Welcome to One Small Step for Parents! Our goal is to help you find the right resources, support and information that is needed to make informed choices. Without the proper tools we, as parents and adults, don't know what will help our situation or what works and doesn't work. Here at One Small Step, we have done our best to take the guesswork and confusion out of the equation by supplying tools, resources and online support.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Education 101

This is a topic that is near and dear to my heart. As you might have gathered from reading my posts, I have a son who has been diagnosed ADHD/ODD, with Anxiety Disorder, and some Post Traumatic Stress.

What I did not know, or even contemplate was the fact that he also might have an underlying Learning Disability as well.

After speaking with a representative from the Learning Disability Association of Canada (there is also an American Association) I discovered that it is quite common for children diagnosed with this disorder, and others associated with it, to have an undiagnosed learning disability as well.

Most schools know very little about ADHD/ODD, and are reluctant to take advice from 'irate parents', so if you are serious about getting the help your child needs, there are steps you can take that could possibly assist.

First, you need to have your child designated with your school. This allows for an aide to be assigned to help with his or her education needs.

If you are experiencing problems at school, it might be wise to have your child evaluated academically, using a psycho-educational assessment. Don't take anything for granted. Professionals don't always disclose the necessary resources available to you, or all the steps needed to find the answers you require. It has taken years and a lot of digging for me to unearth the processes to ensure my son gets the best possible support and education.

I thought the school I chose for my son was perfect, and that they were dedicated to helping him be successful, which they were. However, administrations change, as do staff, so you need to be well versed with the policies of the present administration, as well as the school board.

Being unfamiliar with I.E.P.s (Individual Education Plans)and I.B.P.s, (Individual Behaviour Plans) I was more than willing to go along with our school, as they accepted my suggestions, implementing them in the classroom, along with a series of steps to help my son de-stress, with the ultimate goal of full integration in the class.

As they were successful for 2 years, I was happy to stay in an advisory, when necessary, capacity. I left the writing of the I.E.Ps and I.B.Ps in the hands of the professionals, content that was one area I didn't have to worry about.

However, as I mentioned earlier, things are subject to change, and it became necessary for me to learn about Behavioural and Educational Plans, and the proper way to construct them.

The plans need to set clear, concise goals that have specified time limits, show what methods will be used to achieve them, and who is responsible for implementing them. This way, when the time limit is reached, you can evaluate the child's progress, see what methods have been successful, and make any necessary changes to reach the objectives set forth in the plan.

The time limits should be long enough to obtain the goal, yet short enough to allow assessment of not only the child's progress, but his or her performance levels.

These plans not only assesses academic achievement, but incorporates their physical and mental health as well. Without a total picture, you could be missing a vital step to ensuring your child's success.

You can get all the relevant information and more from the Learning Disability Association website in your area. If you are unsure how to contact them, just google "Learning Disability of Canada/America".

This resource can be your best friend when it comes to advocating for your child. If ever there was a one-stop-shopping center, this is it. I know I have benefited from speaking with them, and what helps me, ultimately helps my son.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Practical Guidelines for Raising a Child with Adhd

1. Give Your Child Instant Reaction and Consequences More Often

When your child is faced with a job they find boring, tedious or unrewarding, you can guarantee they will find something else to do. If you want them to stay on task, then you will have to find a way to make it more interesting, or rewarding. Positive feedback, coupled with a reward system such as tokens, extra privileges or earning points etc, and mild negative consequences for straying off task are all ways to help keep your child stay focused. Also, if you are trying to change negative behaviours, you must give quick rewards and prompt feedback for good behaviour. Instead of looking for bad behaviour, start seeking out times when your child is behaving well, and give immediate praise.

2. Give Your Child Frequent Response

As mentioned in number 1, immediate feedback can be very helpful, even when given occasionally, but when you give it often, the results are much more beneficial. This doesn’t mean you should run around after your child, finding things to praise him for, no one has time for that. What you can do is instead of waiting until your child has finished his homework or cleaning his room, is to give him some praise and encouragement for what he has accomplished now. Because as you well know, sometimes the completion of a chore can take longer, and is most times accompanied by at least one argument. The more often you encourage your child with positive feedback, the more often he will stay on task.

3. Use Bigger and More Potent Consequences

Being the parent of an Adhd/Odd child, I have had to raise the bar with regard to punishments and consequences. What works for most kids, won’t work for children with this disability. I know there is a school of thought that says we shouldn’t ‘materially’ reward our kids too often because this could replace their feelings of accomplishment and desire to please. But these basic rewards aren’t enough to motivate or stop an Adhd child from inappropriate behaviours. Therefore it is important that more physical attention, like hugs, special snacks or treats, or even small toys and special privileges be considered to induce your child to do chores, homework, follow rules or behave well. (We used to call it bribery, but I find it works well.)

4. Use Incentives More, Punishment, Less

When children misbehave or do something wrong, it is common for their parents to serve up a punishment. However, when you have a child with Adhd who is much more likely to misbehave or act out, this could translate into an abnormal amount of negative reinforcement because they are consistently being punished. This can lead to a build up of resentments on both sides, and cause your child to become more hostile, or avoid you altogether.

Professionals stress “Positives before negatives.” How you do that is simple. When you want to change a negative behaviour with a positive one, such as playing well with siblings, simply watch for times when that behaviour happens naturally, and praise your child. The more often you do this, you will notice, the more often it occurs. However, before you begin to reprimand the opposite behaviour, make sure you have been consistently rewarding the good behaviour for at least a week or longer. A good ratio to keep in mind is 1 to 3. One punishment for every three accounts of praise or rewards. You have to pick your battles. By this, I mean you can’t punish your child for everything when you are trying to change a particular behaviour. You have to be consistent with praise and rewards, and place less emphasis on the punishments. Reward systems are a viable tool to help with this.

5. Segment Chores and Countdown for Transitions

You might have noticed that your child has difficulty completing complex chores like cleaning his room and has trouble shifting from an enjoyable activity to one that is tedious or just plain not fun. Because an Adhd child is focused in the ‘now’, they have a poor concept of ‘later’. By this, I mean they don’t have the same sense of time as other kids. They cannot comprehend the demands that involve timelines, or future results. An hour to them is the same as 5 minutes to us. If you want your child to complete a task in a certain amount of time, the best way to achieve that is have a clock or egg timer set for the desired time limit, and put it where they can see it. The downside to this is you have to keep bring it to their attention for it to work. Some parents use a recording that counts down the time in 5, 10 and 15-minute increments. I use that method vocally.

In order to get your child to finish a complex chore, like cleaning their rooms, the best way to accomplish this is to segment the chore. In other words, break it up into smaller pieces. Instead of having them ‘clean their rooms’, start with having them put their books in the bookcase, or put away all of their Lego. When that is completed, have them put their clothes away, etc. This will help them to keep their focus. The same method can be used to get the child to work on school assignments that require considerable research over a long period of time.

When it becomes necessary to shift their focus from an activity they enjoy to something like eating supper, or getting ready for bed, a good way to do this with a minimum of fuss is to give a verbal reminder, so they are prepared for the transition. Let them know that supper will be ready in a half hour, then again in 15 minutes, and so on. Then when you instruct them to wash up, they are prepared to stop what they are doing and switch gears. This method can be used for everything from getting ready for school, to bath time or being on time for doctor’s appointments.

6. Make Sure They Know the Rules

Adhd children have troubles with their memory. Specifically, the area of the memory, or the ability, to keep an objective forefront in their thoughts, such as retaining data needed to complete a task correctly. Something I have found particularly helpful is to write down important information, as you would important phone numbers in case of an emergency. The same principal applies here.

If your child has trouble with homework, write out a checklist of the steps from start to finish and place it on the table. This way when they start to go off-task, you can remind them to check the card to see what step they are currently working on. Or if your child has a problem playing nicely with others, or his behaviour goes over the top when someone comes over, write down the behaviours or rules that you want them to remember, and have them review the list before playing with friends, or visitors arrive.

An excellent way to reinforce this list of rules is to offer an incentive upon successful completion or remembering and following the guidelines. Whenever possible, have your child use a hands-on, physical approach to remember things. Most Adhd kids respond better when they can see and or touch something rather than just remembering.

7. Be Consistent

One of the most important things you can do to help your child is to be consistent. One of the simplest and hardest tasks a parent of an Adhd child faces is consistency. Do your best to use the same methods to handle your child’s behaviour every time. Regardless of where you are, be it in a store, or visiting, or at your child’s school, use the same tactics as you would at home. And don’t give up, Rome wasn’t built in a day!

A lot of parents think that explaining to their child why they shouldn’t continue with a certain behaviour is better than creating a ‘scene’ when in a public place. I recently had to visit a clinic, and while I was waiting my turn, I watched a 4-year-old run out the door and down the walkway. He was immediately followed by his older brother, who brought him back. As soon as the brother sat down, the little boy dashed out the door again, this time pursued by his mother. This behaviour continued for over half an hour. The mother was obviously frustrated, the father sat and did nothing, and the little boy’s behaviour irritated everyone in the waiting room.

Explaining to this child why he shouldn’t rush out the door was completely lost on him. And this is what I am trying to explain here. Your child isn’t stupid. He or she is intelligent, and generally very articulate. But simply reasoning with him will not stop the behaviour. Action speaks louder than words, especially with Adhd kids.

8. Use Foresight

Whenever you are making plans for an outing, family get-together, shopping, or dinner out, remember to go over the rules of conduct and consequences with your child. Have them repeat them back to you so you know he has heard and understands. This lessens the chances of acting out, or bad behaviour. Use frequent praise for the child’s good behaviour while you are out. This bolsters their self-esteem and reinforces the good behaviours.

9. Don’t Take It Personally

Remember, you are dealing with a behaviourally disabled child. Don’t take his bad behaviour personally. He acts out because he can’t help it, not because you are a bad parent. Try to keep your cool, and your sense of humour when dealing with problems. This can go a long way to relieving the stress and frustration of the situation. And above all, don’t hold it against him. By this I mean, don’t hold a grudge. Tomorrow is another day.

My son could have a particularly trying day, filled with arguments, confrontations, screaming matches, slamming doors and lost privileges. But when he goes to bed at night, all of that is in the past. He wakes up the next morning bright, happy, and loving. Everything that happened the day before is forgotten and forgiven. He starts each day with a clean slate, and so should you.

This doesn’t mean any consequences incurred the day before should be forgotten, but it does mean that the anger, frustration, disappointment or hurt the behaviour carried with it, should. It isn’t easy, but practice makes perfect.

Friday, January 23, 2009

How Can You Tell If Your Child Has ADHD?

There isn't one symptom that embodies ADHD. Rather, there are a myriad of behaviours that when manifested for a prolonged period of time, could suggest your child has this disability. I would like to state here that if you notice any of the behaviours associated with this disorder, you should not jump to the conclusion that your child has ADHD.

Diagnosing ADHD isn't simple, nor should it be. It is a complicated disorder, and there are many levels of this disability, from mild to extreme.

If you suspect your child has a problem, don't ignore it with the hopes that it will go away. You should consider having your child evaluated by a professional when any of the following conditions exist:

...for the period of at least 6 months, the child exibits inattentiveness, excessive activity and impulsiveness exceeding that in other children of the same age.

...you consistantly need to assist your child with daily personal chores, like getting dressed, personal hygiene, getting ready for bed or cleaning their room due to an inability to perform these tasks independently.

...other children do not like playing with your child or avoid the child because of excessive activity, emotional or aggressive behaviour.

...day-care staff, teachers, or other parents have told you that your child has been having significant problems with behaviour for several months.

...you repeatedly lose your temper with the child, feel you need to use excessive physical discipline to manage the child, are afraid you might be on the verge of harming the child, you are sleep deprived, exhausted, fatigued, or even depressed because of the amount of time and energy needed to manage and raise the child.

As you can see from this partial checklist, Adhd isn’t simply 'not paying attention'. Adhd is often associated with other behavioural and emotional disorders. Research shows that up to 45% of children diagnosed with Adhd have at least one other psychiatric disorder, sometimes two or more. They also display more symptoms of depression and anxiety (that aren’t high enough for a psychiatric diagnosis) than other children.

As a starting point, with a school aged child, you might want to consider having him or her evaluated. There are several tests that can be administered by the counsellors and teachers, with yourself, that help to pinpoint any problems with behaviour, inattention and hyperactivity.

One of the most important and informative books available is 'Taking Charge of ADHD - the complete authoritative guide for parents' by Russell A. Barkley, PhD. This book encompasses a wide range of relevant topics regarding this disability, from what to expect, possible solutions for getting a handle on ADHD, medications, and information resourses.

If you suspect your child does have this disability, the best way you can help is to educate yourself. The more you know, the better able you are to provide the support necessary to maintaining a healthier, happier relationship with your child. And it goes a long way to reducing the daily stress that is so prevalent with this disability.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

What is ADHD?

There are many opinions about ADHD, one of them being that ADHD is not a medical disability. There are a lot of people who feel that parents are simply using it as an excuse to not discipline their children. Where this could be the case in some instances, it unfortunately, in the majority of cases is not. ADHD is real.

ADHD stands for Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder, and is a developmental disorder of self control. Challenges relating to attention span, impulse control and activity levels are all part and parcel of this disorder.

It is not, as you might have been hoping, a temporary state that your child will grow out of. It is not caused by your 'failure' as a parent, or lack of discipline.

It would be easier as a parent to deal with a physical manifestation of a disability because there would be no mistaking a problem. With ADHD, there is no such manifestation. These children look completely normal. There is no outward sign there is anything wrong, but there is.

Many psychologists and medical professionals believe there is an imperfection in the brain that causes the constant movement and 'bad' behaviours that people find so unbearable in these children.

The fact that you are reading this suggests that you are very familiar with with the way others react to your child's behaviours. Meaning, they erroneously assume your 'little Alice' needs more discipline, and view your attempts at parenting as permissive or careless to say the least.

I have heard on more than one occasion, "Can't you do something about your son?" Unfortunately, I am! When I answer that my son has ADHD/ODD, Anxiety Disorder and some Post Traumatic Stress, they more often than not react judgmentally. They see the 'ADHD label' as an excuse by me to avoid the responsibility of parenting my child, or worse yet, of making my son into a victim who is not accountable for his actions.

None of which is true.

It's exceedingly frustrating dealing with the hypocritical and judgmental responses. Not only do they see my son's behaviour negatively, they believe he is 'normal' (due to no physical manifestations of a disorder) and blame me for his actions. Either that, or they offer their 'worldly wisdom' that my son will 'grow out of it'.

Even my own doctor has said the same things to me. "Don't worry, it could just be a phase he is going through." or "I'm sure he will grow out of it, just hang in there." Where this might be true with some milder forms of ADHD, there is no way this will happen with my son. I have been 'hanging on' now for 11 years!

Here are a few statistics for you.
5 - 8%, or more than 2.5 million school age children have ADHD. Put in perspective, that translates to one or two kids with ADHD in EVERY classroom throughout the U.S./Canada. Up to 30 - 50% of these kids will be held back a grade (at least once) As many as 35% drop out of high school altogether. For half of these kids, social relationships are seriously messed up, and for over 60%, their consistent defiant behaviour leads to resentment from siblings and peers, which in turn means more frequent punishments and a greater potential for delinquency and/or substance abuse when they are older.

ADHD is one of the most common childhood disorders the medical professionals are aware of, and one of the most misunderstood.

Here are a few more stats for you.
Over 20% of kids with ADHD have set serious fires in their communities, over 30% have stolen, 40% smoke and drink earlier, and more than 25% are expelled from high school due to serious misconduct.

In their first 5 years of driving, adolescents with an ADHD diagnosis have almost 4 times as many accidents, are more likely to cause bodily harm, and have 3 times as many speeding tickets as kids without ADHD.

Raising a child with ADHD is not for the faint-hearted. I can personally tell you this roller coaster ride is a white knuckle experience that I would gladly do almost anything not to be on.

ADHD is a disorder that needs to be taken seriously. I have been living, learning, and dealing with this for the last 11 years, and the one constant I have noticed is the lack of education regarding this disability. And I'm not only speaking about your child's teachers, neighbours, friends, family and peers. I'm talking about you as parents.

In order to help your child deal with, work through, and overcome this disability, you need to educate yourselves on the complete spectrum of this disorder. In most cases you are their only advocate, friend, adviser, and support. Your child needs you to understand what is going on with them so they don't fall through the cracks and become another statistic.

I'm not saying this is an easy task. Trust me, I would love not to have to take on this additional responsibility. I would love to have a career and carefree holidays in a tropical paradise with no worries except whether my luggage arrives the same time I do. But if I don't do this for my son, who will? Certainly not his teachers, doctors, counselors, family members or friends. And he doesn't have the focus, drive or interest to do it himself, (being the nature of the disability) so that leaves me, and I can't let him down.

So please bear with me as I help my son through helping you. Hopefully you will at the very least, know that you are not alone in your struggles.