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.”