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.