Stress-Free Writing Instruction

Stress-Free Writing Instruction

Writing instruction does not have to be painful for the student or the homeschool mom (or classroom teacher).  So many homeschool moms worry when their child hates to write.  When mom approaches the dreaded time for writing instruction, she often hears…

I can’t do this.

My hand hurts.

I hate this!

Please.  No!!

Don’t fear, Sweet Momma.  Today I offer up some stress-free writing instruction strategies to help our uniquely-wired children build confidence in writing.   No more tears for mom or child!  Check out the video below.

While you can use the strategies I provide without purchasing a curriculum, I do share with you my absolute favorite writing program.  Hint… Andrew Pudewa… Institute for Excellence in Writing.   Can I say amazing??!!!

When in doubt, remember your goal.    Think outside-the-box with me and let’s equip our kids to thrive!

For more outside-the-box teaching strategies our uniquely-designed students, check out this post on alternative reading instruction ideas.  

Parenting Children Well Takes Discipline

Parenting Children Well Takes Discipline

Parenting Children Well

Parenting children well requires adults to demonstrate the discipline and patience we desperately want to impart to our kids.  When our children are being disrespectful or disobedient, often our first instinct is to snap at them with a quick and stern “No, ma’am! You do not talk to me that way!” And many times that approach to parenting children appears on the outside to work. 

Children acquiesce in the face of fear and the negative behavior stops, at least momentarily.  The problem lies when our pattern of parenting children is based only on reactionary threats of perceived misbehavior.  

Through the trials of navigating years of my youngest child’s out-of-control behavior, I was forced to learn a lot of things that eventually resulted in a complete transformation of the way I parent my children altogether.

Transformation?  How?

Well, these days if I perceive that my child being disrespectful, my tendency is to look behind the behavior before reacting.  For example, I tell my son to go clean his room.   

He then responds with a, “No. I don’t want to clean up my room!”  

Of course my natural instinct is to snap back and say, “Oh, you better clean up your room!”   

However, I’ve learned better.  

The reality is that I am the adult and he is the child.  So in that moment, he’s acting like a child seeking his own self-interest.  He does not want to stop the fun of what he is doing to “work.”   

NORMAL. 

As a 41 year-old woman, I rarely want to stop what I am enjoying to work on something tedious.  And I am an adult. So of course it makes perfect sense that my son would have a more challenging time transitioning to mom’s demand that he clean his room.  

Relationship Before Obedience

Of course the goal is to teach our children to learn how to respect authority and take instruction and direction.  This is termed, “obedience.”  Yes.  We want them to obey Mom, Dad, teachers, police, and other trusted authority figures.  

However, I truly believe that we cannot effectively do that without building relationship with our children first.  Why?  

We want them to obey Mom, Dad, teachers, police, and other trusted authority figures.  

Do we want our children to blindly obey all adults because of an age difference?  Is this a wise goal on our part?  In general and especially when our children are young, we parents make a conscious choice as to which adults we place in a position of authority over our children.  We decide which teachers, coaches, pastors, small group leaders, neighbors, and families that we allow our children to spend time with.  Ultimately, our goal is to place our children in the charge of other adults whom we deem trustworthy to care for our children in our absense. 

If it is important for adults to have a certain level of trust with those whom we take direction from, it is just as important if not more important for children to be able to trust those whom they are to take orders.

Who was your favorite teacher?

I always ask my mom friends and clients this question.  The answer to this question sums it up best.  

My favorite teachers were my high school history teacher and one of my college professors.   When I think back to why they both stand out to me as the best teachers I ever had, it really has very little to do with academics and everything to do with the relationship I had with these two trusted adults.

Both teachers treated me with care.  They sought to know me as more than just a student who needed to regurgitate their correct answers in order to like and care for me.  It is because of these two adults taking the time to know me, my life, my troubles, and my interests that fueled my desire to do well in their classes.  I truly believe that I put forth more effort for these two teachers because I respected them and trusted them.  I longed to serve them well by doing my best in their classes.  

We must focus on our relationships with our children in order to have the greatest influence on their hearts, beliefs and behavior.  – Lindsay Leiviska, MAT

Relationship is Our Greatest Teaching Tool

I am convinced that our first goal is to build relationship so that we can influence our children.  This is especially critical as our children grow older and begin to think more abstractly for themselves.  Our children will grow into adults and spend the majority of their lives as adults.  We only have a couple of decades to lay a foundation that will serve them well (or poorly) throughout their entire lives.   

If we are in a pattern of constant correction and battle of wills with our child, it only makes sense that children will develop the belief that he or she is not good enough.  That belief often pushes our children far away from us physically but also and I would argue most importantly, relationally.  

I want my children to know that I am in their corner.  Like my favorite teachers influenced me through their obvious care and interest in me beyond a letter grade on a test, it is crucial for our children to know that we see their value beyond behavioral expectations.   Yes, we want them to learn how to appropriately behave but in order to do so effectively and for the long-term, we must be able to influence our children in a way that fosters trust and mutual respect.  

It is the quality of the relationships with our children that will allow us the most influence in their lives.

However, remembering the goal of relationship takes discipline on my part.  It takes effort for me to override my desire for immediate obedience.  I need to lean in to my own self-control when I really want to scream at my child for repeated offenses.  That, Friend, is not easy.  However, doing anything of value is never easy, right?

Do I want immediate obedience or do I want to raise a healthy adult?

This question helps me to remember what my goal needs to be with my children.  The answer to this question points me to Christ.  Throughout Scripture we see God’s people repeatedly fail to consistently obey right away.  Because of our inability to perfectly obey and live a holy life, God sent His Son to live the perfect life, take on our sin in death, and raise to new life.  His finished work on the cross allows those who believe in Him to live in the freedom of relationship with Him despite our constant failures.  

Personally, it is important for me to understand the immense grace of Christ in my own life so that I can come alongside my own children and point them to Him.  Immediate obedience is should not be the goal.  Yes, it is an important skill to learn, but as God has shown us, it is learned through relationship.  

But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners.  Romans 5:8

We did not earn relationship with God.  He graciously handed it to us through His Son while we were still sinners.   If we could erradicate sin or disobedience in our children on our own, why would we need to point them to Christ?  Adults know that we will never be perfect and yet God loves us just as much when we see our own failure as He does when we are on cloud 9.  He influences His children through deep relationship.  Our choices, beliefs and behaviors are changed to reflect Him more as we spend time with Him, right?

Let’s do this with our children and see how He uses His relationship with us to grow them nearer to Him.    This reminds me of my near epic failure with my teen daughter.  Read more here.  Yikes!

Current State of  Parent-Child Relationship

If you are in a season of parenting where your child could possibly feel like a constant disappointment, I enourage you to take a deep breath, pray and then focus on rebuilding joy in your relationship with your child.   And know this… there is incredible grace. We have all had harder seasons with our children.   I am not suggesting anything that I have not had to do with my own children and I have failed and blown it with my own children so often. 

“Kids, I am simply a person doing the best that I can.   Forgive me.”  

This apology is my default.  I will fail and disappoint over and over again.  Just like my younger, immature, less-experienced children.  Grace upon grace.

Think about the things your child(ren) excels at, is passionate about or just enjoys doing. 

Use those things to build relationships. 

Take time to go into your son’s room and ask questions about what he is doing.   Endulge him as he tells you all about his Minecraft world or his latest Lego creation.

Let your daughter draw for you or pick out an episode of her favorite show and pop popcorn and laugh together.  

Spend some time connecting and building up trust.  That trust is a building block for relationship.  Relationship is a building block for your ability to influence your child for a lifetime.  

Parenting children through trust

Ask your child questions and show interest in who your child is and not what you think your child is supposed to be.  This requires discipline on our part. 

When our children are interested in things that we deem silly or childish, the last thing we want to do is to spend time focusing our energy and limited time on them.  However, employing this personal discipline to focus on our children and their hearts, is exactly the grace that leads to deeper connection and relationship.

This adult discipline, just like the discipline we want to create in our children, will not be easy and won’t be perfect.  I blew it this morning with my son.  In fact, I blow it all the time.  That’s ok.  I just pick myself up, dust myself off, apologize and we move forward.  That is what God asks of us.  As Paul tells us in the book of Romans, there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus because the Spirit of Life has set us free from the law of sin and death.

What might God long to do in your child’s life? 

Just thinking about these ideas will ease some of the pressure of unrealistic expectations that we as moms often place upon our children and ourselves.  If you want to dig a bit deeper into how to navigate your child’s more challenging behaviors, grab a copy of the FREE Behind the Behavior Intro Bundle. 

What are your thoughts, Friend?  In what ways do you need to use your own self-discipline in parenting?

Simple Tool to Help Struggling Readers, Part 2

Simple Tool to Help Struggling Readers, Part 2

A Homeschool Mom’s Simple Tool to Help Struggling Readers

This is Part 2 in a series to help homeschool moms equip their struggling readers for reading success.  In this second part, I am going to share with you one simple tool to help struggling readers at home.  If you have not read Part 1, please do so.  🙂

Like many homeschool moms, when I began homeschooling my girls almost 10 years ago, my first goal was to make sure my oldest daughter could read.  It seemed that all of her preschool-age friends were getting ready to go to traditional kindergarten and soon I was dodging questions from their respective mothers.

“Why are you homeschooling her?”

“Aren’t you worried about socialization?”

“Public school was good enough for me, so its good enough for my kids.”

My First Educational Goal

In response to the inquisition I experienced from well-meaning mom friends, I naturally became a little internally defensive.  Like many ladies who make the decision to homeschool their children, I began my homeschool journey with a specific goal in mind.

I MUST TEACH MY KID TO READ.

This was my mantra.  I figured that once I taught her to read, I would feel a little more at ease as I navigated the homeschool skeptics.

Searching for the Perfect Reading Program

In my effort to teach my oldest daughter how to read, I perused the local homeschool store.  I am so fortunate to live in an area where homeschooling is very popular.  The community of homeschool families is HUGE and so yes, we have a local homeschool store that could rival Target in its ability to suck me in for hours.  It is a haven of books, beautiful boxed curriculum, phenomenal art and composer study materials, maps, Bibles… math manipulatives… it is a homeschoolers dream!

This post contains Amazon affliliate links.  If you purchase any resources that I recommend using my links, I may receive a small commission from Amazon at no cost to you.  I will not ever recommend any product that I do not stand behind fully.  Thank you for your support so I can continue to offer as much free content as possible to mommas like you and me.  🙂

Mountains of Books

I cannot count the number of hours I have spent sitting on the floor of the local homeschool store surrounded by mountains of books.  Honestly, those memories are heavenly.  Anyway…

Needless to say, I searched and searched for the perfect reading curriculum because I was determined that my daughter would read.  I had to accomplish that goal and fast.  No, my motives were not pure, but God is merciful and I have learned better now.

Ultimately, it wasn’t an expensive boxed reading curriculum that ended up being the key to effective reading instruction for my daughter.  Nope.  It was a $15 paperback book that opened the world of reading to both of my girls.

Interestingly,  both of my girls (and their momma- aka Me) have since been diagnosed with ADHD.   I did not realize this at the time because I was of the belief that ADHD was a “fake” diagnosis.  I believed that my solid Christian parenting-style would eliminate any unwanted  hyper, impulsive and distracted behavior in my children.  Ugh!!! That is an entirely different story that you can read about here.  So sorry for that rabbit trail… like I just mentioned… ADHD.

Just be aware that my girls both have attention-based learning issues and one of them has been diagnosed with Auditory Processing Disorder.  APD is an auditory disorder in which the child has normal hearing ability but the brain is unable to accurately process and distinguish that auditory information.  This can hinder reading and language development.  You can read more about Auditory Processing Disorder here.

Back to that amazing reading program that I soon discovered.  Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons was the program that I was able to use with my hyper and highly-distracted girls.

Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons

This book offers highly effective reading instruction for children with special learning needs.  Quite frankly, I think it is a great remediation resource for older children who are struggling with their ability to decode and blend words.  The goal of this book is to get the ball rolling per say.  Decoding skills and fluency are developed quickly using this method.  Reading comprehension methodology is not specifically addressed.

100 Easy Lessons uses an instructional strategy called the SRA DISTAR Method.  Prior to being introduced to this Instructional Book, I had no familiarity with the method despite my education training in graduate school.  However, I found the logic and reasoning behind the teaching method to be absolutely fascinating and extremely effective for me as an instructor and for my children as students.  The PARENTS GUIDE at the beginning of the text is extremely important to read as it explains the logic and reasoning behind the program.  For geeks like me, it is also mesmerizing.

The DISTAR method (Direct Instruction System for Teaching Arithmetic and Reading) is a very methodical teaching program.  It has been shown to be an extremely effective and simple tool to help struggling readers.  This methodology was used to develop the 100 Easy Lessons program written by Siegfried Engelmann over 40 years ago.

Modified Alphabet System

The system uses a modified orthography system (fancy way to say the alphabet symbols used to represent speech sounds).  This alphabet provides visual clues to indicate which sound is associated with the letter as it is used in a printed word.

For example, the letter symbol “e” is modified slightly depending upon its positioning and therefore, its use in a word.

  • The “e” in “led” is says the short e sound.
  • The “e” in “like” is silent and therefore has no sound.  It is therefore shown in a smaller text size in order to cue the student to it’s silent role in the word.
  • The “e” in she is long and says its name (which is noted with the macron above the “e”.)

The smaller size of the “e” indicates the “silent e.”    All silent letters are initially introduced in a smaller font to point out that the letter symbol makes no sound.

In the initial lessons of the book, the modified alphabet are used as a scaffolding technique (extra supports to help the learner).   These visual cues are extremely helpful for children with special learning needs.

They are gradually removed as the child begins to fluently recognize (whether consciously or not) the letter patterns and sounds.   The logic is that as the modified letter symbols are gradually dropped, the student is able seamlessly transition to reading and decoding using traditional letter symbols.  The child’s brain has incorporated the letter patterns and their usage and no longer needs the extra visual cues.

Mom-Friendly Teaching

100 Easy Lessons uses scripted step-by-step instructions for the teacher.  This may seem to be stifling to the teacher.  However, the scripting is one of the many reasons that instructional tool is effective for kids with special learning needs.

The modeling provided using the script, is verbalized aloud to the student.  The letter sounds and words are easily repeated by the child.  The child follows the visual text both with his eyes and his pointer finger.  Quick progress and smaller incremental goals are achieved which is ecouraging to child and teacher.

Minimalism Limits Distractions

The 100 Easy Lessons pages are very minimalistic with no pictures and very little color.

On the surface the text may appear dry and boring.  Again this is one reason why the system is so effective for children with special learning needs.     Highly distractible children tend to become overly stimulated with lots of visual input .

These students are set up for success.  The eyes are focused on the text only.  The text does not have to compete with the visual input of  illustrations.  (This is not to say that illustrations are not of extreme value.  They are so incredibly valuable.)

The goal is to teach students the basics of reading (phonemic awareness, decoding skills and growing fluency skills).  Therefore, limited visual input is a benefit during specific and direct instruction.  Once the basics of reading have been mastered and the child requires less mental effort to decode words, the addition of illustrations to books is less of an issue.

Minimal Time Commitment

The lessons are extremely short (no more than 20 minutes a day).   The lower time commitment makes learning to read very manageable for both the child and teacher.  When I used this system with both of my girls, I often broke up the lessons into 10-minute sessions.  I would break up the lesson into a short 10-minute session in the morning and a 10-minute session before lunch.

The point is that this book can be modified to fit the mental capability of the student.  If the student is older the student may be capable of more than one lesson per day.

Regardless, I highly recommend modifying ANY curriculum into smaller chunks of time when necessary.  I especially receommend  shorter lessons with your younger children and any child who struggles with executive functioning.

Short but consistent lessons over time is so effective.  Forcing longer lessons is more likely to lead to a resistant and frustrated student.  That leads to a dead end.  A child’s level of interest and motivation is one of your greatest weapons when teaching your child any subject area.

Please save yourself from the mistake of “forcing” your student to work through longer lessons when they clearly have reached their limit.

This will only create more resistance to engage when it is time for your next lesson.  A frustrated child leads to a frustrating teaching time.  Frustration within the brain of a child only leads to mental shut down.  Forced instruction when a child is mentally shut down is a certain guarantee that nothing taught is retained.  It is not worth it.  Trust me.  I have made that mistake.

Unfortunately, in our culture, we have believed a lie that says more is better.

This is not always the case.  I argue that longer lessons are definitely not effective with students who struggle with learning differences.   When learning a non-preferred subject area, I always recommend shorter and manageable lessons.

Additionally, I highly recommend reducing anxiety in your child by preparing them IN ADVANCE for what is expected.  Before your lesson, clearly tell your student your expectation of reading time over the next 10, 15, or 20 minutes.  Time length should be based on child’s capacity at that time.  If a child knows what to expect and when to expect an end point, success is more likely.

Whatever you do.  Follow through on your end time.  If you set the expectation that you are asking for 10, 15 or 20 minutes, stop at 10, 15, or 20 minutes.  Be a trustworthy coach to your student and cooperation is more likely to follow.

Final Recommendations

Overall, I highly recommend Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons for the beginning reader as well as for older students who are struggling with traditional phonics-based lessons.

As mentioned earlier,  the lack of  illustrations usually targeted to a younger audience is removed which reduces the older student’s potential feelings of embarrassment and shame  when using introductory level reading instruction.

Additionally, the book can be modified for older remedial students in that more than one lesson can be addressed each day if appropriate.

The scripted lessons, while some may intitially find stifling, are so helpful for the homeschooling mom or dad who may be nervous about his or her lack of reading instruction experience.  The book can also be used by parents wanting to supplement reading instruction over summer vacation.

Bottom line… Teach Your Child To Read in 100 Easy Lessons is very user-friendly, requires no prep time for the instructor, is extremely well-priced (around $16), and is extremely effective for a multitude of students.

Don’t Forget… Every Child is Unique

I will say it once, and I will continue to repeat myself… Forgive me.

Children are not all the same.  Teach Your Child To Read In 100 Easy Lessons using the DISTAR teaching method has been proven extremely effective with many children.  However, it may not be a fit for you or your student for one reason or another.

My goal is to bring to the forefront a variety of teaching tools and methods that can be implemented depending upon your child’s wiring.  Check out this post on the Orton-Gillingham method of reading instruction which has shown incredibly helpful for children who may have dyslexia.  

Praise the Lord for options as we educate our children.  They are a gift but they are many.  

What about you and your student?  What areas of reading skills does your student struggle in?  Phonemic awareness?  Decoding skills?  Fluency?  Reading Comprehension?  Send me your concerns and I will do my best to address them in the coming weeks.  I really want to hear from you.  Please reach out.  🙂 lindsay at a heartforallstudents dot com  

You’ve got this, Teaching Mom!

Help for A Struggling Reader, Part 1

Help for A Struggling Reader, Part 1

Help for Your Struggling Reader

Lately I have had several moms approach me about tutoring their children because their children are “struggling” with reading.   Often times these moms have children with special learning needs. Sometimes mom doesn’t know of a specific diagnosis of a learning disability.  However, they do know one thing. The traditional approaches to reading instruction are not effective and they need help.  What about you?  Do you need help for your struggling reader?

When asked for reading tutoring, I typically respond with a specific question, “What exactly is your child struggling with in regards to reading?”

  • Does your struggling reader understand phonetics and have the ability to decode (sound out) words?
  • Is he struggle with reading fluency?
  • Can your child understand what he has read (reading comprehension)?

The entire process of reading has multiple component skills that ultimately work together to produce a truly literate reader.  These skills are like building blocks. Each one building upon the other.

Reading is more than correctly decoding written words.

Here is the deal that is often overlooked.  Reading is much more than just being able to sound out words quickly.  Often times when our children are able to “read” aloud we think that reading has been accomplished.  However, that is not necessarily the case.

The components of reading include:

  • Phonemic Awareness
  • Decoding
  • Fluency
  • Comprehension

I really believe that understanding the basic elements of reading will help homeschool moms like yourself help your struggling reader.  Let’s take a look at reading piece by piece and see how it equips you to see your child’s reading journey differently.

 

Letter Tiles App

Pre-Reading Skills-Phonemic Awareness

One of the first reading skills is something called “phonemic awareness.”   Words are all made up of units of sound called PHONEMES.  When a child starts to recognize that all spoken words are composed of individual units of sound, he is developing the skill of Phonemic Awareness.

When a child can hear a word such as BUG and is able to identify the three sounds: Buh, short U, and hard G sound, he is demonstrating this skill.  Using the word “BUG” the child drops the initial /B/ sound and replaces it with an /R/ sound to say RUG.   The ability to perform this exercise is showing further phonemic awareness.

Phonemic awareness is a  foundational skill to reading.   If you believe you need help for your struggling reader, I would recommend playing with words aloud to see if he can hear the different sounds that make up words.   A great option for parents to use with these children is the All About Reading Pre-Reading Program or another multi-sensory approach.

 

All About Learning Press

Decoding or Sounding Out Words

(Phonics)

When a child looks at the letter sequence D-O- G (visual input). He initially produces the sounds “D”- “short O”- “hard G.”  Once he pieces together the sounds, he says the word DOG.   This skill is referred to as DECODING and the process of decoding involves:

  • PHONICS: the sounds assigned to printed letters or combinations of letter symbols (using visual, auditory & verbal senses)

When seeking help for your struggling reader, it is important to assess your student’s phonics skills.  Phonics is the sounds that are represented by printed letters or combinations of letters.  For example, in the English language, the letter A is represented by four possible sounds:

  • the short a sound as in CAT,
  • the long a sound as in CAKE and
  • the “ah” sound as in ALL.
  • the “uh” sound as in ABOVE

All letters in the English language have sounds associated with them. Some have one specific sound and others have more than one sound depending on letter combinations.

Going back to our DOG example, the student will walk through the following steps as he decodes the word:

  • Determines that the letter symbols represent three separate sounds
  • Creates the sounds individually “d”-“short o” sound- “hard g” sound
  • After making the individual sounds out loud, the student puts the sounds together in his own mind. (Note that when the child speaks the sounds aloud that he is also “hearing” the sounds in his own voice.)
  • Finally, he blends them together so as to clearly say the word DOG

This process is decoding.

Fluency

As the decoding skill becomes second-nature, the goal is for the child to become faster in his ability to recognize familiar letter patterns and words.

Using our DOG example:

  • Eventually, the student will see the three letter symbols, D-O-G, and immediately know and verbalize the correct word.  He verbalizes the word aloud effortlessly and moves on to the next letter sequence with speed and confidence.

The ability to read with speed, proper inflection and confidence is what is termed “FLUENCY.”

Comprehension

As you seek help for your struggling reader, you will begin to tease out where your child’s reading weakness lies.  If she is strong is the previous two elements, it may be a reading comprehension issue that is causing her to struggle.  Reading comprehension is the component of reading that many children successful with the first three steps often become stuck.

The ability to comprehend or understand what was just read is quite consistently an area where many students hit struggle.  Students frequently struggle with the comprehension skill in the early years of reading.

It is not surprising that this skill would lag behind the other reading skills.

  • Understanding what is read requires that a child identify how to pronounce a word correctly using his relatively new decoding skills.
  • Once properly spoken aloud, your student must move to the next word and has to maintain the previous words in his mind (working memory) in order to process them as a whole sentence.
  • The extent of a child’s vocabulary obviously impacts her ability to understand a story line

Clearly, when we think about learning process is not as simple as it may seem on the surface level.  If your child is struggling with one of the earlier reading skills, it makes perfect sense that understanding the storyline would be much more challenging

All About Learning Press 20 Best Tips

So what do you do for your struggling reader?

Now that you have an idea of the component skills of reading, it is time to figure out which area your child is struggling with and then proceed from there.  Check out Part 2 of Helping Your Struggling Reader for a suggested outside-the-box tool that may be a great fit for your child.

Most importantly, know this.  One of the best things you can do to enhance your child’s reading journey is to read to him.  Read high-interest books outloud to your child without any expectation of having your child read to you.  Expose him or her to ideas and stories that are captivating and appealling to your specific child.  The memories you will create by sharing story will bless your entire family while also providing your child with an appreciation for books as a form of entertainment.    Check out the Favorite Family Book List below.  🙂

Holiday Hacks for Moms

Holiday Hacks for Moms

Like so many mommas, I am loving this cooler weather.  The colder weather lends itself to more cozy times at home with the family.  Though more indoor time at home as a family can be an opportunity for sweet memories, it can also lead to extra stress when our uniquely-wired kids begin to bounce off the walls.  Just as the cooler weather offers opportunities both for fun and stress, the holiday season itself adds even more nuances of joy and chaos. That means if we are raising uniquely-wired kids, we need to be prepared with some mom holiday hacks .    

Because many minds are way better than one, I reached out to my private AHFAS Facebook group to see what holiday hacks our moms had to share.  Of course, they did not disappoint. We are in this together, Sweet Mommas, and we need one another’s wisdom to set our kids and ultimately, our entire families for the sweetest holiday season possible.   We would love to have you join us.  Click here to join this tribe of brave mommas.  

Uniquely-Wired, Outside-the-Box Kids

The moms in the AHFAS private Facebook group are gifts to me and to one another.  This community has come together beautifully sharing openly and honestly the highs and often brutal lows of parenting children with a variety of cognitive differences or behavioral issues.  We are learning together that there is incredible hope and ways to raise our outside-the-box children so that they can thrive as the people God has created them to be.  Join us here. 

 

christmas, thanksgiving, holiday hacks, stress, mom, special needs

 

Diagnosis: Holiday Chaos (AKA Loss of Routines, Over-stimulation, & Lots of Junk Food)

How do some experienced mommas raising kids with special needs handle the holiday chaos?  Let’s turn to them and capitalize on the Holiday Hacks that have saved them one or two kid (and momma) meltdowns throughout the years.

Holiday Hack for Moms #1: Less Clutter!!

I encourage (as much as I possibly can) fewer gifts. In fact we don’t give any gifts to our children because we don’t want to add more on top of what family already gives. Most gifts = more mess = more frustration!!  

-Melanie, themathprofs.com

Holiday Hack for Moms #2: An Outside-the-Box Christmas

What I would say is think outside the box.. we go on a nice quiet family vacation every year for Christmas. (We try to go somewhere we’ve never been if we can). The holidays don’t have to be spent exactly like everyone else… we don’t all have to rearrange the house and put up trees and spend a fortune on things.. If you and your family absolutely love those things and it brings joy, do it. If that isn’t your thing, don’t! No need to feel any kind of guilt either way.. don’t be afraid to try out some new traditions that fit your family. It could be the best thing ever. My family thought I was a little nuts when I started thinking outside the box about holidays. Our kiddos say they like it the way it is and wouldn’t go back. 

 -Erica, Mom of two (one with dyslexia, anxiety & sensory processing issues)

christmas, thanksgiving, holiday hacks, mom, special needs, kids

Holiday Hack for Moms #3: Sticking to Nutrition Goals

I have my child on a strict no gluten, no dairy diet. So I just bring plenty of approved treats, with enough to share of course, and act like it’s no big thing. There are usually enough meal options so that I don’t worry about as much. 

-Maggie (1 child with moderate non-verbal ASD)  Maggie’s Fresh Kitchen

Holiday Hack for Moms #4: Think like a Boy Scout

Be like a boy scout and be prepared! Think ahead and try to get in front of as many possible situations as you can. The more prepared you are, the more calm you are likely to remain when something inevitably goes wrong. 

-Amy, Mom of 4 (Cerebral Palsy, ADHD, Anxiety, SPD), Real Talk with Amy

Holiday Hack for Moms #5: Double Check All Itineraries

I learned the hard way to always ALWAYS double check the itinerary at any new or old town/city holiday festivities —and vacation outings. As well as to always travel with noise cancelling headphones.

It happened to us twice, when our oldest was 2 and again at 4. Once was during a tree lighting ceremony in a new town we had just moved to and at age four at Broadway at the Beach. Both places, fireworks went off and we had ZERO clue it was part of the evening’s agenda. 

My oldest was my sensory avoider and he was a runner. We almost lost him both times into the crowd (and he was non-verbal!) He was only a few feet in front of us but at the sound of fireworks he turned into “Dash!” Pure fight/flight mode.  Y’all, it was scary! 

For the town Christmas tree lighting, the fireworks were being set off on top of the parking garage that we were parked in and every business was closed. We found him banging on doors to get in, to escape. Once we caught him, there was no escaping the terrifying sounds!! He and I both cried through it as I held him inside my winter coat as far as we could get away from them. It didn’t help the sound was bouncing off all the downtown buildings.l, echoing loudly. At Broadway at the Beach, thankfully we saw him run into a busy candy shop with doors open. We found him hiding behind a trash can. Luckily we stayed there, in a restroom till it was over.

He is 15 now, verbal, and can handle and enjoys fireworks! But not my middle son (11.) So no matter how many times we go to a familiar place or holiday festivity, we travel with noise canceling headphones and double check the itinerary!  

 – Alicia, Mom of 3 boys (2 biological and 1 adopted through the foster care system.  ASD, SPD, RAD, Microcephaly, Mood Disorder, Shaken Baby Syndrome)

 

Holiday Hack #6: The Power of “No”

Be ok with saying no. If something doesn’t fit the needs of our family, we graciously decline—then celebrate in our own way. Sometimes we just decline because as parents we are too exhausted. We have become comfortable with only choosing what is best for us all.

-Anna

Holiday Hack for Moms #7: One Thing a Day

Holiday hacks for my SPD kiddo… We only plan ONE THING A DAY. JUST ONE.  However, we break our own rule on Christmas Eve but plan nothing the day before or after to cushion the overstimulation.  My husband and I always explain the plan in advance. We write out the overview of the week, then every morning we go through the schedule with our kids.  We pack familiar snacks. When we stay with family, we ask them to buy the same usual breakfast foods we eat at home. Practicing some family traditions at home is very important.  For example, we all sing Christmas carols on Christmas Eve, so we pre-teach them a few songs so they feel prepared when we are with extended family. 

 -Stacy, (mom of 3- one with SPD) The Semi-Crunchy Mama

My Bonus Holiday Hack for Moms #8: Plan Kid Friendly Holiday Table Activities 

Every year I make sure to fill the table time with activities to engage the whole family.  I print out Thanksgiving Word Searches, Thankful-For Activities, Christmas Make-a-Words, and a variety of other activities that engage the family in shared activities.  These simple activities are something that not only brings all of the ages together (we team up in pairs… grandparents and kids, etc), but also helps conversation flow for those kids who struggle socially.   I created a mini-family dinner table holiday pack that you can access for free here.  Thanksgiving and Christmas Word Scrambles and Make-a-Words.  Super easy to print out and have simple family fun around the holiday table.  

-Lindsay, (mom of three, 2 biological & 1 through adoption: Aspergers, FASD, ADHD, Anxiety) Our Adoption Story

 

God Chose You

Mom Friend, whether your child struggles with sensory issues, bounces off the walls when anxious, or simply needs the predictability of routine to self-regulate well, we can only do our best as moms.  Don’t be afraid to say no to holiday commitments and make sure to give your family plenty of wiggle room as you schedule the months to come.  God chose YOU to parent your child on purpose.   Release the worry about what Aunt Betty thinks when you have to duck out early or take your child to another room to calm down.  Trust in your role as your child’s mother and ask the Lord to lead you in the moments of anxiety this holiday season.  Praying for you to be flooded with His peace and joy in even the chaos.

What about you?  Do you have any hacks that may be useful to another momma?   Comment below.

PANS/PANDAS: Symptoms

PANS/PANDAS: Symptoms

PANS/PANDAS Symptoms in My Family

If you have a child and haven’t heard of PANS/PANDAS and the symptoms associated with this devastating syndrome, it is very important that you do.  Last week, I shared the story of my then 12 year-old daughter’s battle with PANS (Pediatric Acute-onset Neuropsychiatric Syndromes).  Her sudden-onset panic, fear, terror and severe separation anxiety stopped our family’s life that summer.  We felt as though we had lost our daughter.  The joyful, fun-loving, social butterfly that we knew had been kidnapped by what we soon learned was a very common bacterial infection.  Mycoplasma or in layman’s terms, pneumonia.  You can read more about our daughter’s story here.  

Bacteria Playing Hide & Seek

Here is my attempt to explain how a bacteria such as mycoplasma, which causes pneumonia, can cause PANS/PANDAS.  The symptoms that this bacteria and others cause includes drastic emotional or behavioral changes.

Basically, these bacteria (STREP or mycoplasma, for example), play Hide & Seek within the body.   These bacteria can actually imitate or mimic the healthy cells within the body.  They “hide” while pretending to be healthy body cells.  In the time that these bacteria are hiding, they multiply in secret.  The invaders grow and grow until they are finally found once their presence can no longer be hidden from the body’s immune system.   Our immune system actually attacks the healthy cells that the infections have been mimicking in secret.

Devastatingly, at that point, the child’s behaviors and emotions take a drastic turn for the worst causing frightening emotional and behavioral symptoms:

  • OCD (this can present as repetitive distressing thoughts)
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Severe opposition
  • Aggression
  • Handwriting deterioration
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Obsessions about food
  • Hyperactivity and sudden ADHD-like symptoms
  • and more…

 

Adults Forced to Play

This forces parents and doctors to begin the game of Hide & Seek that they did not know they were supposed to be playing.

Adults finally seek out the cause of these severe changes in the child and then often find the bacterial culprit if the proper blood workups are performed.    Click here to access diagnostic workup information.  Please bring this with you to your doctor if you notice symptoms of PANS/PANDAS in your child.  Very often, doctors are not well-versed in the diagnostic criteria for PANS/PANDAS.  

Specifically referring to the STREP bacteria, WebMD describes it this way:

An infection causes your immune system to attack your body’s healthy cells, in this case, cells in the brain. The strep bacteria disguise themselves to look like normal cells. When the immune system eventually finds and fights them, it sometimes also fights the cells that the strep is imitating.

Journey from PANS/PANDAS Symptoms to Diagnosis

Today, I would like to share the story of a sweet friend of mine.   She has and is currently navigating this incredibly rocky road with her own son, who has the trifecta diagnosis of PANS/PANDAS and AE.

According to  Epidemicanswers.org, AE, Autoimmune encephalitis is:

Autoimmune Encephalitis

Another way to think of PANS PANDAS, as well as any neurodevelopmental disorder such as autism, ADD/ADHD, Sensory Processing Disorder and even learning disabilities, is that these disorders may fall under the larger umbrella of autoimmune encephalitis (AE).

Autoimmune encephalitis is a disorder in which the immune system attacks the brain, impairing function.

I am honored to have Heather share her story with you in the hopes that more moms are able to access the appropriate diagnosis for their children who are suffering at the hands of this life-altering and debilitating illness.

When the diagnosis doesn’t fit

Heather’s Story

It was about 3 years ago when my then 4 year old started changing. We were getting calls from preschool about behavior challenges they were having with him and thought it was best he be evaluated for social/emotional and academic delays. This came as a bit of a punch in the gut as I knew my child had been ahead before this and we always watched him so closely as we have another child on the spectrum.

So why now?

What changed?

Had I missed something?

Could I have been in denial for 4 years?

So we navigated through this new journey of many evaluations, Occupational Therapy, Speech Therapy, specialty Doctor appointments and many diagnoses……. Many!

We would enter one of our toughest seasons yet in parenting. I mean parenting has never been easy and fun for us with our other children, but this season we were entering was the biggest heartache of them all.

As we navigated our way through a very dark valley of medical appointments, wrong diagnosis, the school system, our home life and watching him deteriorate rapidly… I found myself doubting everything especially the vision I knew God had shown me. I was questioning everything I once knew to be true!  

Wrong Diagnosis

You see there was a stirring in my gut as I continued to watch my child decline. As I continued to watch him slip away into a darkness I can’t put into words. Our lives forever changed.

So we continued with doctor appointments while searching for answers…….. But not satisfied.

Then there it was one night, almost 2 years later. It was staring back at me on a screen.

All my child’s symptoms listed. Everything…..

Our nightmare described in 1 word… PANDAS. PANS.

How had we missed this?

Why was this not discussed, mentioned?

Why am I the one figuring this out?

I’m just a mom and I am discovering what this is……

THIS IS PANDAS/PANS

This was not:

  • ADHD / ODD
  • Regressive Autism / PDD-NOS
  • Sensory processing disorder
  • Severe Anxiety with OCD – RAGE
  • Bi polar disorder With hallucinations
  • Anorexia Nervosa

This is PANDA’s… PANS… Our HELL in 1 word, all of our symptoms…

And this is our HOPE! This is our journey to healing!

If you have child with multiple diagnoses please take some time to research PANS/ PANDAS

To learn more about Heather’s story as she navigates her son’s continuing battle with PANS/PANDAS/AE, check out her Facebook page.  Trust in the Journey.