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Sign Language was first used for the hearing-impaired. Years ago, Autistic children were taught to communicate through Sign Language. With today’s technology, computers have taken over as the best form of communication for people with communication difficulties. I understand it is more sensible to use computers. However, how often does a child have a computer on hand when they go on an outing? 

Many behaviors associated with Autism and other developmental disabilities such as anxiety and meltdowns are due to the persons inability or difficulty to communicate. What happens if your child with Autism wants to communicate with you or his/her siblings and can’t find the words or are afraid to communicate in public? You guessed it, they remain silent or they act out and may have a meltdown. Research suggests that teaching sign language along with speech will likely accelerate a person’s ability to communicate. It would be easier for that child to use Sign Language to communicate their feelings, wants or needs.

I am the parent of four children. When all four of my children were very young, I taught them how to use Sign Language along with speaking. It started off with just small words like drink, water, milk, and the phrase “I love you.” As they got a little bit older and learned to speak more words I increased their Sign Language vocabulary. If they pointed to the milk, I would Sign the word milk and say the word milk.

My youngest son didn’t point to what he wanted that often. So, it was a bit more difficult for me to figure out what he wanted. It took him longer to learn Sign Language. I think that’s when I knew that he was different. To this day, he doesn’t use Sign Language very often but he can read my signs, understand them and respond appropriately. For example, he knows the signs for please, thank you, sit, stop, I love you, yes and no. He knows other signs too but the ones that I mentioned are the ones that I use most often when we are out in public. If he starts acting up, I can sign the word stop or sit. He responds better to the signs more than facial expressions. If I try to make facial expresisons he usually says, “what?” as he doesn’t understand a lot of facial expressions. He understands the signs so much better and his behavior is quickly adapted to what I expect him to do.

Now, I’m not saying that everyone with Autism or communication difficulties should be taught Sign Language. Not everyone would benefit from learning Sign Language. But, for some people, it may be very beneficial. It would have to be a personal decision. I personally found it helpful for our family.

Most children, whether neuro typical or not, have to be reminded to say please and thank you. I find it much easier and respectful of my childs’ feelings to prompt them without making them feel embarrassed. When we are out in public and the children forget their manners, I non-chalantly turn my back on the person they are speaking to and sign and mouth the word please or thank you. It becomes less embarrassing for them. I am not verbally reminding them to “mind their manners.” They get a visual cue without the other person knowing that my child had to be reminded to be respectful. This has also helped my children to read lips. Children, and adults, with Asperger’s syndrome have a difficult (if not impossible) time looking someone in the eyes. My son, Austin, is the same way. However, when I sign something to him he focuses his attention on my hands and doesn’t have to look me in the eye.

If you decide to teach your child Sign Language it’s much easier to start them off with signs that express their basic needs such as drink, the need to eat, and having to use the bathroom. You know your child best and what signs would be best for them to learn. You don’t have to teach them the whole English language in Sign. But, a few basic signs to help them communicate better is helpful. Depending on your child, it may take a few minutes or a few months to learn their first sign. I taught my children when they were just learning how to speak. If you have a child that is older, it may take longer for them to learn Sign Language. It may take you some time to learn it yourself. But, it’s a learning experience that you can do together. If you are interested in free lessons for basic signs you can visit the American Sign Language University. Dr. Bill Vicars is the president and owner of the Lifeprint Institute, a consultation business focusing on technology-enhanced delivery of ASL Instruction. He is an associate-professor of American Sign Language and Deaf Studies at a university in Sacramento, California. You can view his biography HERE.

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As most of you already know, my 12 year old son Austin has had a difficult time in school.  He has been kicked out of two schools and was made to go to a behavioral specialty school before being mainstreamed back into his old school. 

 At the age of six, he was diagnosed with ADHD.  I’ve always known that there was something more to his behaviors than just ADHD.  Over the past year I have been researching Sensory Perception Disorder (also known as Sensory Integration Disorder), Autism, and Asperger’s Syndrome.  I know that he has Sensory Perception Disorder (SPD). But, I also believe that goes hand in hand with Asperger’s Syndrome.

I spent the last four months trying to find a family doctor for my children.  I finally found one and got Austin in to the doctor yesterday.  The doctor agreed to sign an outpatient prescription for Austin to be evaluated for SPD.  Yeah!  I couldn’t be happier!  After what seems like an eternity, he is finally going to get some help.  I filled out the intake form for the Children’s Development Center, enclosed the outpatient prescription, and mailed it this morning!

I called the Children’s Development Center and spoke to the intake receptionist.  She told me that the Occupational Therapists usually schedule their own evaluations.  She also told me that it should only take a week or two to get him in for his evaluation.  I will keep you all updated on Austin’s progress.  Please keep your fingers, toes, and everything else crossed.

Thanks,

Erica

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First and foremost, I would like to start off by saying that tantrums and meltdowns are two totally separate things.  How can you tell the difference? 

Typically, a tantrum starts with the child begging for an item, food, or toy.  If the parent refuses the child this item, the child begins to cry, stomp their feet, or scream.  If the parent gives in and allows the child said item, the tantrum comes to an end and the child has learned how to get what he/she wants.

If you have ever seen a child have a meltdown, you know the difference between a meltdown and a tantrum.  With a meltdown, the child has become either over stimulated or under stimulated by his/her surroundings.  It may be flickering lights, too many people, multiple sounds, someone touching him/her, or some other stimuli.  When the child goes into a meltdown, there is nothing that you can do or give the child that will make the meltdown end as you might with a tantrum.   A child or an adult, for that matter, going through a meltdown may not be able to tell you what the problem is while they are going through the meltdown.  The only thing you can do is to wait it out and ensure that they are safe and not going to injure themselves. 

With that being said, I’m sure that you can see the difference between a tantrum and a meltdown.  The latter is exactly what my son, Austin, experienced yesterday.  I think that Austin may have caused his own meltdown.  It was early on in his first class.  The kids were on a bathroom break.  As he walked into the bathroom at school, the lights were off.  So, naturally, he flicked the lights on.  As he dropped his hand from the light switch, he inadvertently shut the lights off again.  So, he turned them back on again. 

The children in his class told the teacher that Austin was flickering the lights in the bathroom.  When the teacher confronted him, he said that he didn’t do it.   He instantly became angry and started throwing his books, screaming, and banging his head on the wall.  There was nothing that anyone could do to get him to calm down.  The principal finally got him into the office and immediately called me at home.  When I got to the school, Austin was in the principal’s office crying and talking angrily to himself, as he usually does towards the end of a meltdown.  He was still at the point where he couldn’t talk to me and tell me exactly what happened.  I told the principal that he was not going to be productive at all for the rest of the day.  He allowed me to take Austin home.  It took Austin another hour before he could tell me what had happened.

I’m not sure if the flickering lights are what set him off or not.  But, it could stand to reason that that might be the cause of yesterday’s meltdown.  I can only hope and pray that today is going to be a better day.  I truly need to get some professional help soon.  Waiting for our insurance to come through is frustrating.  Especially when I see him getting worse and nobody understands him.  Yes, he may appear to be a normal neruo typical boy.  But, he’s not and he needs a little understanding!

I welcome any and all comments or advice.  If you have had a similar experience with your child, I would love to hear from you.

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Austin and Kiwi (3 y/o Pacific Parrotlet)

See, he can be still for more than 5 minutes.

Today was very frustrating.  My son, Austin, came home from school with yet another detention.  This poor child has undiagnosed Asperger’s Syndrome.  He is not a neuro-typical child.  Yet, he is being treated like one.  When too much is expected from him he acts out and gets frustrated. And, his teachers don’t understand why he is doing this. 

 I am not trying to make excuses for my son.  Nor, am I excusing his behaviors.  I will be the first one to dole out proper discipline and I require that of other authority figures in regards to my son.  However, Austin is not a neuro-typical child.  He has a neurological disorder that requires some accommodations.  Yes, he should be treated as much like a neuro-typical child but, he needs to be given certain accommodations as discretely as possible.

Here is a prime example of what I’m talking about…

Austin had a spelling packet that was due today.  The whole class had a week in which to finish this packet.  With him forgetting to bring it home, not enough time during school, and becoming distracted; he still managed to finish the packet.  Or, so he thought.  When it was time to hand in the packet, a student that sits next to him was kind enough to tell him to check it over to make sure that it was done.  So, that’s exactly what he did.  While going through the packet, he realized that he had missed two questions.  It only makes sense that he would answer those two questions.  However, as he did this, his teacher came around to check on each student and ask if they had their packet done.  When asked, the student must tell the teacher whether their packet is done or not done.

When the teacher got to Austin, he was finishing the two questions that he had overlooked.  And the operative word here is overlooked.  In his mind, he had finished the packet and he was very proud of himself.  Unfortunately, that pride was shot down immediately.  His teacher emailed me later that day and told me that she saw him write two answers but Austin still insisted that he had finished the packet.  In his mind, not a neuro-typical mind, he had finished the packet.  And, on top of that, he had finished it on time.  This was an amazing feat for him.  He believed that he had finished the packet.  But he had merely overlooked two questions.  It wasn’t done on purpose.  It wasn’t done out of spite.  He had simply overlooked two questions.  I explained this to him and told him how proud I am of him.  That made him smile and I got a big hug from him too!  That, in turn, made me smile.

Needless to say, but I’m going to say it anyway, I’m headed to school first thing in the morning and try to work this thing out.  Austin needs an IEP (individualized education plan).  He needs to have sensory breaks.  He needs to be treated like everyone else as much as possible.  But, when it comes to him having to take a sensory break, it needs to be treated as discreetly as possible.  He never asked to be born with this disorder.  He’s dealing with it the best he knows how to and I’m very proud of him!  I’m proud of all my children and I love them unconditionally!

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