Mainstreaming Vs. Special Education

Mainstreaming refers to the integration of children with special needs in a regular/ traditional classroom environment alongside children their age without disabilities. This is in contrast to giving them specialized/ individualized education separated from peers whether that takes the form of separate classes within the school, hospital separate specialized schools, homeschooling or any other segregated arrangement.

Is Mainstreaming for My Child?
Like any other educational option, mainstreaming has advantages and disadvantages. Advocates point to the unrestricted access to general education that mainstreaming provides. Children with disabilities can avail themselves of the same curriculum offered to other kids their age. Specialized educational opportunities, on the other hand, can be so expensive that they are out of the reach of many parents.

Another benefit of mainstreaming put forth by advocates is that it helps children with disabilities feel part of the whole; it promotes diversity and equality in the classroom. Feelings of normalcy and acceptability are enhanced when a disabled child is welcomed into the community of “normal” children. By contrast, when children with disabilities are given special classes, there’s a risk that they will feel ostracized and isolated.

There are those, however, who feel that mainstreaming does more harm than good. Instead of making children with disabilities feel that they can lead normal lives, mainstreaming may actually make these children feel “different” – self-conscious of their challenges and handicaps. Of course, some children with disabilities mix better than others, depending on their disability. For instance, “invisible disabilities” like learning and perceptual disorders, may be more mainstreaming-friendly than, say, a behavioral condition like Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) or Asperger’s Syndrome.

Furthermore, there is the issue of qualified teachers and disability-compatible teaching tools and methodologies. Not all teachers in traditional schools are sensitive enough, knowledgeable enough or skilled enough to work well with children with disabilities. Specialized instruction in more appropriate settings may sometimes provide superior learning opportunities more targeted to the child’s special needs.

Considering all these factors, it is clear that the decision to mainstream must always be an individual one, based on considerations such as financial resources, the child’s unique personality, the nature of his or her disability, the suitability of the mainstreaming institution and its resources, and the qualifications of available educators. The question is not “is mainstreaming preferable?” but rather, “is mainstreaming preferable for MY child?”

What If I Do Decide to Mainstream My Child?
If you do decide to mainstream your child, it’s important that you constantly monitor your child’s adjustment. Depending on the child, increased socialization with peers without disability can be a good or bad thing. Some may feel challenged – and indeed mainstreamed kids do report being motivated to do better in a mainstreaming school – but others may just feel additional stress. Some may develop lasting friendships, others may get bullied, teased or ostracized.

But there are many things parents can do to prepare their children for mainstreaming. Enhancing their self-esteem and self-worth is a good start. If kids are raised confident of their person, they are less likely to bow down at the face of adversity. Parents must also emphasize that their children have their constant support and love.

On the technical side, parents must exert effort to educate the administrators, instructors and classmates in the mainstreaming school about the child’s disability – unless it is the deliberate choice of the child to keep it hidden, which is their right. If the people around a child with disability are aware of what are the child’s special needs, they would better be able to make reasonable accommodation.

Eating to Improve Focus, Attention, and Concentration

There are lots of reasons why a child might have trouble focusing – there are so many possible internal and external challenges. Some children’s brains have a very low tolerance for boredom; for these kids focus is hard to attain unless they are engaged in an activity that holds their interest. Some kids have such active minds that everything seems to grab their attention, viagra making it hard for them to zero in one on just one thing. Teens are particularly prone to self-induced fatigue (from staying up too late) which makes focused attention hard for them. Moreover, health in today’s world of beeping, bleeping toys and tools, everyone seems to have a harder time focusing.

No matter why a child is having trouble focusing. dietary changes may help. Consider the following tips:

Certain Foods Contribute to Inattention
Many studies associate sugar consumption with symptoms of restlessness and inattention. Different children have different levels of reactivity and sensitivity to different kinds of sugar. The only way to know whether removing a particular sugar is going to help your child’s ability to focus, is to experiment. Having said this, keep in mind that most people of all ages suffer negative effects of high amounts of sugar in the diet. To do your experiment, remove, or even just significantly reduce, a source of sugar from your child’s diet and note what happens. Start with high glycemic sugars like white sugar and brown sugar. Move on to maple syrup, honey and agave. If you are using other sugars, remove them as well as part of your experiment. What is wrong with processed and refined sugar? They would immediately go to your child’s bloodstream, increasing his or her blood glucose level. High blood glucose means that your body will have difficulty metabolizing essential nutrients. The immediate impact of high blood glucose is stress inside the body, making it difficult to focus and concentrate.

Increase Protein
Centers in the brain responsible for attention and focus rely on two amino acids: tyrosine and tryptophan. Consuming a diet rich in these two amino acids can help increase focus. Protein-rich foods like meat, eggs and dairy products are high in tyrosine and tryptophan. The same goes for soy, nuts and legumes. Bananas, brown rice, tomatoes, avocado, pineapples and beets are also good vegetarian sources of tyrosine and tryptophan. In addition, there are natural tyrosine and tryptophan supplements available in health stores.

Eat Moderately
Note: the ability to focus depends not just on what you eat, but on how much you eat. If your child eats too much – even if the food is wholesome –  feelings of fatigue and lethargy may impact on the ability to concentrate. Similarly, eating too little will make a child prone to hunger pangs and stress – making it all the more difficult to concentrate. Children in the habit of skipping meals are less likely to be able to focus than children who eat on time regularly.

Consider Food Sensitivities
Sometimes food intolerances, sensitivities or allergies can agitate a child’s entire body and mind. This can cause a range of disturbances that might impact on concentration and focus such as foggy brain, hyperactivity, distractibility, anxious feelings and more. A professional naturopath, dietician, allergist, medical doctor or other health care provider may be able to help you explore this possible cause of focusing difficulties. Or, you may experiment with adding and subtracting foods from the diet in a systematic way to note whether concentration improves or worsens in relation to those changes.

Homework Issues

While homework sometimes goes smoothly for some children and their parents – it often doesn’t! Homework issues abound, from kids who forget to do their homework, to kids who don’t want to do it, to kids who simply can’t do it. Let’s look at some common homework challenges and their solutions:

Inborn Homework Challenges
Some children are naturals when it comes to homework. They enjoy school work and tend to be independent and mature. They know what their homework is, they bring it home and do it and they take it back to school – all with no or minimal parental supervision. However, there are two other genetic homework profiles to consider: the “average” child and the “organizationally challenged” child. The average child would rather play than do homework. Like the average adult, this youngster tries to avoid unpleasant tasks as long as possible. Parents have to provide encouragement and structure for this kind of child, teaching him or her to settle down to the task and apply appropriate attention and effort. In the younger grades, parents may actually set the homework time and participate in the work itself with some of these youngsters, although some children in this group simply need to be pointed toward their desk. The average child may balk or dawdle, but eventually he or she cooperates and the task is completed. Smart parents try to make the time pass pleasantly with plenty of positive feedback, good humor and maybe even little niceties like milk and cookies. The average child might also benefit from and be receptive to some parental advice when it comes to homework: encouragement to take short breaks, for instance, or reminders to do the work carefully and neatly.

The organizationally challenged child often doesn’t bring his or her homework home. If it is brought home, it is wrinkled, crinkled and half-missing. If it is in one piece, it is too long or too hard or both. If it gets done, it doesn’t make it back to school. No matter how the parent tries to organize this child – providing special notebooks, folders and systems – the same organizational challenges present themselves year after year. This child’s brain is wired for creativity and many other positive attributes, but not for boring, detailed tasks like homework and not for the organizational abilities required to see it through. The wiring – being a built-in feature of this kind of brain – normally affects people throughout their life spans. Although they may eventually learn some tricks to help themselves work around organizational deficits, the best trick in adulthood is to get a good administrative assistant and/or spouse!

Teenagers & Homework
As these three homework “types” move into adolescence, the challenge for parents changes. The “organized and responsible” child never presented a real challenge and that likely remains the same throughout the teenage years. The “average” child who needed some coaxing in the grade school years, is now an adolescent and, like all adolescents, has much less tolerance for coaxing. At this age, a young person has a strong distaste for being told what to do and when and how to do it. If the parent was an unpleasant coaxer earlier on – that is, actually fought with the child over homework – the topic will be even more contentious now. However, even if the parent had been firm and patient in those earlier years, the teenage child now balks at explicit instructions.

What can parents of homework-allergic teens do? First of all, it is necessary to adopt strategies that are appropriate for the second decade. Compliments are welcome throughout the lifespan, so the occasional positive remark offered for responsible behavior can be employed. Too much praise for doing homework at this age is inappropriate, however. It would be the same if your spouse praised you regularly for getting up in the morning – more insulting than helpful! Once the children hit the teen years, the most important strategy is standing back. By that time, you will have expressed your philosophy of life and homework many, many times over. The child knows your views. Now is the time to let the child experience the consequences of not performing well. Here is where it becomes very hard for parents. In the teenage years, children need to deal with their own problems in order to develop the muscles for doing so later in life. Indeed, adversity breeds creativity, ingenuity and other coping skills. It is better to have learning opportunities in the teen years than in the years of adulthood that follow quickly after.

Most important, be aware of the possible consequences of your interventions. While the occasional reminder may be tolerated, many reminders might actually erode your parent-child relationship (and thereby, your overall power to positively influence your children). NEVER use anger. Even if the homework gets done, the personality of the child and your relationship with her may both be damaged as a result of anger. Moreover, academic success achieved this way is normally a temporary exception in the child’s life. Once the child is left to his or her own devices, he or she will regress to the default non-performance position. The most important strategy of all may be to reinforce your child’s natural talents and abilities and focus less on academic performance. Help him or her to find and maximize natural strengths. People normally succeed best in life by utilizing their God-given gifts. Strengthen these and by doing so, you will strengthen your youngster’s self-confidence, self-esteem, positive mood and desire to do his or her best. And that’s the best that you can do.

Parenting Style
Some parenting styles can contribute to homework issues in some children. For instance, when parents provide insufficient supervision for younger children, the kids sometimes figure out how to “work the system.” They learn that they can just show Mom and Dad a little effort and then, with no further reporting obligations, they can get back to their games or computer to have some real fun! Problems like this can be addressed by being more conscientious about checking to see if homework is complete and well done when children are still in grade school.  Close supervision of this kind is not generally appropriate for teens however. That age group must deal with the consequences of their poor study habits (such as low grades or teacher feedback) and make corrections on their own.

Distraction
Sometimes, the learning style of the child affects the way homework is done. For instance, incomplete homework may be due to being too distracted to get the job done successfully. Perhaps your child’s study station is too noisy and busy for him to be able to concentrate for a long period of time. Some children do better with less hustle and bustle around them. If this is the case, try to make the homework location as protected as possible. This can sometimes be accomplished by putting a desk in a quiet part of the house or creating a homemade “study carol” by using cardboard boxes around the desk to block out the sights and sounds around. Of course, some children are distracted not so much by their external environment as by their internal environment – the chatter inside their heads. For instance, a child may start to do his arithmetic and then begin thinking about the numbers in a card trick he learned. This gets him thinking about what happened at recess and reminds him that he has to talk to his friend after school today. His mind flits on and on, from one topic to another and the arithmetic is no longer on the agenda. It’s just the way his brain works, moving from one thing to the next, making it quite challenging to focus on boring tasks like homework. The Bach Flower Remedy Chestnut Bud may help reduce the scattered tendencies when they are caused by an easily-distracted nature. or the Remedy Clematis might help if the child is prone to being “spacey” or engaging in daydreams. (You can find more information on the Bach Flower Remedies online and throughout this site.) If neither help, a professional assessment is in order. Sometimes the cuplrit is ADHD – attention deficit disorder; treatment may involve behavioral modification and/or medication. If your child does get distracted on a regular basis, a professional psycho-educational assessment can help determine the cause of the problem and the most appropriate forms of intervention.

Learning Disabilities or Challenges
Incomplete homework may also be an indication that your child is having problems with the lesson. After all, it’s not unusual for teachers to combine easy and hard questions in the same assignment to both interest and challenge a child. Perhaps your child breezed through the simple problems and then struggled with the more complicated ones. If failing to complete homework is a chronic and recurring issue, then consider the possibility that your child is having some difficulty with the task. If this is the case, an educational assessment may help locate the source of the difficulty. Ask your child’s teacher or pediatrician for a referral to someone who can diagnose a child’s learning problem. Sometimes tutorial services may help the child perform better and parents can arrange this help with or without having the child assessed. However, an assessment can point the way to the best interventions for the particular youngster.

Perfectionism and/or Anxiety
Failure to complete homework may also be a sign of anxiety regarding failure and/or evaluation. Maybe your child is motivated to start assignments, but dreads the idea of you or teachers checking his or her performance. For some kids, it is less threatening to think “I failed because I have incomplete work” than feeling “I failed because I wasn’t good enough.”

If this is the case, do what you can to take some of the pressure off of academics; help your child to relax and enjoy life by focusing on extracurricular activities, hobbies, exercise and relaxation. If these steps don’t help your anxious child to calm down around schoolwork, consider the possibility that the youngster is more anxious than he or she needs to be. Again, professional assessment can help determine whether professional intervention of some kind might be helpful. If home treatment is sufficient, you can offer Bach Flower Remedies (or, try the remedies first and if they seem to help within a few weeks, then further assessment and treatment may be unnecessary. However, if after a few weeks of treatment with Bach Flowers, your child’s anxiety is still interfering with schoolwork, it is likely time for a mental health assessment.) For a child whose self-imposed high standards are interfering with completion of schoolwork, you might try the Bach Larch (for fear of failure) and Rock Water (for perfectionism). Alternatively, an evaluation by a Bach Flower Practitioner can help determine if other remedies may be useful. You can also read up on descriptions of the 38 remedies in books and online and try up to 7 of those you think might be useful. Mix 2 drops of each one in a single 1oz. glass mixing bottle and put 4 drops into liquid (juice, water, milk, chocolate milk, tea, coffee, soda, etc.) 4 times a day until the child no longer seems to be experiencing tension and fear around homework issues.

Assessment and Intervention
As we have seen, many factors can impact on a child’s ability to do homework. If you have done everything you can and your child is still having homework problems, do try to arrange for a psychological assessment to help determine the source of his or her difficulty and to receive remedial recommendations and interventions.

Alternatives to University or College Education

Traditional college education is not necessarily appropriate for every single young person. In fact, many students and their parents are looking for other options besides the traditional universities and community colleges. Fortunately, many are finding newer and better opportunities outside the traditional school system.

If your child isn’t interested in or well-suited to a full-time, full-length post-high school academic program, consider the following tips:

Independent Learners
Distance learning education can be an excellent option for teens who can work independently. Independent learning programs often allow for greater flexibility, allowing students to work at their own pace. Your teen does not need to attend a campus, but can work wherever there is an internet connection. Some courses don’t even require that. There are special educational consultants who have already done all the research for you and who can find the right program for your child. Programs based in other countries may be accredited in your own town – just be sure to find out if that is the case before taking any move. It would be a shame to invest a lot of time and money in getting a certificate or degree, just to discover that it is not recognized in your own locality.

On-Job Experiences
Your teen may be able to get academic credit for his or her job experience in an organization. Discuss this option with certifying educational programs. In addition, keep in mind that working experience is actually vitally important when it comes to finding a full-time job – even if it doesn’t count as part of the academic credits, it is likely to have a significant positive impact on your child’s future. Today, many students “intern” – meaning, do unpaid work in order to learn skills and acquire experience. Whether it’s called interning, volunteering, apprenticing or something else, unpaid work experience can certainly set a child on the right course toward a productive career. Similarly, entrance-level positions where the youngster can learn on the job can be great stepping stones to a proper career.

Working and Studying
Some young people can start working in a field of interest or in a related field, and then beginning taking courses in order to qualify for higher level work within that  field. Mature students are often more motivated and even more competent at their studies. After a few years in the workforce, people have a better idea of what they really want and they can aim their efforts more directly at their goals. It happens occasionally that young people decide they want to go to university or college full time in order to complete a particular degree, or it may happen that their place of work will pay for them to take certain courses, certificates or even degrees.

Gaining Credit for Current Skill Set
Another consideration is the possibility of obtaining university or college credits based on current skills. For instance, your child might be fluent in a foreign language or possess excellent skills in Math and Physics. Some universities offer the privilege of skipping certain courses as long as the student gets the required grade on a standardized examination. It is sometimes possible to get credited and accelerated this way, saving time and money toward a degree.

Self-Care

One important parenting goal is to raise children who are independent. Hopefully, by the end of two decades of effort, parents have been able to teach their child to take care of him or herself in every way. When the young person leaves home, he or she should be able to cook, clean up, pay bills, manage money, do laundry, maintain healthy, hygienic personal standards and take care of him or herself in every other way. Training starts early in life: as soon as a little one can pull on his or her own socks, parents must stand back and give room for trial and error. While it seems easy in principle, in daily life teaching a child habits of self-care can be quite challenging.

In teaching your child to take care of him or herself, consider the following tips:

Baby Steps to Independence
At first, parents do EVERYTHING for a new human being – dressing the infant, grooming the infant, changing the infant’s diapers, washing the infant, carrying the infant, feeding the infant. As the child develops, we hope that he will be able to take over all of these functions. By toddlerhood we are hoping that the child can dress himself, brush his hair with a little parental assistance, toilet himself with minimal assistance, cooperate with the cleaning process (starting to learn to brush his teeth and use soap in the bathtub), walk about and feed himself using cutlery. By the time the child is in school, we expect that he can completely dress himself (perhaps with a little assistance for difficult snaps or buttons), brush his own hair, take care of his bathroom needs independently, brush his teeth, wash his face and bathe himself (with supervision), walk, run, cycle and perhaps skate and swim as well, and eat properly with a knife and fork.

Small Children Enjoy Being Helped by Their Parents
Very young children, and even kids up to 6 or 7 years old, enjoy parental attention and contact. Although they may be able to take their own clothing off or put new clothing on, they thrive on the feeling of being assisted. It reminds them of the “old days” when Mommy and Daddy nurtured them in every way possible, taking care of every tiny need. Now that they’re “big,” parents often abandon them to attend to the new baby in the family or just to do their own things. The young child misses the affectionate and gentle touch of the parent. An adult woman may be very skilled at putting her own coat on, but this doesn’t stop her from feeling oh so special if her special man holds it up for her to slip her sleeves into! In a similar vein, it is fine to assist young children in their dressing and grooming activities even though the child is capable of doing everything on his own. This sort of assistance is just one way of showing love and affection. Don’t do EVERYTHING for the child, however, as this may actually stunt his development. Rather, it’s fine to hand him his second sock as he is putting on his first one or help zipper up his pants after he pulled them on himself. Make sure that the child can, in fact, perform all the tasks adequately by giving him plenty of opportunity to demonstrate competence. Offer assistance in different ways rather than just the same way every time. This helps ensure that the child gets to practice his skills. Unless your child is severely disabled, you have every reason to expect that he’ll be able to perform all acts of self-care during the period of childhood; you needn’t worry that assisting him will somehow prevent his normal development.

Teach Your Child
Actually sit down and show small children how to get dressed, comb hair, brush teeth and so on. It’s fine to repeat aspects of the basic lessons with older kids as well. Some children need verbal instructions and demonstration – with everything broken down into small chunks. Don’t assume your child already knows what she is supposed to do. If the child needs practice, try to make it short and pleasant – even a form of “quality time.” Older kids can learn more indirectly. Bring home library books along with books on all sorts of other interesting subjects. Leave them in the bathroom and around the table. There are books on fashion, style, image and all aspects of personal appearance. If you feel your child needs a gentle hint, leaving such books around can be useful. An uninvolved party is delivering the important information. Similarly, local libraries may carry DVD’s on the subject. For teens who cannot get themselves together nicely, consider a consultation with a personal style consultant. Such a person can show your child how to pick out fashionable clothing, make-up and hair styles. A consultation such as this can give the child necessary confidence as well as skills.

Allow Time and Permit Failure
Whether you are encouraging your toddler to put on his own snow pants or encouraging your teen to get a driver’s licence, you need patience and a tolerance for the learning process. Everyone learns by trial and error. You can get your 5 year-old dressed faster so it’s very tempting to just grab those clothes and dress the child yourself when you’re in a rush to get to work. However, your child really needs the practice in order to become independent. Doing everything for your child not only delays skill-building, but may actually interfere with the child’s normal development.

The solution? Start the morning routine earlier to allow for time for the child to develop skills. Once your child knows how to dress herself, brush her teeth, do her hair, make her bed, get herself some breakfast and make her own lunch – you’ll have a much easier morning! It’s worth the investment of your time up front to help your child learn each skill.

Self-care for older children involves more complex tasks like thoroughly cleaning their own rooms, knowing how to cook healthy meals, knowing how to clean up afterward, knowing how to use the washing machine and dryer and wash clothing by hand, knowing how to get into bed at a decent hour and how to get up independently in the morning. It can also involve knowing how to apply for a job, take public transportation or learn to drive, go to work, purchase personal items, use a credit card and manage money. Of course, teens also need to be responsible for taking regular showers, brushing their teeth and arranging for regular medical and dental check-ups. Children grow into these skills over the second decade of life – but only if their parents encourage them to do so and give them opportunities to spread their wings.

Emphasize the Positive
Look for the “right” part of whatever the child is trying to do. If she is learning to wash her own hair, praise as much as possible before correcting her. For instance, tell her she is using the right amount of shampoo and you like the way she is scrubbing hard. Then, if correction is necessary, keep it short and emphasize what needs to be done, rather than what she is doing wrong. For instance, instead of saying, “you didn’t rinse all the shampoo out of your hair,” try saying, “you need to rinse a little longer to get all the shampoo out of your hair.” Obviously children need lots of guidance before they can become competent at any aspect of self-care. In order not to discourage them, ensure that your positive feedback far outweighs your negative feedback. If a small child has gotten dressed all by himself, it is more important to applaud his independence than to point out that his pants don’t match his shirt. All people go from strength to strength. Letting the child know that he is on the right track helps him to continuously improve.

Use Positive Reinforcement and/or the CleaR Method
Use simple praise to reinforce attention and competency in self-care routines. Trying telling a young child, “I like the way you got dressed all by yourself and so quickly!” To an older child you can offer, “You look really nice today. I really like the way you color-coordinated that outfit.” To a teen, you might quietly utter “Hmmm… someone smells nice!” When a child allows you to help him with a task the he needs help with (i.e. a 5 year-old who can’t tie up his shoe laces), you can praise his cooperative attitude: “Thanks for letting Mommy show you how to do this.” When a youngster struggles and struggles with some difficult article of clothing, finally succeeding at getting it on (or off), you can say, “I like the way you persevered with that! You worked hard and it paid off!”

The CLeaR Method takes praise a step further through commenting and labeling positive behavior and then providing a reward for such behavior. This can be especially important when a child has been having a very hard time learning some aspect of dressing or self-care and especially when the child’s attitude toward the task has been very negative. For instance, if your 5 year-old has been refusing to button his own clothing and finally relents, doing the whole job himself, you can Comment: “You did up all the buttons yourself today!” Then you can offer a Label such as “You’re a good dresser.” Finally, you can offer a reward for the effort he put forth, “You know, since you worked so hard at that today, I think I’ll make your favorite pancakes for breakfast this morning!.” You can say to a child brushing her hair properly, “You did a very nice job brushing your hair this morning (Comment). You’re getting to be very competent at that (Label). Do you need any new hair accessories? I’ll be in the store today (Reward).”

Some Kids Have Problems that Interfere with Self-Care
Ask your pediatrician about normal developmental milestones. If your child is not able to put his shirt on or use a fork properly or perform some other physical act as skillfully as you expect him to by his age, you might consider the possibility of some sort of perceptual deficit , muscle weakness or other problem. Alternatively, problems with following directions may make it difficult for the youngster to perform a complex task that has many steps. Short-attention span can lead to similar difficulties. Similarly, auditory processing difficulties, gross motor skills, immaturity, a mental health diagnosis and a host of other issues can impact on self-care performance. If your child is lagging behind his or her peer group in self-care activities, seek professional assessment. The sooner you intervene to give corrective treatment, the sooner your child can make progress. Young children can learn rapidly. However, if you don’t identify a lag in development, you are not giving your child the chance to receive the help he or she needs.

ADD/ADHD – Attention Deficit Disorder

You’ve always considered your son to be an active child; even as a toddler he was always on the go. He gets bored quickly if there isn’t structure or if he doesn’t like the activity (like homework!) and he prefers to do several things at once. He often interrupts people when they speak, but you’re confident that he can outgrow the behavior. However, his inability to sit still during dinnertime is increasingly annoying and of even more concern is the trouble he’s been getting into in school for calling out answers and leaving his seat without permission. You’re wondering – could he have ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder)?

Most children are first considered for formal assessment when their school performance is suffering. However, ADD/ADHD can occur in children of every intellectual level (from intellectually challenged all the way to intellectually gifted). The brighter the child, the longer it may take for teachers and parents to become concerned, since the child’s academic performance may not be as quickly or as severely affected by his disorder. Nonetheless, a child who has to work extra hard in order to counteract the effects of ADD/ADHD is usually feeling stressed, exhausted and irritable. These behavioral symptoms should be taken seriously – not just the child’s grades. In fact, no matter what the child’s grades are like, behavioral disturbances at home should also be taken seriously. Sometimes these are a result of parenting style, but sometimes they are caused by conditions inside the child. A proper assessment may lead to a diagnosis of ADD/ADHD or some other developmental condition or simply stress that the child has not been able to express to his parents. Parents should also seek assessment when their child seems to have trouble following instructions, remembering to do what he is told, taking turns, waiting patiently, organizing his schedule and belongings or sitting for age appropriate lengths of time. Don’t assume that a child doesn’t have ADD/ADHD just because he can spend hours sitting quietly in front of the T.V. or computer screen. The disorder only interferes with “boring” activities, not activities that stimulate the child. That is because ADD/ADHD is a brain condition that is essentially understimulated. In fact, medicinal treatment consists of stimulant drugs. Although normal people can tolerate boredom fairly well, those with ADD/ADHD have zero tolerance for boredom because their brains are stimulant hungry – boredom is actually painful for them. This is also why kids with ADD/ADHD tend to get into trouble when left in unstructured situations. They will create activity by getting into mischief. Highly structured programs help prevent this problem.

What is Attention Deficit Disorder?
Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder or ADHD, are behavioral conditions characterized by an inability to maintain focus for a long time and/ or an inability to keep still. These difficulties in managing attention and activity are more than what is expected developmentally from kids of the same age. The symptoms tend to also persist across all situations, thus a child with ADD or ADHD tends to be inattentive or disruptive, not just at school but at home as well.

ADHD affects somewhere between 5 and 10% of schoolchildren, depending on measurements utilized. Symptoms of ADD or ADHD are never the same with any two people. People with attention deficit disorder may not be able to sit still, plan ahead, finish things, or pay attention to what’s going on around them. Symptoms for ADD may include: having difficulty remaining in one place, difficulty waiting one’s turn in groups, blurting out answers before the question is complete, poor organizational skills, losing things, shifting from one uncompleted task to another, talking excessively, not listening to what is being said, being easily distracted, entering situations without thinking, having difficulty following instructions, fidgeting with hands and feet, squirming while seated, interrupting people often and forgetting things that are necessary for a task or activity.

Kids with ADD/ADHD may also have additional symptoms such as problems with anger, poor social skills, poor fine or gross motor skills, anxiety, sleep disturbances and mood issues. Sometimes ADD/ADHD occurs alongside other disorders such as Tic Disorders, Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, depression and social phobia. Attention Deficit Disorder has an early onset, and usually manifests itself before a child turns 7 years old.

Symptoms for attention deficit disorder are broken down into three groups: Type 1: Inattentive. This group of ADD sufferer have symptoms of attention deficit – i.e. being easily distracted, daydreaming, losing focus. Type 2:  Hyperactive/Impulsive. This group of people with ADHD show symptoms of overactivity (fidgeting, running or pacing where inappropriate, always “on the go”) and impulsivity (acting without thought, interrupting others, calling out). Type 3 is Mixed Inattentive and Hyperactive/Impulsive, where the person has a mixture of symptoms across both categories – that is, a mix of ADD and ADHD symptoms. Diagnosis is generally not made until the person concerned has eight or more of the above symptoms, and the symptoms have remained the same for at least six months.

Below is a summary of the common symptoms of ADD:

  • Short attention span, mind tends to wander
  • Frequent  forgetfulness
  • High rate of unfinished projects
  • Gets painfully bored when task isn’t interesting or when there is a lack of structure
  • Makes careless errors in schoolwork
  • Is easily distracted
  • Doesn’t follow through on chores or instructions, appears not to listen
  • Disorganized; loses and misplaces things frequently
  • Difficulty in concentrating on tasks, a high rate of unfinished projects
  • Excessive activeness or excessively high energy levels

Common symptoms of ADHD include:

  • Constantly being on-the-go
  • Frequent fidgeting and running about
  • Impulsive behavior like blurting out answers in class
  • Trouble waiting in-line or other slow-moving situations
  • Talks excessively and interrupts others

There are no laboratory tests that can measure ADHD; as a behavioral condition, psychologists and medical practitioners rely mainly on observation, interview and teacher reports to get a clear picture of the patient’s state. Diagnosis can be made by a paediatric specialist (a medical doctor who specializes in the diagnosis and treatment of ADD/ADHD or by a psychologist whose speciality is assessment and diagnosis). Sometimes the family doctor can make a diagnosis as well. Teachers cannot diagnose ADD/ADHD although they may suspect its presence and they are also a vital source of information for those who provide the assessment. Teachers can often refer parents to those who can diagnose. Finally, friends and relatives CANNOT diagnose ADD/ADHD – specialized tests and measurements are required in order to make a diagnosis in addition to behavioural data collected from parents, teachers and others.

What Causes ADHD?
The exact origins of ADHD are still under debate, and many controversies surround the different theories being pushed forward by various research groups and experts. The most accepted explanation so far is that ADHD is a neurological condition related to both the lack of specific chemicals in the brain, and brain structural issues that inhibit attention and self-control. This biological basis is most favored, as ADHD appears to be a genetic condition that begins as early as infancy. However, many researchers also believe that diet, lifestyle and environmental conditions have a lot to do with the symptoms of ADHD. They argue that ADHD is a fairly recent phenomenon, and the condition was rarely reported 50 years ago. ADHD is also rare in poor and developing countries, suggesting that there is something in the way we approach life today that promotes symptoms of inattention and inactivity. In particular, some scientists blame the high sugar content of the modern diet, as well as the rampant used of preservatives and artificial ingredients for ADHD. Excessive use of  technology, such as the television, computer and gaming consoles have also been considered as culprits. Additionally, poisonous chemicals in the air, water and food products are also believed to cause neurological impairment.

How is ADHD Treated?
Once a diagnosis is obtained, parents have a variety of treatment options that they can consider. Both behavioral and biological interventions are usually recommended.

Psychostimulants such as Ritalin have been found to be effective in increasing an ADHD child’s attention span and improving performance at school. Some parents prefer to try alternative treatments such as homeopathy, herbal medicine and nutritional supplements. Some parents will try the natural approach for some months and, if results are not satisfactory, then try psychotropic medication.

Cognitive-Behavioral techniques are used to help manage inattention and impulse control. Children and adult ADHD sufferers can be taught specific techniques to help reduce symptoms and enhance functioning.

When making a decision as to which form of treatment to employ, consultation with the following people is recommended: a behavioural optometrist for a developmental vision evaluation, an allergist regarding possible allergic reactions, a child psychologist who can devise a behaviour modification program, a medical doctor who can assess the need for and prescribe medication and an occupational speech therapist with expertise regarding sensory processing problems. Other professionals to consider are special education tutors who can provide specialized supplementary education when necessary and naturopaths who are experienced in the alternative treatment of this syndrome. Although the treatment team seems large, it is also comprehensive, helping to create the most thorough and effective intervention for those children who have ADD/ADHD.

Bringing Out the Best in the ADD/ADHD Child
Raising a child with ADD/ADHD requires superb parenting skills. Being “Average-Joe-Parent” just won’t do with this population. For a set of easy-to-acquire top parenting skills, see Raise Your Kids without Raising Your Voice by Sarah Chana Radcliffe. While your doctor and other members of the professional team are addressing your child’s symptoms, you as a parent can keep the following points in mind:

  • The ADD/ADHD child is not purposely disobedient or unruly. He is dealing with inner compulsions and forces; he would like it if he could be easier going, more flexible, happier and relaxed, but he just can’t get there.  He needs your love, support, patience and understanding.
  • Keep expressions of anger to an absolute minimum with this population. They lack the ego-strength (self-confidence) to handle anger and often react with depression, withdrawal, aggressiveness, acting out and other forms of intense emotional turmoil and dysfunction. Learn how to discipline without using anger at all.
  • Your child might benefit from reading self-help books on ADD/ADHD – there are now many available, written for children and teenagers.
  • Consider experimenting with Bach Flower Therapy as a treatment for ADD/ADHD. Bach Therapy has no side-effects of any kind, yet can often effectively reduce many of the symptoms of ADD/ADHD such as impulsivity, immaturity, hostility, depression, anxiety, restlessness, lack of concentration/attention and more. (You can find more information on the Bach Flower Remedies online and throughout this site.) Your naturopath may also recommend other alternative and dietary interventions.
  • Consider enrolling your child in social skills or anger management programs providing sheltered group activities or individual activities that will build personal confidence and self-esteem such as karate lessons, drum lessons, art lessons, cooking classes etc. These needn’t be formal classes – if you can provide extracurricular activities yourself at home (like teaching your child to cook or sew) – that’s great! ADD/ADHD children often grow up to be adults with exceptional creativity and unique gifts. As long as their self-esteem remains intact and they develop ways of working around their deficits, they are capable of being highly successful professionally and personally.

Asperger’s Syndrome

Named after Hans Asperger, the pediatrician who first described its symptoms, Asperger’s is a part of an umbrella of neurological and social conditions called “autism spectrum disorders.” Asperger’s Syndrome (AS) is more difficult to identify and diagnose than many autism-related disorders, mostly because symptoms can be attributed to many other conditions. But the diagnosis of AS is usually empowering, as persons with Asperger’s typically have an easier time mainstreaming than those with other autism spectrum disorders.

The onset of the disease is usually at 3 to 5 years old.

What is Asperger’s Syndrome?
Asperger’s Syndrome (also called Asperger’s Disorder) is a neurological condition characterized by:

Severe Impairment in Social Interaction and Skills
People with Asperger’s tend to be self-focused (which is not to say they are self-centered). They prefer to be alone and have very little need for companionship. They are more interested in their inner musings, and are prone towards introspection and daydreaming. They can appear rude when spoken to, and may have difficulty following the subtext of a conversation (they can’t “read between the lines”). They can be very selective  when it comes to associating with peers or adults. Additionally, many kids and adults with AS are prone to random bursts of temper.

Limited Repetitive Behavior
People with Asperger’s are also prone to various obsessions and narrow interests. For instance, they might be interested in  parts of objects (like clocks) or they might like spinning things over and over and over. They flap their hands (particularly when excited).  Some children with Asperger’s are called “little professors,”  as they like to recite to others (as if teaching) whatever it is they are currently obsessing about.

Lack of Emotional Reciprocity
People with Asperger’s have difficulty identifying their own emotions as well as empathizing with other people. They can’t read non-verbal cues that communicate feelings, and may even appear cold and dismissive of other’s distress or pain. They are also poor at using non-verbal cues themselves such as maintaining eye contact, showing appropriate facial expressions or using gestures naturally. Not surprisingly, considering all this, people with AS have trouble making friends. However, they often don’t care so much about this as they are not all that interested in social relationships.

People with Asperger’s Syndrome tend to have excellent language and cognitive skills, and may even excel in areas they obsess on. Some may have motor problems and clumsiness.

What Can Parents Do?
If parents suspect that their child may have Asperger’s, the best thing to do is to get a diagnosis by a qualified mental health practitioner. Developmental psychologists, as well as psychiatrists, are generally competent at diagnosing autism spectrum disorders, but it’s always better to consult one who specializes in the disease. Because Asperger’s is primarily biological in origin (it is not caused by trauma nor by bad parenting), it has an early onset; symptoms that look like Asperger’s, but appear later in life, are unlikely to stem from Asperger’s Disorder.

Early intervention is critical in managing Asperger’s Syndrome. Currently, there are no cures for the illness, but medications and therapy can assist in managing symptoms. Many with AS are able to live highly functioning and productive lives. It does help for parents and other care-providers to be educated about their children’s particular needs. Training in social and communication skills, as well as occupational therapy can help with the various symptoms of AS.

Autism

One of the greatest joys of parenting is being able to communicate with one’s child. This is why knowing that a child has Autism or Autistic Disorder can be so painful and difficult to accept. The condition significantly impairs a person’s social and communication skills, so that it can feel like the autistic child is living in his own little world. Autism does occur on a spectrum, causing severe impairment in some and only mild impairment in others. However, once a child has been diagnosed with this condition – whether it is mild or severe – parents find themselves raising a “special needs child.” This brings new challenges to the already challenging job of parenting.

What is Autism?
Autism is a neurological disorder characterized by difficulty in social interaction and communication, as well as tendency towards repetitive behavior. The exact cause of the disorder is not known, but it is believed to be a result of neurons misfiring and creating mixed communication in the brain. Symptoms of Autism appear early in a child’s life, sometimes as early as the first year. Unfortunately, there is no known cure for Autism yet, although parental support, behavioral therapy and special education can bring improvement in functioning and quality of life among children with Autism.

How Can I Tell if My Child Has Autism?
Like most developmental disorders, Autism is diagnosed using the American Psychiatric Association’s criteria found in the the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. A diagnosis of Autistic Disorder is given to a child when he or she meets certain criteria. Below: is a list of symptoms characteristic of Autism.  A mental health professional can assess whether your child’s symptoms meet criteria for a diagnosis of autism or another disorder on the autistic spectrum or another diagnosis altogether. It is also possible that, despite having some symptoms, your child does not meet criteria for any diagnosis at all. This why proper diagnosis and assessment by a qualified mental health professional is so essential; teachers, friends and others cannot make an accurate diagnosis!

A. Impairment in social interaction

This category of symptoms include impairments in the use of non-verbal communication (e.g. eye contact and gestures), failure to develop appropriate peer relationships, absence of spontaneous attempts to seek enjoyment with other people (e.g. not showing interest in other children playing), and the lack of social and emotional reciprocity.

B. Impairment in communication

This category includes symptoms like significant delay in language development, impairment in the ability to initiate conversation, stereotyped and repetitive use of language, and the lack of spontaneous make-believe play that is typical of children within a certain developmental level. It’s important to note the communication issues that are symptoms of Autism are not due to learning disabilities or physical disabilities.

C. Restricted and repetitive patterns of behavior

Children with Autism tend to get preoccupied with a small range of activities, and are prone to engaging in repetitive actions. For example, they might enjoy hitting just one key in the piano for hours. They also get easily obsessed with things that children without the condition will merely pass; for instance they can get preoccupied with random parts of an object. They might engage in ritualistic behavior, hand flapping, and sometimes in self-injury (like head-banging) as well. These obsessions, preoccupations and rituals are inflexible for the child with Autism.

Are There Different Kinds of Autism?
Symptoms of Autism exist in a range, from mild to severe. Some children are more open to social interaction and communication than others. Some persons with mild Autism for example can still be mainstreamed in traditional schools.

Other disorders are listed under the category Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). These conditions are Autism, Asperger Syndrome, and Pervasive Developmental Disorder Not Otherwise Specified (you can find more information on these specific disorders on this site and online).

What Can Parents Do?
If you are concerned about your child’s social behavior, emotional reactions, habits or personality, get a referral to a child psychologist or psychiatrist who can offer assessment and guidance. As for most developmental disorders, early detection and early intervention makes an important difference.

If a diagnosis of autism is confirmed, it’s time to learn as much as possible about the condition. There are many groups today that focus on Autism and  Autism Spectrum Disorders. The condition is more understood that it used to be, and parental support systems are well established. Benefit from the experience of others by accessing on-line support groups and/or joining groups offered by your local community mental health services. You will learn techniques for stimulating your child’s development at home. You will learn how to interact with him in order to bring out his best and reduce episodes of anger or anxiety. Becoming active in your child’s healing process is good for you as well as for the child, as it gives you more control and counteracts feelings of overwhelming helplessness. Your intervention can make a tremendous positive difference to your child’s development.

This being said, it is important to deal with your feelings about a diagnosis of Autism. Learning that your child has Autism can be a shock, and you might go through a grieving cycle as you readjust your hopes and dreams for this youngster. This is normal; there is a real loss when you know that your child has a developmental disorder. With time and/or professional help, you will eventually bounce back and open your self to the blessing of having a child with special needs. Interacting with a child with Autism requires a lot more patience and care than interacting with a child who doesn’t have the condition, but it has its rewards. The key is providing consistent stimulation in order to interest your child in social events. Training in communication skills, e.g. basic sign language can also help.

Head-Banging

Seeing one’s child banging his or her head against the wall or a wooden bed is alarming for parents, especially if the child is a baby or toddler. Parents are not only concerned about the possible pain and injury that may result from such an activity – they are also worried about the child’s psychological well-being. “Is something wrong with my baby?” is a reasonable question for parents to ask when their child deliberately harms himself.

In fact, in most cases, a child’s head-banging is caused by a normal desire for stimulation or soothing (as we will discuss below) — not by underlying mental health issues. Additionally, young kids rarely hurt themselves during head banging enough to cause considerable pain or head damage. Head-banging may also occur in certain developmental syndromes such as autism. In these cases, there will be other neurological and behavioral symptoms besides head banging. In an otherwise healthy child, head-banging is not a matter for intense concern.

What’s Behind Head-Banging?
Head banging can be a way for kids to get stimulation. The habit can relieve the discomfort of boredom or stress. Remember that during the toddler years, kids are in the process of understanding and appreciating different body sensations such as sights, sounds and  even feelings of pain and discomfort. The sensation that comes when we bang our heads against a hard surface is new and foreign to a child, and understandably, the child is curious about it. Thus he may repeat head-banging so that he can explore the sensation better.

It’s also possible for children to head-bang in order to soothe themselves when they are anxious, in discomfort or otherwise distressed. In these cases, head banging is no different from thumb sucking or nail biting. It’s ironic, but it’s possible that children find the pain of head banging a distraction for their current discomfort or unease. Some kids may also find the rhythm of soft head banging comforting, in the same way that a slow and steady drum beat can be soothing, rhythmic head banging can be reassuring to a child.

What can Parents Do?
Safety is always a primary concern. Even if head-banging is usually harmless, there’s nothing wrong with taking a few extra precautions. As much as possible, keep young children away from hard surfaces like walls or bed posts. If there’s a risk that they will run into a hard surface, protect your child by putting a soft pillow or foam padding as insulation. If you can make it impossible for your child to head-bang against something hard, then you can worry less about head-banging behavior.

It may also help to provide your child with stimulation and soothing when you feel that he or she needs it. Toys of different shapes and colors, as well as materials of varying comfortable textures and temperatures can provide stimulation to a child. Rocking, singing a lullaby or a soft massage are also positive ways to provide soothing.

When parents suspect that unease, discomfort or stress is causing the head-banging behavior, they can offer their child the Bach Flower Remedy Agrimony. Two drops in liquid four times a day can be used until the banging diminishes. Or, for a more complete treatment, call a Bach Flower Practitioner. You can find more information about the Bach Remedies online and throughout this site.

Older children who are banging their heads may need more than Bach Remedies (although these should be tried first). Stress reduction through professional psychological counseling may be very helpful. If very young children are stressed, family counseling may be preferable. Parents may be able to make environmental changes that put the child more at ease.

When Should Parents be Concerned?
While head-banging is generally normal and harmless, there are occasions of head-banging behavior when parents need to provide their children with stronger interventions and/or professional help.

One situation is when kids use head banging as a way to get negative attention, punish themselves or release anger and frustration. When head banging is a deliberate action to achieve an end, parents should arrange a consultation with a child psychologist. The psychologist may help the parents intervene in more appropriate ways or he or she may work with the child directly in order to reduce underlying tensions.

But a second situation is when parents suspect an underlying medical or psychological condition behind the head banging behavior. If head banging is seen alongside symptoms of social withdrawal, delayed speech and motor development, and inability to empathize, parents should consider consult their pediatrician. A referral to a mental health professional for assessment can confirm or rule out a diagnosis of autism or pervasive developmental disorder. Head banging that seems beyond a child’s control may be a symptom of Tourette’s Syndrome. Various seizure disorders may also account for head banging behavior. To be certain, it’s best to get a child diagnosed by the appropriate medical or mental health professional.

Rocking and Shaking

Babies often rock back and forth in their cribs starting around 6 months of age and are usually growing out of it by around a year and a half. The motion of their own bodies is soothing; babies love the sensation of being rocked by themselves or others.

Some children (and adults!)  also use rhythmic movements to “calm their nerves.” Rocking back and forth or shaking their legs helps to relieve stress. The behavior may be done almost subconsciously (without conscious intention or awareness) – it just seems to happen on its own. In other words, the child or teen does not actively think to him or herself, “I’ll rock now” or “I’ll shake my legs now.” While the child is sitting in a chair working or talking, the movements occur. Other people can interrupt the process by pointing it out: “Stop shaking your legs!” At that point, the child becomes aware that he or she was moving his legs. However, just a few minutes after stopping the movement, it usually starts again.

If your child is a “mover and shaker,” consider the following tips:

Rhythmic Movements are Usually Harmless
In otherwise normal children and teens, rocking and/or shaking is a harmless “nervous habit.” However, like other nervous habits, it can become socially unacceptable. Excessive movements disturb other people, even though they don’t seem to bother the rocker/shaker. There is an annoyance factor when someone keeps moving his or her body. If your child’s teacher reports negative peer reactions or other disturbances in school as a result of rocking or shaking, it’s time to help your child lose this habit and find more appropriate ways to self-soothe. When rocking and other rhythmic behaviors occur in a child who has other neurological or behavioral abnormalities, be sure to get a complete medical or psychiatric assessment. In these cases, the rocking may be part of a medical syndrome that requires attention.

Nagging Doesn’t Help
Telling a child to stop rocking or shaking is not an effective way of curing the habit. Although the child may stop for a moment or two, he or she will start again. Since the behavior is out of the child’s awareness, he or she is not exactly aware of when it begins or even that it is happening and therefore, has no effective way to interrupt it on a regular basis. It is annoying for the child to be told repeatedly to stop moving. Since this strategy causes tension between parent and child and does not effectively treat the problem, it cannot be recommended!

Stress Reduction May Help
Anything that helps the child relax his or her nervous system will help both directly and indirectly. The direct form of help is that it may relieve the tension and therefore the need to self-soothe. The indirect form is that it may make it easier for the child to successfully apply behavioral strategies. Herbal remedies or Bach Flower Remedies that calm the body and mind can be very helpful in both regards. See a professional herbalist or naturopath to assess your child and make up the appropriate herbal remedies. Alow time to see the results. Similarly, see a Bach Flower Practitioner to make up an individually tailored treament bottle for your child. Consider remedies like Agrimony and Impatiens and others that address your child’s personality. A homeopath or other natural healer may be able to help as well. In addition, it may be possible to teach the child stress reduction techniques like yoga or even breath-based meditations (or, for teens, mindfulness meditation). In some cases, regular, intense exercise will be helpful. Of course, reducing stress in the house is always helpful so anything you can do to keep calm, enhance your marriage and de-stress yourself, will help as well.

Behavioral Therapy
When rocking becomes dysfunctional (excessive, bothersome, embarrassing or otherwise disturbing), consult a behavioral therapist – someone who is experienced and skilled in the treatment of habits. There are also habit removal workbooks (i.e. The Habit Change Workbook by Pedrick) that you may be able to work through with your child or that your older child or teen can work through indepedently.