches to parenting; but a few things consistently resurface as important strategies when raising responsible and respectable children. These strategies work, because they’re not about the children, they’re about you – the parent. The first thing to do is write down the areas that you want to work on with your child. Speaking disrespectfully, hitting, potty training, walking off while you are talking, and homework issues are just a few of the problem areas you may be facing. Pick one thing to work on at a time, so as not to overwhelm yourself. I’ll use resistance to come in from outside as an example for this article. Once you’ve picked your battle, put your boxing gloves on and follow the guidelines below.

Remain Calm: One of the easiest parenting mistakes is allowing yourself to get upset. Once you are angry, you have given your child control and now need a parent to calm you down. The best way to have control is to remain calm; so take a deep breath, take a timeout for yourself if needed, then return to your child and talk calmly and respectfully to him/her – when you are both ready. Show your child that s/he deserves that respect. Demonstration is an important parenting tool; so if you scream at your child, chances are s/he’ll scream back. If you treat him/her with respect, that respect will be returned. Get down on your child’s level, or take seats next to each other to talk about the issue at hand.

Determine the Consequence: Each problem you face with your child(ren) will require different consequences. While you are calm, determine what an appropriate consequence will be for the problem area you are facing. Make sure the consequence is understandable to the child, that you are able to follow through on the consequence, and that the child will want to avoid that consequence. If you child is refusing to come in from outside “If you don’t come in right now, you can’t play outside for the rest of the week.” It sounds like a horrible threat; but is that one that you really want to follow through on? Instead, find a consequence that is easy to live with. “I’m going to go inside and set a timer for two minutes. If you are not inside by the time the timer goes off, you will not be able to play outside the rest of the evening.” The timer will put a specific amount of time that s/he has to respond and will hold you accountable for following through on your consequence.

Offer a Choice: By giving your child a choice, s/he is taking the responsibility for the discipline received.
“If you come inside in the next two minutes, you will have time to come back outside and play with your friends. If you choose not to come inside by the time the two minute timer goes off, you will not get to go back outside.”

Use the if/then sequence with all of the choices you give so that the consequences are well understood. Children learn the if/then series very early on in life, so this works for very young children as well as older children. For a younger child, for example, might work better with “inside, then snack.”

Consistency: You must stick with the above plan over time, or else it will not work. Does your child know that you will follow through on the consequence? If there a chance that you won’t, then it might be worth not doing what mom or dad is asking. All of the above points are invalid and ineffective if consistency with follow through is absent. If necessary, find another person to hold you accountable to ensure follow through of consequences.

Once children learn that you mean what you say, you will begin to earn more respect; and you will notice your child(ren) becoming more responsible. Just be prepared that it might get worse before it gets better. Children will push the limits until they know where the line has been drawn. So remember: Calm, Consequence, Choice, Consistency. The reward will be worth the effort!

Friday, October 16, 2009

Phillip, Jonathan, and Tracy Made a Pie

Phillip thought we could make a pumpkin pie. We made the pie using tapioca and cinnamon. Miss Courtney thought the pie would be spicy but Phillip did not. This pie was special since it had no crust. When we put the pie in the oven it was in the shape of a circle. When Phillip ate his piece of pie it was in the shape of a triangle and it was squishy. The pie was brown. Phillip thought the pie was yummy! It tasted mushy and wet. We ate the pie quietly. The end.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Happy Birthday to You! How to Celebrate Your Child’s Special Day Appropriately

Happy Birthday to You! How to Celebrate Your Child’s Special Day Appropriately
By: Courtney Kowalczyk, M.Ed.

Over the past few months, a few of my clients have asked “how should we celebrate our child’s birthday, taking into consideration his or her special needs.” This is an important question on many levels, since we all want to celebrate special occasions with family; however, this can sometimes be too much for many of our children with special needs. Here are a few ideas and strategies to use so that you can celebrate your child’s birthday without making the event too overwhelming for the child and yourself!

  • Limit the guest list! All too often, we find ourselves inviting to birthday parties family members whom we generally don’t see very often. Even though it may be uncomfortable for you not to invite them, think about how overwhelmed your child may feel if there are several people around whom he or she may not know. If you feel the need to invite all of your family and friends, then split the party up into a couple of different occasions. By limiting the number of guests, you can help to reduce the anxiety and fear of uncertainty that your child may be facing.

  • Keep it simple! When we begin to plan a child’s birthday, it is easy for us to get carried away with the games, food, treat bags, gifts, and many other things that go into having a birthday party. All of these things are wonderful; but for children who have a difficult time processing information effectively, these elements of a birthday party can be overwhelming. By simplifying things and keeping the party elements to a minimum, you can help to reduce your child’s anxiety and allow him or her to enjoy the party more thoroughly.

  • Be selective when choosing a party time. As you think about when to hold your party, keep in mind your child’s best time(s) of the day. Most children are more refreshed, relaxed, and less anxious overall in the morning after a good night’s rest. We don’t hear about parties being held in the morning that often; but for many children with special needs, this is their best time of the day. If you are going to have the party on a week night, then be sure to hold it after the dinner hour. This provides the child with an opportunity for some down time in between school and the party, and it allows them to have a healthy dinner to re-charge their batteries.

  • Decorate with the minimalist perspective. Balloons, streamers, tissue paper, and many other fun decorations are often used for parties. These types of decorations are not a problem for most individuals, but children with disabilities can become overwhelmed very easily. When having a party, there are already many factors that will contribute to his or her feelings of anxiety, especially changes to the environment. Keeping decorations to a minimum will help reduce the overwhelming feeling and anxiety that many children feel at parties.

Celebrating your child’s special day can be a fun and anxiety-free experience. By keeping the environment calm and using a minimalist perspective, you may find that you and your child both can enjoy the occasion. Happy birthday party planning to you!!!!!

Friday, August 28, 2009

Five Tips for Parents Making School-Related Decisions

Five Tips for Parents Making School-Related Decisions
By: Nicole Beurkens, M.Ed.

School-related decisions seem to be an ever-present issue for all families, but especially for families with a child with unique learning needs. Here are some tips I find myself frequently providing parents in regards to their child’s education:

  • Just because a service or option is available doesn’t mean you have to take it. Go with your gut feeling and do what you believe is right for your child. If you don’t think the speech sessions are helping then stop them. If you don’t want the weekly home visit from the early intervention specialist then don’t do them. If you think your child needs to be home with you rather than at school for some of all of the day, then do it. Do not allow what “other people” say or do to steer you in the wrong direction with your child. Do not allow “the professionals” to over-ride your own good judgment about what your child needs. Don’t be afraid to go against the grain or make a different choice in the best interest of your child and family.

  • Don’t hem and haw over the next 15 years of your child’s school career when you only need to be making a decision about what to do for right now. I have met with too many parents who are paralyzed at the thought of pursuing something different from the status quo because they wonder what the ramifications will be 10 years down the road. Schools make decisions about placement and services one year at a time based on the current needs of the child and parents should do the same. You may feel that something is important for your child right now, and feel completely different about it a year from now. None of us can predict the future with certainty – no matter how hard we try! What is important is making the right decision for this point in time, and re-evaluating as you go along.

  • Do not buy into the idea that there is a certain place out there that is a perfect fit and if you just keep searching long enough you will find it. No setting is perfect and there will be flaws and problems that crop up wherever you go. What is important is finding the right people who are willing to customize things to work for the best interest of each child – people who will bring you as parents in as part of the team and will work with you to ensure progress.

  • Don’t get hung up on labels! I couldn’t care less what a certain classroom is called as long as the people are invested in setting high standards and helping each child reach his or her potential. Very often programs have the names they have for the purpose of paperwork and reporting – nothing more. Visit lots of places – meet the staff and watch them in action; get a feel for the environment; watch the other students. Those are the critical elements in determining whether a classroom is a good fit for your child – not whether the name of the classroom matches the label of the child.

  • Finally, keep the developmental level of your child and the amount in mind when making educational decisions. There is tremendous pressure to put children, particularly those with autism, into formal educational settings earlier and earlier, but that may not be the best decision for your child. If you know your child is not ready for a classroom-based program then don’t send them. There is a tremendous amount to be gained from allowing children to benefit from the guidance of their parents during the early stages of development – and that process can take longer in children with unique learning needs. The same goes for children who experience significant amounts of stress in school. Parents must carefully weigh the potential benefits of a school environment against the amount of stress that is caused and the detrimental impact of that stress over time. Each of us as parents needs to take a good hard look at our child and decide if they are ready to enter a school setting for some or all of the day, or if they need more time to be truly successful and derive benefit from that environment. Again, don’t be afraid to make a different choice; to say “thanks, but not now” to school-based options if your child is not ready.

  • Maybe some of these things touch on issues you have been thinking about in relation to your child’s education. Don’t be afraid to think outside the box and do what is right for your child at this point in time. You are your child’s best advocate and are in the best position to make decisions regarding your child’s education – don’t let anyone tell you otherwise!

Monday, July 13, 2009

Are You a Peacock or a Penguin?

Are You a Peacock or a Penguin?
By: Erin Roon, MA CCC-SLP

I found this great little movie on the internet at, and was inspired to write about the message it conveyed. The story begins by talking about how the penguins were the leaders in many organizations. One day, a peacock comes along and begins spreading his creativity and ingenuity. At first, the penguins were excited by the new ideas; but as time went on they became uncomfortable with the changes, and decided to go back to their old ways. The peacock was disheartened until he met a seagull that took him to the “Land of Opportunity.” Here the peacock met birds of many different shapes, sizes, and abilities. Their shared knowledge of the world made them successful. The peacock discovered that to find opportunity, you must be open to new ideas, be willing to listen, be eager to learn, have a desire to grow, and be flexible enough to change. He found that we can all live in the “Land of Opportunity” if we choose to see beyond ourselves, open our hearts, and be who we are.

So, why did I choose to share this story? Too often, I think, we are the penguins stuck in our old ways, unable to see the opportunities around us. In our minds, it is easier and safer to stay in a place of comfort, and resist change. Let’s face it, the majority of people who have established a routine don’t like to mess it up by making changes! I know some families that take the same summer vacation year after year. They go to the same place, eat in the same restaurants, do the same activities - all at the same time of year. While I understand that this may be considered tradition, it leads to a lot of missed opportunities. There is a big world out there just waiting to be discovered.

When we get bogged down in the day to day “ho hum” of our lives, we can miss the little opportunities that present themselves. I will readily admit that I miss daily opportunities for making new discoveries when my eyes are closed and my heart is not open. On the days when I take the time to slow down, look beyond myself and open my heart, the opportunities seem endless. Sometimes the multitude of opportunities can feel daunting, and making a change can be scary; but it can be completely awesome as well.

Many of the families that we see at our center have done just this. They have sought out the opportunity to make a change and a difference in their child’s life. This is not an easy decision for any family, for a multitude of reasons. Having the courage to seek out change is the first step in finding new opportunities for the child and family. Many families come to us disheartened after trying many other things, but with an openness to new ideas, a willingness to listen, an eagerness to learn, a desire to grow, and enough flexibility to change. Having all of these tools allows them to open their eyes and heart to discover a whole new world of opportunities waiting for their child and family. This is one of the things that I truly love about RDI®: the vast array opportunities that are discovered every day. These families have all found a way to be peacocks, and discover the “Land of Opportunity.”

Will you be a peacock or a penguin? Will you discover the “Land of Opportunity?” It’s all up to you!

Friday, June 26, 2009

A Journey Through Infant Development: One Year!

A Journey Through Infant Development: One Year!
By: Michelle VanderHeide, BSW

It seems like only yesterday that I started this series on infant development, and now my baby boy has turned a year old. It’s fun to look back and reflect on how much has changed from one year ago. No year is like the first in the amount of growth and development a child makes, although the next several years are still critical and substantial in human development. Instead of writing about what I saw in his development over the past month, I’m going to reflect back and summarize my son’s development during the past year.

    The first month: I was worried about how I could find more love in my heart for another child. The minute you came into our lives that worry was gone – you stole all of our hearts! You are so small, unresponsive, needy, and very fought over. Everyone wants to hold you as you have become a very important part of our family. Basically, all you do at this point is eat and sleep; but you are a very content baby. The joke is that as we carry our car seat from place to place, we are afraid that we are going to leave you behind one of these days because you are so good.

    The second month: You began to smile this month! What a beautiful thing. It takes a lot of effort at this point, but it’s well worth the time to get it. Now that I am getting a smile, I’m already anticipating the next thing – a giggle! You are trying to giggle, and will grunt and move around when being tickled; so I know it won’t be long now!

    The third month: You smile so much now that you have been nicknamed “guy smiley.” What a joy you are to have in the family! You are obviously very aware of people around you, as the minute you see somebody you give them a huge radiating smile. You are also giggling a lot now, and really love being tickled – especially by daddy. You are picking up on patterns, as you know that once daddy is done tickling you he’ll come back and do it some more. You giggle in anticipation of what is to come. The way you shriek when daddy walks in the door is also evidence of your growing awareness. There is nothing better than daddy coming home! Your sisters also offer a lot of entertainment for you. Watching them play is so fun for you. One will say or do something, and then the other; and you will shift your gaze between them rapidly. You are evidently seeing people as very important elements of your environment and as important learning tools!

    The fourth month: You have found your voice, and are doing a lot of playing around with sounds. You have also discovered how to get a reaction out of people. If you don’t like something, you scream in hopes that it’ll stop. If I respond to something you’ve done, you’ll recreate it to continue getting a response. You are also becoming stronger (you rolled over for the first time) and are beginning to reach for toys. You also discovered who you are through some mirror play. Early on, you dismissed yourself as though the reflection were an unimportant person; but later in the month, you realized that what you were seeing was yourself. You found yourself to be quite entertaining. The gaze shifting and emotion sharing that took place between you and me in the mirror was priceless!

    The fifth month: You have become quite the little entertainer! You want to be center of attention, and always have to know what’s going on! Feeding you has become a challenge, as you want to see what’s happening at all times – no time to stop for a bottle! You are also more of a pain bring to restaurants, because you want to touch and grab everything in sight. My earrings, saltshakers, grandma’s glasses – you name it – all are considered toys to you, and you want them all! Social routines (such as patty cake and peek-a-boo) are very much a part of your daily routine. Foundational aspects of communication are becoming more evident. You are doing a lot of babbling, especially when laying in bed after you’ve woken up.

    The sixth month: It’s very evident now that you love the fast paced, dynamic life. Keeping things the same is boring. Peek-a-boo is so much more exciting when you don’t know what to expect. Will the blanket come off fast or slow? Will it be on my head or daddy’s? The giggles are priceless! You are also aware of people that you do and don’t know. Watching you interact with another infant is also very intriguing – the two of you have your own little way of communicating by copying each other’s actions and sounds.

    The seventh month: You are beginning to initiate play now by taking an action to a familiar routine, and doing it to start the game. Humor is also more evident; I’ll ask you to do something, and then you don’t do it and laugh – knowing exactly what is expected of you. My favorite part of this month is that when I say “kisses,” you lean over to me with your mouth wide open for a sweet little kiss. This is one of the times you’ll use your humor though, and turn your head away from me or just look at me and giggle.

    The eighth month: You are watching everything that we do, and know that other people are a source to learn from and receive help from. You got a ball stuck the other day, and looked right at me for help – clearly gazing between the ball and me. You are also watching what your sisters are doing, and want to do the same thing they are. If they are working on a puzzle, you are trying to play along; and you get upset when you aren’t invited to join. Physically, you are beginning to use the army crawl as your primary mode of movement, and it’s quite effective for you.

    The ninth month: You are so interactive now, and it’s more evident that you are crawling with ease. When I come home from work, you immediately crawl up to me for a welcome home hug – which I love! Being able to crawl also means you can be more interactive with games. You now love to play hide and seek – you crawl behind a chair and peek out for my reaction. I love it!

    The tenth month: Curiosity is the theme for this month! Now that you are mobile and can pull yourself up, you want to see everything! When I am in the kitchen working, you are emptying drawers. When I am in the bathroom getting ready, you are pulling everything out of the cupboards. You have been appropriately named “little bother” by your sisters, as you are into everything!

    The eleventh month: Separation anxiety is at its peak. You want to me be with mom, dad, or one of your grandmas only. Everyday you pick a person to be your favorite, and you will attach like glue. That person needs to be around you at all times; and if s/he has to go somewhere, you have to go along or you are very upset. I’m just glad that you have found such a wonderful bond with all of us!

I have been so honored to have a neurotypically forming child to watch develop over the past twelve months. I have never understood or appreciated the complexities of development as I do now. So many critical and foundational milestones are met during this first year! If, while reading this year in review, you still have questions or wonder if you child is developing along a neurotypical pathway, we would love to sit down and talk with you about your concerns.

Monday, June 1, 2009

What Should I Do When My Child is Anxious?

What Should I Do When My Child is Anxious?
By: Courtney Kowalczyk, M.Ed.

Anxiety can be debilitating for many individuals, especially those affected by autism and other neurodevelopmental conditions. Last month, I shared specific symptoms and changes in behavior to consider when determining whether or not your child or student is anxious. Now that you know what to look for in relation to anxiety symptoms, the next step is to understand ways in which you can help your child or student work through and reduce that anxiety.

Individuals cope with anxiety in many different ways; and as parents and teachers, it is important for us to guide our children without exacerbating the level of anxiety the child is experiencing. The most important person in helping someone work through anxiety is you. You, as the guide, can make the difference in increasing or decreasing anxiety for your child or student just by the way that you interact with them. Here are several suggestions and ideas for you to keep in mind when your child or student becomes anxious.

  • Stay calm. As a parent or teacher, it is important for you to act confidently as a guide to your child or student. If you become anxious when your child or student becomes anxious, then their anxiety level is going to continue to increase. As guides, it is our job to remain calm and composed during stressful situations. It is important for you to model for your child or student how to behave calmly and not overreact.

  • Be quiet. During moments of anxiety, adults tend to cope with the stress by talking more; however, this is not helpful in relation to reducing anxiety for children, especially those with neurodevelopmental disorders. Language can take quite a bit of effort to process; and if someone is already anxious, it is going to take even longer and may exacerbate the situation. By remaining calm and using as few words as possible, you can support your child or student in a more effective manner.

  • Slow down. When a child is anxious, he or she may not be able to process information as effectively as normal. For children with neurodevelopmental disorders, processing can be significantly altered when feelings of anxiety are present. It is important for you to remember that as the guide, you need to slow down everything that you are doing and saying in order to give the child time to process. If you tend to wait 5 seconds for a response during typical interactions, then wait 20 to 30 seconds during moments when anxiety is high.

  • Be observant. When a child’s level of anxiety is increased, there is some reason for the mental state change. As the guide, it is your job to take a step back, look at the situation, and try to figure out what may be causing the anxiety. Is there a transition approaching? Does the child need more sensory input? If you can pinpoint the source(s) of anxiety, then you will be better equipped to help the child cope.

  • Know your child or student. As individuals, we all have different forms of relaxation that we enjoy. For some it is reading a book, and for others it may be bouncing on a trampoline. Whatever the preferences are, it is important to know what strategies help your child or student to relax and calm down. This may include deep breathing, quiet time, physical activities, deep pressure, swinging, or being left alone for a period of time. These are just a few examples of different strategies that can be used with children during anxious time periods; however, it is important for you as the guide to know what will work best for him or her.

Over the past few months, we have examined what anxiety is, the symptoms of anxiety, and suggestions for helping individuals cope with anxiety. As the guide for our children and students, it is our job to recognize moments when they may be facing high levels of anxiety and then guide them through it. The way we react and guide our children or students during such times can make a big difference in their level of anxiety.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

A Journey Through Infant Development: The Eleventh Month

A Journey Through Infant Development: The Eleventh Month
By: Michelle VanderHeide, BSW

“I’m looking for fun and adventure! I’m looking for more!!!” As children develop on a neuro-typical pathway, they begin to look for activities to be more elaborate and exciting. The same old games become boring – it’s time for adventures and more challenges. This becomes especially true as a baby transforms from an infant to a toddler. As parents, we naturally begin to add these challenges as our children begin to show readiness. My son continues to enjoy the exciting new things of life, but one monotonous thing he loves is his grandma!

  • You love your grandma! We took a vacation to Florida, and had a ball! It became extremely evident to me that you know what you want! You were attached to grandma like glue. You’d be playing nicely on the living room floor, and if grandma entered the room you’d scream and go crawling over to her (screaming the entire way). Once you were in her arms, there was no putting you down! When we returned home from Florida, you didn’t see her for nearly 3 days (eternity to you). When you saw her again, you did the same screaming approach that you did earlier – but held on even tighter! When you were sitting in your chair eating, you actually had to have her right there by you. When she waved like she was going to leave, you reached out and grabbed her arm and pulled her to you – all while shrieking. Although I’m a little jealous, I’m happy to see that you are forming a special bond with her, and that relationships are important to you.

  • There’s excitement in moving While crawling is still the preferred method of movement, you notice that this isn’t the way the rest of the family gets around. If there is a couch or table to hold on to, you are walking. It shouldn’t be long before you are walking on your own. I hope it’s sooner than later, simply because crawling outdoors is hard on the clothes!

  • Extreme Peek-a-boo You love playing peek-a-boo; but if I run off and hide while the blanket is over your head, you laugh even harder. The challenge of finding me is so fun, and the reward in finding me is priceless. I like this game better, too, because it gives me more exercise running from you and a bigger reward when you find me – there’s always a big laugh and gigantic hug!

  • Adding humor You are so funny. You are beginning to do things intentionally to make me laugh. The other day, you and I were picking up some Easter eggs off the floor. Initially you were putting them away with me; then suddenly you grabbed one, looked at me to make sure I was watching, and then crawled away with it. You then “hid” it under the couch, looked back at me, and laughed. You thought you were so funny. It’s amazing to me how much you understand about human interaction already, and how to enhance it.

If a child has fallen off this neuro-typical path of development, these activity changes can be overwhelming. The dynamic, fast moving, adventurous life is then too much, and there is a tendency to become trapped in the monotonous way of doing things – just to feel safe! This is another reason that I love Relationship Development Intervention (RDI): nothing new was created, just slowed down enough so that what happens naturally in neuro-typically developing children can happen for those who missed it the first time. Through a very careful approach, challenges are added to every day life in a supportive and trusting environment. Because of this, kids who normally fear change, challenges, and other dynamic attributes can slowly become successful in adapting to our fast changing world. The transformations are amazing!

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Building a Foundation

Building a Foundation
By: Erin Roon, MA CCC-SLP

Now that spring has arrived here in Michigan, many construction projects are once again underway. Land is being cleared, holes are being dug, and foundations are being laid. Each time I see a foundation being poured for a new home, school or business, it makes me think of the foundations we must lay in our own lives in order to be successful.

Children begin right after birth developing the foundations that they will need to be successful in life. Babies quickly learn, “When I cry, my caregiver comes to comfort me; when I drop something, someone picks it up; and when I make noises, someone responds.” These back and forth exchanges lay the foundation for long-lasting relationships. Foundations continue to be laid throughout the time children are growing and developing in a variety of areas.

For some children, solid foundations are not laid in the early years. Reasons for this may be due to internal disregulation (ex. reflux or sensory difficulties), some type of trauma, or an environmental influence (e.g. living conditions). Whatever the reason, trying to build upon a less than solid foundation is very difficult. Children who are missing solid foundations will need a chance to go back and build those foundations. That is where the concept of remediation is critical.

Many of the children I see in my job are missing foundational pieces needed for developing long-lasting relationships and a quality of life. For this reason, their parents have sought out a remediation program. What we tell parents is that building a solid foundation for their child first begins with them.

I spend a lot of time talking with parents about building the foundation that will support the rest of their remediation program. We talk a lot about the fact that without a solid foundation, the treatment process is doomed to fail from the start. For the consultants at Horizons, a solid foundation is built on a well established master/apprentice relationship and a commitment to experience sharing communication within the family. Without this foundation, the house will eventually crumble.

Once parents have built their own foundations, the job of building a more solid foundation for their child doesn’t seem so daunting. The process of laying the foundation can be done one step at a time, and with each individual child in mind. Some children might be missing the left cornerstone, while others might be missing a piece here and a piece there. Wherever the pieces are missing, parents can be guided to support their children in shoring up the foundation that support to a stronger structure in the long run.

I found this quote, that I think speaks to the topic of foundations in relation to remediation, and what we at Horizons are striving to achieve with the parents and families with whom we work.
“The loftier the building, the deeper must the foundation be laid.” (Thomas Kempis)

To me, this quote says it all. The greater the quality of life each parent wants for their child, the more solid the foundation will need to be. As far as I’m concerned, the sky’s the limit! Now that spring has arrived and warmer weather is upon us and many new construction projects are springing up, it might be an excellent time for you to think about the foundation you are building for your child. Is your foundation solid enough to support your lofty building? If not, what can be done to firm up that foundation? Are there things that we at Horizons can do to help you establish a firmer foundation? Let us know how we can help!

Finding Peace

Finding Peace
By: Nicole Beurkens, M.Ed.

As I was wandering around the Minneapolis airport recently, I found a store with a variety of posters, cards, and wall hangings with quotes and sayings on them. As I perused the options, I found one that I had to purchase and bring back to the office. Here is the quote:

Peace. It does not mean to be in a place where there is no noise, trouble, or hard work. It means to be in the midst of those things and still be calm in your heart. (Author unknown)

This conceptualization of peace resonates with me in all aspects of my life. As a parent to four children under the age of 9, there are many times when there is noise, trouble, and hard work all at once! Yet, I am still able to be at peace, knowing that this is part of the process of parenting, and that this too shall pass. Parenting is generally far from an easy or trouble-free process, but knowing in my heart that I am doing the right things for my kids allows me to be at peace during the messiest parts of the journey.

In my life as a professional there are also many times of noise, trouble, and hard work. Yet, even in the midst of those times I am able to be at peace knowing that I am doing what I was meant to do, and that everyone involved will grow through the problems we are facing. Feeling confident about my abilities to manage and overcome the obstacles that present themselves allows me to feel at peace amidst the challenges that arise.

Life wouldn’t be very interesting if everything was quiet, trouble-free, and effortless. We may wish at times that this were the case! However, there is much growth and triumph to be gained through the more chaotic and difficult times. The problem comes when we are unable to be at peace with the process as we are living through it. When noise, trouble, and hard work fall upon us, how we perceive it and react to it makes all the difference. I find this to be especially the case when these situations come along and we feel ill-prepared or incompetent to face them. These are the times when we fail to grow and develop increased strength and perseverance through the process. The challenge is to learn how to be at peace inside ourselves, even when things around us are far from peaceful.

For parents of children with autism or other disabilities, moments of noise, trouble, and hard work come more frequently. There are inherent challenges that go along with raising a child with developmental disabilities, and these challenges can easily result in a lack of peace both internally and externally. These disabilities tend to rob parents of their sense of competence in raising their children. While parenting other children may seem intuitive and an internally-peaceful process, the challenges of a disability can make even the most self-assured parents feel unsettled.

How do we get to the point where we can appreciate the process and be at peace with it, despite all the noise, trouble, and hard work?

  • It’s okay not to have all the answers Sometimes parents think they should automatically have all the answers to the issues that arise with their children. No one ever has all the answers, and we cannot live believing that we are supposed to – or that someone else does. We cannot allow a lack of definitive answers or solutions make us feel incompetent as parents. The important thing is that we don’t give up trying until we find a solution that works.

  • View life with children as a process, not an endpoint We must be careful to view parenting and the development of our children as an ever-evolving process. If we continually live with the goal of “getting through” the trying times with our kids, we will be perpetually frustrated and disappointed. There will be a constant sense of “we’re not there yet,” as opposed to expecting that there will always be challenges in one way or another.

  • Stop and take a deep breath Sometimes when we are facing challenges with our kids, the best thing to do in the troublesome moment is nothing at all. Many parents think that they are supposed to jump up and “do something” when problems arise with their children. Obviously this is the case if a child is going to do something to harm himself or others. However, a lot of the time the problems are not life-or-death, but we act as if they are. Taking a moment to just stop, breath, and think before you rush off to do something allows a sense of peace to prevail in otherwise un-peaceful moments.

  • Seek out supports for building competence as a parent If we aren’t feeling calm in our heart despite the noise, trouble, and hard work of raising children, it is important to access support. If we find that we feel guilty not having all the answers; or we are living with a vision of our problems having an endpoint rather than being a process; or we struggle with allowing ourselves to stop and think amidst the chaos, then it’s time to reach out to someone who can help address those areas and develop a feeling of peace as a parent. This can be a family member, friend, or professional, but it must be someone who can provide insight and guidance, and create a plan for achieving peace despite the messiness of life with kids.

As we go about day-to-day life with our children, we should keep in mind that “Peace does not mean to be in a place where there is no noise, trouble, or hard work. It means to be in the midst of those things and still be calm in your heart.” For our children to thrive, we need to be able to be peaceful in the midst of the challenges of parenthood. We should strive daily for this sense of calm in our heart.

Friday, May 8, 2009

How Do I Know if My Child is Anxious?

How Do I Know if My Child is Anxious?
By: Courtney Kowalczyk, M.Ed.

When thinking about autism and all that is involved with it and other similar neurodevelopmental disorders, we sometimes overlook the possibility of co-occurring conditions like anxiety. All too often I hear responses about a child’s odd behaviors in relation to him or her “being naughty,” or that “it is just his or her autism”; but, in many instances, that is not the case. Anxiety is a complex disorder that can manifest itself in many different ways, especially in children and adults affected by autism and other neurodevelopmental disorders. My goal over the next couple of months is to share with you information related to anxiety, and how you can help your child or student who may be affected by it.

Neurotypical individuals affected by anxiety on a day to day basis have varying symptoms. We often see individuals who perspire or use avoidance techniques to escape or withdraw from what makes them anxious, like social settings and large events. Others deal with their anxiety in different ways, and can become excessively chatty or extremely quiet. Whether it be withdrawing, perspiration, or becoming excessively talkative, many individuals are able to cope somewhat with their anxiety. Children and adults with neurodevelopmental disorders also have ways of expressing their anxiety and attempting to cope with it. When thinking about your child or student, here are a few ways that they may express their anxiety:

  • Increased self-stimulatory behaviors. Many individuals affected by autism and other neurological disorders will use self-stimulatory behaviors like rocking, flapping, hand flicking, and talking to themselves from time to time. Self-stimulatory behaviors are often static in nature, and are used by individuals to avoid situations that are too difficult for them to process and understand, as well as to deal with anxiety. When you see an individual begin using self-stimulatory behaviors or an increase in the behavior intensity, it may be helpful to ask yourself if this person is anxious and why.

  • Odd intensity of verbalizations. Most individuals within society today use talking as a way to deal with anxiety. Individuals with neurodevelopmental disorders who have the ability to express themselves verbally often use talking as a way of dealing with anxiety, too. When you notice a drastic increase or decrease in communication, or an individual talking about odd sorts of things for a lengthy period of time, it may be a good indication that the individual is anxious.

  • Acting out behaviors. When thinking about behaviors, it is important to look at “why” the behavior is occurring instead of just examining what the behavior is. When individuals with neurodevelopmental disorders become increasingly anxious internally, they often attempt to find ways to decrease their anxiety externally. A good analogy is to think about a pot of water that you are heating to the boiling point on the stove. An individual becoming increasingly more anxious is like the water getting hotter; and we are going to start to see things happening externally as well like increased talking, perspiration, and agitation that are like the bubbles in the heated water. At some point, the individual can no longer handle the level of anxiety that they are feeling, and thus acting out behaviors occur. We would consider this to be the “boiling point.” If you can examine your child or student’s behaviors and begin to notice when they are feeling anxious, you can often prevent the “boiling point” from happening by helping the individual reduce his or her anxiety.

  • A need for control. Individuals affected by autism and other neurodevelopmental disorders often attempt to control the actions of others as well as materials in their surrounding environments. When we see an increase in the need for control, it may be a good indicator that the individual has become anxious. Is there a change coming up of which they are fearful? What other sorts of things in the environment could be causing the anxiety?

When examining the behaviors and actions of individuals affected by autism and other neurodevelopmental disorders, it is important to examine whether or not the individual is affected by co-occurring conditions as well. All too often, we come across individuals who are affected by co-occurring anxiety issues that go undiagnosed. By examining the behaviors and actions of our children and students, we may find that the acting out behaviors are not because of his or her autism or neurodevelopmental disorder, but rather because the individual is extremely anxious and has reached the “boiling point.”

Thursday, April 23, 2009

A Journey Through Infant Development: The Tenth Month

A Journey Through Infant Development: The Tenth Month
By: Michelle VanderHeide, BSW

Curiosity is something that is developed very early in life and becomes very evident once a child starts to move. Although it can be very annoying to pull babies out of cupboards, dishwashers, refrigerators and toilets, curiosity is an extremely important foundation to a child’s neurotypical development. Curiosity allows discoveries – it offers children those “ah ha” moments in life. If a child doesn’t explore his/her environment ¬– in safe circumstances only of course – the opportunity to make discoveries is lost!

  • I can’t seem to get anything done while you are awake! Anytime I try to work in the kitchen, you are immediately into what I’m doing. I open the refrigerator, and there you are pulling something out of the door. I try to prepare food, and you empty every cupboard. I empty the dishwasher, and YIKES – you’re going for a sharp knife!

  • You’re not only into my stuff all the time, but your sisters’ as well. If they are doing a puzzle, you sit on it. If they are playing in their room, it isn’t long before I hear, “Mom!!!!” We all love you, but your sisters have appropriately changed your name from little brother to little bother.

  • Balls are so intriguing! If there is a ball or anything that resembles a ball, you crawl quickly to it. Once you pass it to me, you’ll look right at me and throw your arms in the air and scream. It’s so fun! If there isn’t anybody available to play, you’ll accept that and play catch with yourself. You’ll throw it; go and get it; and then throw it again. It keeps you busy for a long time! That lasted for about a week, and now you’re onto new things. You get bored easily.

  • Brushing teeth is a very interesting event as well. Dad will hold you while he brushes his teeth, and gives you a toothbrush as well. You’ll look at him so intently while he brushes, and then put your toothbrush in your mouth. You think you are so cool brushing your teeth like dad. The look of accomplishment on your face is priceless.

  • You are really getting into playing games, and find it so funny when the game changes. I handed you the top to a jar, and you handed it right back. I handed it to you, and you handed it right back (much like how we play ball). I then put it on your knee. You thought that was so funny, you grabbed it and handed it back. I put it on my knee, and the game continued. When I put it on my head, you got up, grabbed it, and tried to put it on your head – all while cracking up.

  • I can no longer leave the room without you getting upset. It seems as though separation anxiety has kicked in. It’s very apparent that your awareness of your surroundings has gotten much better!

  • You are beginning to cruise around now. Your crawling has gotten faster, and you can pull yourself up to stand with ease. It allows you to feed your curiosity about what’s going on in the rest of the world, and you love it! Now that you can do that much, let’s just get to walking.

If your child is always fixated on one thing when entering an environment, s/he is being robbed of making daily discoveries: How does my mom greet people? Do I greet grandma the same way I greet a cashier? How am I supposed to act in a gym as opposed to church? These sorts of skills are often taught if a child lacks it; but when not discovered in a natural environment, these skills can look very awkward or be inappropriate in different settings! Even in a gym, the expectation of how we’d behave changes according to what is happening in the gym. We are constantly appraising our surroundings to determine the appropriate way to act. Through the use of RDI strategies, these discoveries can be made for a child who wouldn’t otherwise make them on his/her own. Give us a call if you want to know how!

Friday, April 17, 2009

Optimism versus Pessimism

Optimism versus Pessimism
By: Erin Roon, MA CCC-SLP

Is Your Glass Half Full or Half Empty?

Are you a glass half full or a glass half empty kind of person? Does it really make a difference? I think it makes a huge difference in your overall functioning, and the quality of your life.

Optimism can lead to accomplishment. If you think something is possible, you will generally work harder to achieve it. Believing in the positive allows you to feel good about life in general. Being optimistic can lead to an overall mood of happiness, and enjoyment in life. While most optimists understand that not everything works out as planned, they recognize that some good can come from the unexpected.

Pessimism can lead to defeat and despair. When you are doubtful that things will happen or be accomplished, you tend not to try as hard - which then leads to failure. Approaching everyday tasks with a negative attitude quickly leads to a negative outlook on life.

I see optimism in the faces of those with whom I work each day. I think it is this positive upbeat attitude that allows us to be productive and love the work we do with families. Oh, we feel frustrated and concerned from time to time; but we have been in this profession long enough to know that if we just stay positive and wait it out, we will either find a solution or the difficulty will pass. I truly believe that our optimistic attitude is what provides us with our sense of fulfillment, and improves our overall quality of life.

Unfortunately, I encounter many pessimistic people in a variety of settings. It may be that some of those people are just having a bad day; but so often it is a way of life for people. We can become pessimistic about things we have no control over - like the economy and the weather. We do not have control of either; but we can determine what it is about those two things that we do have control over, and take action there. I can manage my own finances, for example, and make sure that I am spending within my means. I can also make sure that I am putting money aside in the event that something unexpected happens. In terms of the weather, I cannot control the temperature or even precipitation; but I can decide how I will dress each day based on what is happening outside. If I spend all of my time focusing on and worrying about all of the things that I cannot change and do not have control over, I create an even bleaker picture; and other parts of my life begin to suffer.

We all have moments of optimism and pessimism; what it comes down to is how the scale is tipped. Is your cup half full or half empty? If you feel that you are more of a pessimist than an optimist, are you able to pin point ways you could make a change? Whether you are feeling pessimistic about many things or even just a few, try the steps below to see if you can tip the scales back in the favor of optimism.

  • Make a list of all the things that you are concerned or worried about.

  • Determine which of the things on your list you have control over. Cross out the items that are truthfully out of your control.

  • Of the remaining items, take some time to think about what you can do to change those situations.

  • Choose one or two items from the list, and begin working to improve those situations.

  • Take some time every so often to reflect back on your list. Have you been able to make some changes? Are you feeling more optimistic about the items that are left? Are you ready to begin working on another item?

Taking it one step at a time, taking charge of the things you can control, and making changes can lead to a more optimistic attitude. Often times we try to take on too much at one time, which leads to failure and more pessimism. Taking it slow, and working only on the things that we have control over, brings success that leads to more optimism and a willingness to keep moving forward.

I am thankful for the many things I have, and am hopeful that the problems of today will no longer be problems tomorrow. As I sit here gazing out the window at the beautiful sunshine and lack of snow, I am hopeful that this is a sign that spring is just around the corner. It is with this optimism that I can tolerate the endless cold weather that seems to have plagued Michigan for longer than usual this year. It is this optimism that improves my mood, and gives me the hope that strengthens my overall quality of life.

Are you a glass half full or a glass half empty type of person? To find out more about how optimism can propel you forward and improve your overall quality of life, please visit our website at

Friday, April 3, 2009

Prioritizing Needs and Treatment for Children with Autism

Prioritizing Needs and Treatment for Children with Autism
By: Nicole Beurkens, M.Ed.

I recently had a parent refer to the many needs of her daughter in this way: “It’s like there are three floors of the house burning! Where do we start and which level do we fight the fire on first?” This provides an excellent visual metaphor for determining priorities in treatment.

When a child has autism, or another neurodevelopmental disorder, there are many areas of need to consider. The pervasive nature of the diagnosis leaves little unscathed in terms of development and functioning. The extent to which each area of functioning is impacted varies, but it’s safe to say that all children on the spectrum are affected by their autism in numerous areas. There are communication problems, social interaction problems, restricted behaviors, rigid thinking, and other issues that come from having the core deficits of autism. Then, for many kids on the spectrum, there are the co-occurring problems to address such as impulsivity, feeding problems, sensory processing problems, motor deficits, academic problems, and more. The list can go on and on depending on the child and it can, indeed, feel like all three floors of the house are burning.

Once you have carefully and thoroughly identified the conditions and areas of functioning that require treatment, the question becomes what to treat, when to treat it, and how to treat it. The pervasive nature of these disorders is the equivalent of a house that burning from a fire that started in the foundation. There are a few options to consider when making these decisions:

  • If all three floors are burning, there may be a tendency to decide to try to throw a lot of water on everything in an effort to put the entire fire out at once. I have seen parents do this and the result is generally unfortunate for everyone involved. Parents can become completely overwhelmed trying to address everything at once; comprehending multiple therapies, driving to get to therapies, having many people in your home, paying for services, and trying to stay emotionally stable in the midst of it all. Trying to treat everything at once can lead to burned out parents and burned out kids. It can also lead to the house burning down, because by throwing water at the whole fire at once you will not be able to concentrate enough in one area to make a real dent in the fire. You might keep the fire from spreading, and you might reduce the flames a little on each level, but the fire itself will keep on burning on every level.

  • One could also decide to concentrate water on the area that seems to be the most obvious – the top of the house where the flames are shooting out. This can be thought of as the approach of treating the most obvious problems first – my child isn’t talking, doesn’t look at me, doesn’t know how to make friends, and/or doesn’t behave normally; so we’re going to treat those things right away. That seems like a logical plan on the surface, but the problem is that it is the equivalent of putting out the fire from the top floor first. You might save the top floor, but there is no foundation to hold it up. What you end up with is part of a house that is salvaged, but can’t support itself. This is what happens when we choose a skill-based approach to treatment that does not focus on core developmental issues that need to be addressed.

  • A third approach is to concentrate efforts on the base of the house first by putting out the fire there, and then working your way up to the higher levels of the house. This approach is the equivalent of working on the foundational developmental skills, abilities, and milestones that must be achieved in order for a child to make long-term developmental progress. It can be a difficult choice to make because it feels like the things that are most obvious are not being treated right away. It can feel like too much of the fire is allowed to burn while efforts are concentrated on one area at the base. However, this is the choice that must be made for long-term gain. It is in focusing on the core deficit areas of autism in developmentally appropriate and specifically targeted ways that we move forward.

As parents and professionals we have to recognize that there is only so much “water” to go around – only so many hours in the day, energy to expend, knowledge that can be absorbed, money that can be spent; the list goes on. We need to consider the idea that it is not necessarily about getting more water, it is about how that water is used. It is about:

  • Understanding exactly what needs to be treated and prioritizing those needs so that a treatment plan is developed to work in everyone’s best interest, without extending beyond resources that are not there.

  • Understanding that by treating foundational developmental issues, many other problems begin to fall away. By taking a bottom-up approach we address areas of development that snowball and create change across the board in the way a child thinks, communicates, and behaves.

  • Prioritizing family health above all else. We must recognize that if the needs of everyone in the family unit are sacrificed in the name of doing “more” to treat autism, then in the end everything can be lost.

  • Knowing how to make the most of the time, energy, and finances you can in targeting the core issues of the child’s disability.

  • Refusing to run around trying anything and everything; making yourself, your child, and everyone around you irritable, tired, frustrated, and financially drained in the process.

Think about how you are prioritizing the needs of your child. Are you able to rest assured that you are targeting what needs to be targeted for now, and that everything else needs to be left for later? Do you have a strategy that is allowing you to put out the fire from the source instead of blindly aiming water at the obvious flames? Do you have a good balance in your family where autism is one part of what you focus on as a family, and not the thing that takes up everyone’s time, energy, and finances? These issues are critical to consider when initially making treatment decisions, and must be revisited frequently along the journey of providing for the needs of your child and family.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Spring Break is Back

Spring Break is Back
By: Courtney Kowalczyk, M.Ed.

The weather is warming up here in Michigan, and it is hard to believe that spring break is right around the corner. Spring time can be a season of change for many children, and it is important to try and maintain some consistency and routine. Whether you are going away for spring break or staying home, here are a few fun ideas to help you and your family maintain consistency as well as to enjoy the time off.

  • Set up an indoor treasure hunt. We all know that the weather during the spring season can be somewhat unpredictable, which means that you may find yourselves stuck indoors whether you are at home or on vacation. Wherever you are, you and your family can have a great time with an indoor treasure hunt. Each family member can take turns hiding their own personal items, and giving clues to the other family members about where the “treasures” are hiding.

  • Camp out! Whether you sleep on the floor in your living room or outside in a tent, camping out can be fun for everyone. You can set up your own campsite indoors or outside with a tent, sleeping bags, and snacks. As a family, you could sit around a real or pretend fire and take turns telling stories to one another. You can even make smores over a fire or in the microwave.

  • Do some spring cleaning! We all could take a day or two to get ourselves and our households organized and thoroughly cleaned. Here are several spring cleaning ideas that may help you and your family get organized: clean the refrigerator, organize the junk drawer, put away winter gear and bring out the spring clothes, wash your window coverings, dust your ceiling fans, change the batteries in your smoke detector, dust your light fixtures, clean out your flower beds, organize your garage, and rake your yard.

  • Write your family story. Each year, families grow, change, and make new discoveries. Spring break is a great time to either start or continue writing your family story. You can do this by keeping a photo album with pictures and comments to which each member contributes, or you can use many of the new photo book computer programs that are available online. It is so neat to look back at previous years to see how family members have grown or changed, as well as to see the fun adventures that your family had together.

Besides planning fun activities to do together, it is also important to keep in mind the importance of consistency and routine during this vacation time. Even though you are on vacation, it will be helpful to try and keep similar wake, sleep, and meal time routines. You may also want to consider planning only one or two activities for you and your family to do each day. If you try to pack too many things in, spring break can become stressful for everyone instead of restful.

By using the activities and ideas listed above, you and your family can make plans together to enjoy the spring break vacation!

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Phillips flower Amy Allie

Amy Allie is an Amaryllis. We planted the bulb before Christmas. We watered it and put it in the window and waited for it to grow and waited and waited. It got kind of stinky. We were going to throw it in the garbage but we didn't because it had mostly Stinky roots but it still had 2 good roots, so we watered it and waited for it to grow. All of a sudden on February 18 it started to grow and it grew and grew. We measured about 2 to 3 inches each week. Now on March 23 its beautiful and it has bloomed!
The end

Friday, March 20, 2009

A Journey Through Infant Development: The Ninth Month

A Journey Through Infant Development: The Ninth Month
By: Michelle VanderHeide, BSW

It is the dance of life, the basis of human interaction. It’s about moving fluidly through our interactions. It’s not about an outcome, but the process in which we get there. It’s about doing it together. It’s the give and take. It’s the responses given to our actions and/or words. It’s co-regulation. By 9 months of age, a child spends a majority of the day engaged in co-regulation. My son is now 9 months old, and our interactive dance is becoming more fluid as we continue this journey.

  • You are the joy of our lives, the spark in our day. The joy you bring to our family is indescribable. Unlike when your sisters were babies, we are trying to slow down how fast you are growing. We want you to remain a baby forever, as you are the final baby of the family; and yet you seem to be growing twice as fast as your sisters.

  • You have so many games that you love to play. You’ll crawl (yes, you are crawling now!) behind a chair, and then peak your head out when you see that I’m looking. I smile, then you smile back and hide again. It’s only a moment later when you slowly peak your head back out, and start to giggle as I give you a funny face.

  • You are eating more and more foods! You make so many people laugh as you take a bite, and then quickly open your mouth for another bite. You’ll sit there with your mouth open staring at me until I get that spoon filled with more food back to your mouth. It can’t come fast enough! If I stand up to go get something, you scream like you are going to starve. I know you are about done eating when you grab at the spoon as though it’s a toy and not a shoveling device.

  • If there is a ball around, you will find it. You love playing with balls! I’ll hand it to you, and you’ll throw it back. Sometimes it comes to me, but your hands don’t always throw in the same direction you’re looking. Then as I hold the ball you look at me with anticipation, wondering if and when I’ll throw it back; often times your hands and feet are moving with your excitement. Once I roll it back to you, you smile and scream in delight! If it bounces off you, you’ll race after it. You already know that we both have a responsibility in keeping the ball in play.

  • Your sisters still love to torment you. They’ll climb in your face, and try to tickle you or tackle you. You are learning to defend yourself by clawing them in the face or pulling their hair. They get upset; but I defend you, and tell them that they deserved it.

  • There is nothing better than coming home after not seeing you all day. When you see me, you light right up and come crawling to me as fast as you can. If you can’t get to me or I don’t pick you up right away, you’ll sit there and scream until I give you attention. It can be a bit annoying, but I love the attention and the immediate hugs!

The interactive dance of life is established, and relationships are beginning to flourish. Isn’t it amazing how early on in life this begins to happen? This is a topic I discuss early and often with families who have a child with autism: What does co-regulation look like; when is it established; when does it break down; and how is it repaired? Co-regulation is the basis for all human interaction, essential for developing relationships. Watching this form between the parents and children I work with is an amazing experience. What are you doing to initiate this dance?

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Building Competence

Building Competence
By: Erin Roon, MA CCC-SLP

Competence is a word I use a lot in my day to day work with families as an RDI® consultant. Not many sessions go by in which we don’t talk about their child’s feelings of competence or incompetence. Many people do not stop to think about feelings of competence in themselves, let alone in their children.

I never used to think about competency/incompetency, at least not in personal terms. I just knew that there were times when I felt really good about my ability to do something. At other times I didn’t want to do something, because I didn’t think I was very good at it. We all have areas in which we feel really competent, and other areas where we feel incompetent. Put me in a room with a child for an hour, and I feel competent to build rapport at some point. We may even establish some co-regulation and a shared experience. I thrive in this type of situation. On the other hand, put me in a room with ten adults that I don’t know very well, and all I want to do is leave. I don’t feel very competent in my abilities to socialize with groups of people outside of my family, close friends, or profession. I avoid those types of situations when possible.

The funny thing about competence/incompetence is that you can see it manifested in people’s behavior. When people are feeling competent about their skills or abilities in a given activity, they are relaxed, happy, and more willing to participate. Things seem to go smoother, and the result is usually positive. When moments of competence are spotlighted, those memories are stored and can be used later to build new areas of competence.

When a person is feeling incompetent about their abilities in a given area, they may appear tense, sad, angry, or defiant. They may also have a more difficult time performing, or even refuse to participate. Many times when we see a negative behavior in a child, we think that s/he is just being defiant or naughty. In reality, what the child might be trying to communicate are feelings of incompetence. The child who complains about a task or says things like “This is so dumb” or “I hate this” may really be saying, “I feel incompetent. I need help.” It is much harder to engage a person who is feeling incompetent, and this can lead to negative outcomes. Unfortunately, a negative outcome creates negative memories that lead to even more feelings of incompetence, perpetuating the cycle.

So, what can be done to break the cycle of incompetence? The first thing I have parents work on with their child is to ensure that a guided participation relationship has been established between the adult and child. When the child has developed this type of relationship, s/he will trust that the parents will be there to guide and give support when s/he is feeling incompetent. How is this done? By starting with activities that are short, incorporating activities in which the child is already showing some competence and taking him/her to the next step all while providing enough support to make the child successful. Building new levels of competence, in areas where the child has already shown some competency builds a trusting guided participation relationship. Once this relationship is established, the guide can begin to introduce new activities; and the child will be more willing to attempt these tasks, knowing his guide will be there to support him. Recognizing the behavior that communicates feelings of incompetence can be the key in knowing how to support the child and break the cycle.

For more information on how you can begin building competence in your child, please visit our website at

Thursday, March 5, 2009

12 Things Parents and Professionals Must Understand About Educating Students with Autism and Other Neurodevelopmental Disorders

12 Things Parents and Professionals Must Understand About Educating Students with Autism and Other Neurodevelopmental Disorders
By: Nicole Beurkens, M.Ed.

Working with parents and educators for over a decade has taught me some important lessons about what it means to provide a meaningful education to students with autism and other neurodevelopmental disorders. It is easy to get bogged down in the moment-to-moment challenges and lose perspective on what we are trying to accomplish. Too often we employ strategies that address an immediate problem, without figuring out how to build the foundations that are required for addressing the challenge over the long-term. In searching for the elusive “quick fix” we fail to implement some basic but powerful concepts that support learning for all students.

Here are 12 important concepts every parent and professional should consider when designing appropriate educational opportunities for students with autism and other neurodevelopmental disorders:

  • Attitude: Your attitude is the most important tool you bring to your work with students. You do not need to have experience teaching students with neurodevelopmental disorders in order to be successful with them, but you do need to build trust through acceptance, patience, mutual respect, and a willingness to learn.

  • Remediation and Compensation: Solutions that solve a problem in the short term may not create foundational change in the long term. A balance of short-term and long-term strategies is needed for students to be truly successful.

  • Relationships are Essential for Growth and Development: We learn and grow through our relationships with others. Behavioral and emotional self-regulation begins with being able to regulate with others.

  • Our Communication is a Powerful Tool: Speaking and communicating are two very different things. The ways in which we use verbal and nonverbal communication has a significant impact on our students’ communication development.

  • Processing: Neurological disorders impact students’ abilities to take in, make sense of, and respond to information. We need to learn to slow down in order to speed up in order to support and improve their processing.

  • Promoting Independence, Thinking, and Problem Solving: The most important outcome of the educational process is to teach students to think. We need to create daily opportunities for students to think about and flexibly respond to what is happening around them.

  • Environments Make a Difference: The physical environment plays a significant role in student success. We need to take the time to observe and understand how the physical environment is impacting student functioning.

  • Promoting Competence: Students who feel incompetent do not learn and thrive. It is crucial to find ways to help all students have meaningful roles in the classroom, help them know they are supported, and send the message that we know they are capable.

  • Labels: The names we give students, classrooms, and programs are far less important than understanding their unique characteristics. It is easy to give children labels, and much more challenging to understand what really makes them tick so as to best support them. Labels should be viewed as a beginning, not an endpoint.

  • Obstacles: Everyone has obstacles—challenges that impact their ability to function at their best. The responsibility for identifying and resolving behavior obstacles and challenges lies much more with adults than it does with children.

  • Families as Partners: Parents are the primary players in the growth and development of their children. Professionals and families must be more than a team for the purpose of completing required paperwork. A working relationship based on trust and mutual respect is required for students to reach their highest potential.

  • Collective Visions: Having a vision of what constitutes a satisfying quality of life for students and their families allows us to create educational plans that accomplish meaningful outcomes. Shared visions created by parents and professionals provide a powerful map for moving forward.

Approaching the education of students with neurodevelopmental disorders with these 12 powerful concepts in mind provides a more meaningful and successful experience for everyone involved. Application of these principles allows us to best guide students to reach their highest potential in school and beyond.

Friday, February 27, 2009

Indoor Sensory Ideas and Activities

Indoor Sensory Ideas and Activities
By: Courtney Kowalczyk, M.Ed.

The snow continues to fall here in Michigan, and it seems like forever since my family and I were able to enjoy the outdoors without worrying about frostbite. Cabin fever is really beginning to set in. I cannot wait for the warm sunny spring days to arrive, and to go for a bike ride with my family!

The cabin fever that my family and I have been experiencing lately seems to be a common theme among many of the families with whom I have been working. This time of year seems to be difficult for all of us, and especially for children who have sensory processing difficulties. During the mid-winter months, we typically see an increase in sensory seeking behaviors due to the limited amount of play time outside or elsewhere. The holidays are now over as well, which means that the lights and intense sensory input of the holiday season has past. It is still important to make sure that the sensory needs of our kids are being met. Here are a few simple sensory ideas that you can use during the indoor times of the year.

  • Set-up a sensory course. Children always seem to enjoy making and playing on indoor sensory courses. You can set-up a simple course in your living room, bedroom, or basement using household materials. Couch cushions, pillows, flat sheets, and other items are wonderful materials that you can use to create a sensory course. Your children will have a blast jumping into a pile of cushions, or crawling under a sheet!

  • Increase tactile input. Many children enjoy touching or manipulating sticky or textured surfaces that provide them with great tactile input as well. Playing with shaving cream on a table surface can be very enjoyable, and it is also a great cleaning activity! You can make sensory stress balls by filling balloons with flour or sugar. Finally, finger painting with pudding or jell-o can be enjoyable, too.

  • Take part in physical activities. Even when the weather is cold outside, you can still participate in physical activities. Playing hide and seek, doing the crab walk, or log rolling are great for sensory input as well as increasing physical activity. You can even do a 3-legged race indoors! If the weather is tolerable, then shoveling snow, ice skating, sledding, making snow angels, and building snowmen are great outdoor physical activities.

  • Turn daily chores into the Winter Olympics. Playing games while doing chores always seems to make them more enjoyable for everyone. You can use those chores to help meet sensory needs as well. Shooting baskets with dirty clothes, playing pretend hockey with brooms and dust pans, and being a figure skater while picking up toys can be great fun!

We can all beat winter cabin fever by including more sensory activities in our daily routines. For children with sensory processing difficulties, it is even more important to make sure that they are getting the input they so desperately need. By following these simple sensory ideas, I hope everyone will be able to get the input they need during this time of year. Just keep in mind that spring really is right around the corner!

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Climb All the Way to the Top By: PHILLIP

I did climb to the green hammock. I was in the striped one and climbed all the way to the top. I never gave up and made it to the very top. It was hard and my arms got tired.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

A Journey Through Infant Development: The Eighth Month

A Journey Through Infant Development: The Eighth Month
By: Michelle VanderHeide, BSW

Guided Participation is a concept that is not new, it’s the way we have always learned: parents supporting an infant as she learns to walk, a chemistry teacher demonstrating how to carefully mix chemicals, a college student observing through an internship, and a teenager in driver’s education learning the rules and steps to driving. Without guided participation, we’d have to learn everything on our own, rather than through others’ experiences; and we’d all feel lost and scared. Our world would be a mess! When I look at my 8 month old son, I’m amazed by all the things he has already accomplished through his ability to observe others.

  • You are such a blessing in my life! Daily I am amazed at how much you’ve grown. Sometimes I look at you in bed and think, where has my little baby gone? Where have those opportunities of lying on the couch with you and getting cuddle time gone? I miss those times when you’d just sleep on my chest; yet I am so thankful that you have grown into the rambunctious little boy that you are.

  • You know that you aren’t alone, and that if you are uncertain or confused about something you can look to me for help. The other day you were playing with a ball – like you often do – and it rolled under the couch. Instead of getting upset, you rolled your way over there and started reaching under the couch. You were unable to reach the ball, so you sat up and looked right at me. You had that look of “help me mom” on your face. I was happy to move the ball a little closer to you so you could successfully pull it out.

  • You are getting places pretty quickly with your army crawl, but you are intrigued by integrating your legs at the same time. On the one hand, I’d love for you to do a full crawl; but I don’t mind you helping to keep the floors clean either. When your sisters are crawling around on the floor, you are watching them carefully. It won’t be long now and you’ll get it! You also like to pull yourself up to see what’s on the table or couch. You try hard to stand, but you haven’t quite got it yet. You get up to your knees, and we can just see your beautiful blue eyes peering over the top of the coffee table. It’s so cute.

  • You initiate play all the time now. You often start to clap so we’ll play patty cake with you. You start clapping (both hands open now) and look at me with a big smile. If I say “patty cake” you start smiling even bigger, and start clapping again. You think you are so funny. You watch all the hand actions closely, and you pretty much have every move down now. Once we get through the whole routine, you start it over again.

  • Every time I play a game or do a puzzle with one of your sisters, you want to be right in the middle of it all. You scoot over and get mad if you can’t play, too. You notice that you aren’t getting all of the attention. The other day grandma was holding your younger cousin, and you didn’t like that at all. You squealed while scooting all the way over to grandma’s legs. You pulled at her pant legs, trying to get your way back to her arms. You are so spoiled and so loved! It’s amazing to me how observant of your surrounding you are.

  • A new trick you picked up is waving “goodbye.” You watch me closely while I show you how to wave. Sometimes you choose to join in the waving, other times you just smile. It’s like you are playing a game – “I know how to do that, but I’m getting a lot of attention; so I’ll just let them keep waving at me.” When you do wave, you wave like you are Miss America, with the fancy back and forth wave. Very silly coming from a baby, but so unique to you. I think it’s beautiful.

As a neuro-typical child, my son continues to reach new milestones on a regular basis. He is able to watch others and learn from them. The dynamic world is fascinating to him; yet when he is confused or uncomfortable, he is able to look to me for support. This just goes to show the importance of developing a solid master apprentice relationship, where the child learns from the parent and is given support when uncertain. If things are moving too quickly for your child, s/he will be unable to learn from other’s experience, robbing him/her of the opportunity to grow. If you notice that your child is missing some of the above milestones, it may be because s/he is unable to learn in fast moving, dynamic settings. RDI has many strategies to help children with autism or other developmental disabilities learn the same way children have always learned - through and with a trusted guide. It’s worked all over the world since the beginning of time; and it can work for your child, too!

Friday, February 13, 2009

Hot Wheels Track

Jonathan put together a Hot Wheels track. There were many of pieces. Jonathan put a bright red car on the track first. The car goes and races around. He likes to line cars up on the track but be careful of your fingers, the cars go very fast. He likes to try different cars to see which ones work the best. Jonathan cheers, "Go! Go! Go! You can do it!" as his favorite cars race around the track.

Thursday, February 12, 2009


By: Erin Roon, MA CCC-SLP

According to the American Heritage Desk Dictionary, the word apprentice is defined as “one learning a trade under a skilled master; or a beginner.” I find both of these definitions to be relevant to the work I do each day, as well as the way I think about apprenticeship in relation to the remediation of autism spectrum disorders or related neurological disorders.

Apprenticeship in job training has been around for hundreds of years, dating back to the middle ages. The idea of apprenticeship itself has been around much longer than that, since the dawn of history. Humans have been learning from “masters” forever, and it is what allows the human race to survive. Parents apprentice their children who apprentice their children, and so on. This passing on of basic survival skills is not what we may traditionally think of as a master/apprentice relationship; but in reality, it is apprenticeship in its most basic and necessary form.

We tend to think of apprentices in relation to job training, or within education, or the work force. While this form of training is the backbone of most occupations, apprenticeship is used in many places, and for many purposes. If you go back to the definition at the beginning of this article, it states that an apprentice is one who is learning a trade under a master. When I think of this, I take the meaning of the word “trade” loosely. Trade could mean skill, task, or concept. When thought of in this way, apprenticeship applies to almost everything we learn throughout our lives.

When was the last time you were an apprentice or a master? I often find myself in both positions. Sometimes I am even caught as a master and an apprentice of the same task. As I continue to learn, I begin passing my knowledge and discoveries on to someone else. I’m sure you have all had this experience as well. Let’s face it, there are some things we will never completely master, but we know enough to take on an apprentice and begin guiding him or her to a new level of understanding.

In my profession, I am in the unique position to be both a master and apprentice. I spend most of my days guiding parents to carry out the process of remediation with their children with an autism spectrum disorder or related neurological disorder. But I often find myself making new discoveries as well, and expanding my abilities even though I am in the master role. This guidance and learning is all based on the master/apprentice relationship that is not unique to parents of children with disabilities, but is inherent in the act of parenting. So, I guide parents who are also in the position of being both master and apprentice.

When parents are in the master role, they spend their time guiding their child to make new discoveries within the safety of their trusting relationship. Parents support their children in learning new things, taking their teaching one step at a time until the child feels competent and ready to take on more independence. So what does this master/apprentice relationship look like between a parent and a child? The following is an example of how a parent would guide their child in learning to make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, steps s/he would use to foster competence and independence.

  • The parent has all necessary materials ready, and begins by having the child be responsible for helping get the bread out of the bag onto the plate. The parent fosters the discovery of needing the bread first by talking the child through what the first step would be. The parent may then have the child choose the next item, and help to open the peanut butter or jelly. At this stage, the parent may just have the child watch as s/he spreads each ingredient.

  • As the child becomes competent with the steps above, the parent then adds the step of spreading the ingredients. The parent might begin by using hand-over-hand to assist the child, and gradually remove their hand as the child feels competent.

  • Next the parent allows the child to make his or her own sandwich, but stands by to offer needed assistance or reminders.

  • The final stage sees the child able to make his or her own sandwich independently, without the support or supervision of a parent.

Each of the above stages may be broken down into even smaller steps, depending on the ability of the child; but the idea is for the child to build competence, make discoveries, and develop independence under the guidance of a trusted parent. It should also be noted that each stage should be practiced multiple times before moving on to the next step. Guides want to build competence in their apprentice before expanding the level of independence.

Many parents do this type of guiding on a daily basis, without even realizing what they are doing. Each of these master/apprentice experiences is what fosters independence and a quality of life in our children. This same type of master/apprentice relationship is what we use in the remediation of autism spectrum disorders through the RDI® program. The only difference may be the amount of support and/or time it takes to master a task.

For more information on how you can begin building a master/apprentice relationship with your child, please visit our website at

Monday, February 9, 2009

Trash day

On Mondays we collect all of the trashes and put them in one or two bags and put them in the big black trash can. Then we collect the recycling and bring it to the bin. Then we take it out to the curb. Sometimes we play rock hockey on the way back. The end.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

One Step Back, Three Steps Forward: Dysregulation and Development

One Step Back, Three Steps Forward: Dysregulation and Development
By: Nicole Beurkens, M.Ed.

I’ve been thinking about dysregulation and developmental “growth spurts” lately, as my 9-month old daughter has had a weeklong stretch of frustrating behavior. Normally she is a very easy baby; content to hang out with us and do whatever. She generally likes to be held, likes to play with toys on the floor, sleeps through the night, etc. Two weeks ago she learned to crawl —that funny army crawl where babies kind of use their elbow and knee to propel themselves forward as they move across the floor (OT’s in the audience-yes I know the importance of doing a cross-crawl but for now she is doing it this way!). She wants to get everywhere and she is FAST! There is now a lot of time spent telling her “no you can’t go there,” and picking her up to move her back to a space where she can be. She has also started to wake up quite a bit in the night; crying out and banging on her crib rails. I’ll go into her room to see her trying to pull herself up in the bed. Then she gets mad when she falls down onto the mattress. During the day she seems to be is frustrated and upset about everything! She doesn’t want to be on the floor unless she is allowed to crawl wherever she wants to. She doesn’t want to be in her jumper or her exersaucer; but she doesn’t really want to be held either. Basically she just wants to be on the go and exploring her newfound mobility, and if she can’t then she is MAD!

I remember this happening with my three boys as well when they were this age. It seems like my kids go through a period of falling apart around the time they make a developmental leap forward, and even for some time after that as they settle in to their newfound abilities. It’s obvious to me with my daughter that this is what is going on right now because she is my fourth child, but I remember with my first one thinking that he had turned into a nightmare overnight! Now I’m able to ride it out knowing that they all go through periods of time like this and it will end.

In the Relationship Development Intervention (RDI) work I do with families who have children with autism and other neurodevelopmental disorders, I see this same phenomenon occur. Sometimes parents will call or email to say that their child is suddenly going through a very dysregulated time period. When we look at it closer, they have either just developed a new skill or way of thinking about things, or they are about to go through a developmental spurt. It seems to be the brain’s way of reorganizing itself, which can be a dysregulating process. Obviously not all dysregulation in children with these disorders can be attributed to cognitive reorganization and developmental growth spurts, but it is something worth considering if you see it happening with your child. Looking at it from this perspective allows us as parents to slow down and wait to see what happens, without immediately worrying that our child has regressed or become permanently dysregulated. Sometimes in development we take a step back to take a few steps forward; and that is good to remember for all kids!