How we beat the MCAS blues (and you can too)

Friday, March 21st, 2014

“Mommy, once I started doing it, the worry bully* went away.”

This is what my daughter reported when I picked up after her first MCAS testing experience.

This is a huge victory.  And it has nothing to do with passing or failing the test.

It has everything to do with learning what to do when you are afraid.

For those of you that do not live in Massachusetts, MCAS is the standardize testing of math and reading skills that starts in third grade. 

But what MCAS came to stand for in our house was anxiety.  My daughter was worried.  She was scared and stressed.

And it turns out that she is not the only one.  As I move along in my life both professionally and personally, I am hearing a lot about how children are worried about testing in school.

Of course we could have a discussion about the worthiness of testing young children.  There are pros and cons.  Personally I would prefer my children spend their time learning and not taking or preparing for tests. 

I do not think these tests measure a lot that is useful.

But they are the reality.  And if there is a silver lining here, it is that there is an opportunity for our children to learn how to handle their fears and worries.

As my daughter discovered the worries in your head are often worse than the actual experience

So if you have a child that worries a lot about testing (or anything else for that matter). Here are a few tips:

Tip #1: Find out what your child is actually worried about.  Don’t assume you know.  

My daughter had this idea that if she failed MCAS she would be left back.  That is a lot of pressure for a little girl.  And it is completely not true. 

Once we were able to address this thought her anxiety decreased.

Tip #2: Help your child develop a realistic picture of how the day will go

Anxious kids will do better with more information.  What will be the same and different about testing day?  Some kids will worry that they won’t get lunch or recess on a testing day.  Find out what their want to know. Facts can help a lot. How long will the test take? What happens before or after?  Find out what their questions are and get the answers.  Also, Are there any perks?  Maybe less or no homework?

Tip #3: Related to this, if your child has specific accommodations on their IEP, help them understand exactly what they are and what will happen. 

Will the test be read to them?  Will they get extra time?  Will they take the test with the rest of their class or in a small group or in a one to one situation?

Tip #4: Praise for the effort.  For showing up when something feels tough.

 Normalize some amount of worry.  Talk to your kids about how you feel scared sometimes but yet it doesn’t stop you.

As my daughter learned, MCAS is no big deal.  I hope she learned that once you start doing something it is usually not as bad as you think.  I hope she learned that the fear should not stop her.

Tip #5: Make sure your children understand that these assessments do not measure if they are smart or funny or brave or if they will have a successful and happy life.

What does matter?  Well maybe how they deal with a task that scares them?

That matters.  A lot. Feel the fear.  Do it anyway.  

For a great book on children and anxiety (with a great section on the worry bully) check out: http://www.amazon.com/What-When-You-Worry-Much/dp/1591473144/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1395436049&sr=8-1&keywords=for+kids+that+worry+too+much

 

 

 

Find the Joy and Find the Connection

Friday, March 14th, 2014

Have you read the amazing article in the NYTimes magazine by Ron Suskind (I link to the article at the bottom of this post) about his process of connecting with his son diagnosed with autism through the language and characters of Disney movies?

Why did they choose Disney?  They did not.  Their son chose it because it spoke to him in a deep and meaningful way.

I have been thinking a lot about this article.  I think there a lot of lessons for parents raising children with learning, language and social differences.  Especially for parents with children diagnosed with ASD but not only.  All parents can learn from this, no matter what the disability or difference.

Here are my initial take aways:

Take away #1:

We as parents do not always get to pick what is meaningful and important to our children.

What this family did was simply but also very complicated. They met their son where he was and listened. They reached out to him using the language that seemed compelling to their son even though it was confusing to them.

These parents and this family chose to engage with something that was confusing and uncertain for them because that is where they could find their son.

We ask our quirky children with language and learning issues to do this every single day.  

Take away #2:

The press for growth, development and meaning is always there for everyone.  No matter what the diagnosis.  It is our nature as human beings.  This is not different if you have a brain based disability or difference.

Often the trajectory of growth is uneven and uncharted.  It is our job as parents to figure out how to help our children find the path they need to grow and mature. 

Take away # 3

No matter what, the things that bring our children joy are important.  They are a place of potential connection, if we can join them there.

Take away #4

Experts do not know everything.  The best experts know and acknowledge this.  They do not know more about your child than you know in your heart.  Now I realize that this is sticky territory.  As a clinician, I am not saying ignore experts or well researched clinical advice.  What struck me about these parents is that they did not abandon the experts.  But they also did not abandon what they knew to be true in their hearts.  It is a tricky balance to strike.

Take away #5:

When a parent is nurturing a child that is different in some way, your journey as a parent will be different too.  You need to get creative and think  “outside the box” as they say.  But it is worth it.

Here is the link: 

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/03/09/magazine/reaching-my-autistic-son-through-disney.html

Can’t wait to read the book!

 

Helping our Children to Know What they Need to Flourish

Monday, February 24th, 2014

My daughter does not do well in noisy environments.

Noise is like is her kryptonite.

In smaller, less noisy environments she does exceedingly well.  Bring in the noise, increase the number of children and, well, things tend to fall apart.

Both of my kids were signed up for a vacation camp program for 2 days of February break.

They had done it before and it had gone very well. But when they did it, it was on a holiday Monday and the program had only 8 children.

But this week, well, the camp was fully enrolled.  On the phone I was told that meant 12 children (doable). But the reality of fully enrolled turned out to be 25 active and loud kids running around.

Suddenly something that was absolutely doable for my quirky daughter became very difficult.

She knew it and we knew it. 

So we cancelled at the last minute.

And by the last minute, I mean she walked in the door and then walked out of the door. 

She knew that this would never work. And so did we.

My daughter was disappointed and maybe a little ashamed.

She was looking forward to the games, the indoor swimming and the arts and crafts.

To her credit this was not a total meltdown situation. 

But it was a frustrating realization for her:  This will not work for me.  

Well we re-grouped and re-arranged and she spent the afternoon at a sewing class that had last minute openings.  And then she spent the next two days enrolled at the sewing vacation camp.  It went exceedingly well.  

We were all flexible.  

I realize that we were quite lucky.  The original camp offered a refund.  I was able to re-arrange my schedule for the day.  We were lucky that there was another option.

I realize that for many parents the only option would have been to figure out a way to make the loud noisy program work.  Or cancel and go home without any ability to reschedule their work obligations. I know we were lucky.

But at the end of the day, even though this was inconvenient for me, this is the very thing that my daughter needs to learn how to do. 

This is what many of our children need to learn.

Our children need to know how to advocate for themselves. They need to know when something will not be good for them.  They need to know when and how to ask for help.

If something does not work, they need to know that often there are alternative solutions that might work out quite well.

For children with learning differences, the ability to calmly ask for support when they need it is a key contributor to long-term success.

Some things will change for our children.  Development and all the latest and greatest interventions are on their side.

But some things will not change.

I suspect that noisy environments will always be somewhat problematic for my little girl.

I hope as the years go by she will learn a whole lot of strategies for dealing with them. 

She will not always be able to walk away. That is what we are working on now; helping her become more flexible and develop more strategies so she can handle everything that life throws at her.

But I also hope that she will learn to politely and unapologetically ask for what she needs when it is possible.  I hope that she will understand what is conducive to her learning and wellbeing.

This is a complicated process and requires a lot of mental gymnastics and inner strength.  You need to know what works for you.  You need to be able to own that some things are hard for you.  You need to be able to ask for things to be different. This is a long-term project.

I hope she will understand that under the right circumstances she will flourish and do amazing things.  When she is lucky enough to have choices to make, I hope that she we make the right choices for herself. 

The Gifts of a Little Brother

Wednesday, January 29th, 2014

My son is an amazing little boy. He is smart and sweet and has an enormous heart. And he worships my daughter in the way that only a little brother can.

It does not matter that she struggles to learn to read.

She is his hero. 

He wants to be just like her. When they play together I see him imitating her.  He is always game to play with her and go along on some new adventure.

He is not a child who habitually sucked his thumb or fingers but sometimes when he was younger and they would watch TV together I would find him imitating her… down to rubbing his head and twirling his hair… as is her habit.

I am not saying they get along all of the time, because they do not.

But there is a true bond there. 

When she left their public school to go what we call her “just right” school he cried because he was worried about being all by himself.

He cried because he was going to miss her walking him into class every morning.

For my son, his big sister is the best person he knows.  She is cool.  She knows things. To get invited into my daughter’s room to play makes his day.

This is one of his gifts to her.  She gets to be his amazing older sister.   She gets to know everything and she gets to teach him how to be a kid.

To him, she is not the kid with the IEP. She is simply great.

For my son, any learning differences that my daughter has are simply a drop in the bucket of her amazingness.

But my son is also jealous of his big sister.  He wishes he could go into the fun occupational therapy appointments instead of hanging out in the waiting room. He would like to go with her to her school.

And, yes, sometimes he wishes, he could get more of our attention and time when his sister is struggling.  Because sometimes (not always) his sister needs more and gets more then he does.  

While he has his own learning issues, his sister has been a more inflexible and low frustration tolerance type of kid.  She is a child that has needed more support regulating herself and her emotions. 

This is happening less and less but it still the case.  And my son has noticed.  And if he hasn’t, I have noticed and it is something I think a lot about.

I think it is a theme and a challenge for a lot of families.

In our home we have started talking about this a little bit.  And we all have some BIG questions.  Are you getting what you need?  And what does it mean when we need different things.  And what is the difference between needs and wants?

Having a brother or a sister is having the gift of someone who probably doesn’t care that you have a learning difference.  A brother or sister only cares about if you play with them.  A brother or sister only cares about how you treat them.

Siblinghood is like a roller coaster ride. Parents expect big things from siblings.  We expect them to get along, share, and play nice. We ask them to share our attention, our time, our resources and our love.  We expect siblings to go along with all of the ups and downs generated by their sisters and brothers.

When you add learning and regulation issues into the mix…well you add extra twists and turns. Let’s face it: some kids need more from us at times. Some children create more worry and more anxiety for parents and some generate less.

Our challenge as parents is to make sure each child gets what he or she needs.  And it is a big challenge.

Our challenge as parents is to make room for their feelings when our children do not get what they want.

 Our challenge as parents is to not rely on the strength of one child to help us cope with the problems of another. 

Our challenge as parents is to know how to create space for each child’s hopes and dreams.  

Our challenge as parents is to celebrate each child’s strengths and make sure there is room for each child’s struggles. Because all children struggle at times, even when they are thriving in other ways.

 

 

Celebrate the Small Victories

Tuesday, January 14th, 2014

Do you celebrate the small victories?

Frustration edition

My daughter was getting ready to use her sewing machine and because it had been a tough week in the meltdown department, I felt the need the need to remind her about how a sewing machine, like a computer can be frustrating. 

Things go wrong.

Needles unthread and bobbins pop out.

Not being a sewer myself, I always get a little tense when my daughter sits down to a work on a sewing project.

Children with low frustration tolerance, get, well, frustrated.

And she is definitely a child with low frustration tolerance.

So I have mixed feelings about her sewing machine.

It does give her a chance to practice her frustration tolerance skills in a low risk situation.

Also, it gives her the chance to develop a useful skill.  Sewing is potentially an island of competence.  It is a skill that draws on my daughter’s many strengths and talents. This is important for children with learning differences.

But when something goes wrong, as it will, she will have to deal.

I do not necessarily have the skills to help unravel the problems that inevitable seem to develop.

Let’s just say I do not have a lot of intuition around machines.

This is really hard for a parent.  It is hard not to know how to fix something. But it is often good for our kids because we cannot always make it all better.  It is good to know what to do when that is the case.

Mommy, she said. Getting frustrated isn’t the problem

It is what you do when you are frustrated that matters.  I get frustrated a lot but I do not always get upset.

Ok. Cue the hallelujah music.

Frustration tolerance, in our house, is a work in progress.  A one step forward one step back sort of thing.  That statement is clearly a step forward!

That statement is a small victory.  Or maybe a big victory. Or maybe it is the product of lots of small victories.  

My daughter does get upset. 

But I have been thinking about what she said:

I get frustrated a lot but I do not always get upset.

She is right.  She does not ALWAYS get upset. In fact she gets upset much less than she use to.

But because when she gets upset she gets very upset, it is easy for me to lose sight of the fact that she is managing her frustration a lot of the time.

Not all the time. 

But, the very fact that she is using this language: It is what you do when you get frustrated that matters…

And the very fact that she does not always get upset when she is frustrated means that we are making progress.

So there are actually a lot of small victories, every day.

This is so easy for me to forget when we are in the middle of a meltdown.

I get frustrated.  I get worried and I cannot always see the forward movement.

It is easy for parents to focus on what is difficult and hard.  Often we forget to see the whole picture.  Often we start to miss the progress and the positive accomplishment. 

Every time my daughter sews and deals with something going wrong, it is a small victory. 

So my daughter is working on her sewing.  And I am working on accentuating the positive.  And if the machine breaks then we will deal with our frustration together.

What are your small victories?

 

A short post on the hard work of staying mindful when your child is struggling

Monday, November 25th, 2013

Mindful parenting it is about bringing your attention to the present moment.  It is taking up the challenge of trying to be fully present to our children.

Being mindful is not a steady state it is a practice.

Some days go better than others. Some days it is easier to be fully present. 

Mindful parenting is not about holding yourself to some ridiculous standard where you never pay any attention to anything except your children. 

Work needs to get done.  Dinner needs to get made.

Life moves quickly.

Many things pull on our attention and time.  For good reasons. And all can be done with mindfulness. One of my favorite things is listening to my children play while I putter around the kitchen.  Puttering needs to happens as much as playing.

Practicing mindfulness directly with our children often creates space for connection and gentleness.

Mindful parenting helps us attend to the joys and the heartache of everyday life. Because well, what else is there?

In my opinion, it is about accepting what is going on right now and creating space to react in the most useful way.

Mindfulness may seem counter intuitive in some ways when your child is dis-regulated or your child is distressed or your child is struggling or you are tired or overwhelmed.

Staying mindful, focusing on the here and now is often very difficult.

Often the here and now is not such a happy place.

Often the here and now feels overwhelming.

However, it is exactly when things are the most difficult that mindful parenting is potentially the very useful.

Mindful parenting gives us as parents a way to manage our emotions when things are hard. 

It is a way to practice the difficult act of noticing without judging or reacting.

It creates some space for our emotional reactions when our children are having a hard time.  Often a little space is a good thing because it allows us to make choices based on what is needed right now.  Perhaps our initial reaction is right on target and will help us do what is needed in the moment.  But perhaps our reaction is more about our personal fears and past failures. Perhaps our initial reaction is more about anxiety about the future.  In that case being mindful and non-judgmental provides a way to notice that and then bring our attention to the interaction or the child in front of us right now.

Before we can be present for our children in the ways they need we need to be present for ourselves.  We need to be non-judgmental for our own thoughts and feelings.

Mindful parenting is all about letting the feeling come up, noticing them and moving forward.

Mindful parenting helps us be fully present for our children when they need us most.

Practicing mindfulness as a parent is all about noticing and truly embracing the precious beings we love. Right here and right now.

 

 

What my Daughter is learning from Dyslexia

Tuesday, November 12th, 2013

My daughter is severely dyslexic.  Reading is not intuitive for her. It is exceptionally difficult.  It is slow going.  It is not fun. 

In first grade she would come home from school and cry to me about being stupid because she thought she was the worst reader in the class.

Now my daughter struggles with many issues, not only dyslexia. But she is not stupid.  She is actually exceptionally bright. 

It is, as she often points out, not fair. Not at all fair. She does not like being dyslexic. 

As her parent, I wish I could make it easier. I wish I could magically make her able to read.  I wish it came as easily to her as it seems to come easily to so many of her peers.

Children who struggle with reading do not generally do well in school.  They generally do not like school.   School, especially in the early grades, is all about learning to read.

Because reading is so exceptionally difficult for my daughter she is also learning a lot of other important things along the way.

Life lessons.  And every single day she gets to practice those lessons.

Being severely dyslexic means that every single day that you work on learning to read you are working on something that is hard for you. Even when you are being taught in the systematic, research based, specialized way that my daughter is being taught… it is still hard.

It means whether you have a good day or a bad day in your reading classes you still go back to it the next day.  You persevere.  You have to. There is no other option. 

Being dyslexic means that you celebrate small gains.  This year for the first time my daughter is starting to read street and store signs.  And she often surprises herself and she then stop and gives me a hug or a high five.  We celebrate the small victories. They are a big deal.  They are hard won.

She is also starting to be more adventurous with her books choices.  No she does not get all the words right but she is reading. I stop and I notice that she is reading.  I point it out to her.  I want her to notice when she is successful.  She is not making progress as quickly as she would like but she is making progress.  No it is not perfect.  But, really, it does not need to be. Perfect is overrated.  It is good to learn that early on.

Being dyslexic is a daily exercise in understanding the value of hard work and not giving up.  It is the daily experience of returning to a task that you do not prefer and doing it over and over again. It is learning that something is random and is not fair and it is not your fault but it is still your responsibility to put forth a good effort to make it better.

For some children, reading is like breathing. It is easy and natural.  I am glad for those children and for their parents.  I read the face-book posts and I listen to the bragging on the playground. It is something that parents like to brag about.

I want to brag also.  I am so proud of my daughter and the incredible effort and persistence she shows everyday.  

One day my daughter will read this. I hope it will remind her of how proud I am of her and how proud she should be of herself.

 I want her to know that she inspires me, everyday. Maybe one day, when she is having a hard time she will inspire herself.  She will remind herself that she knows how to endure when something is hard.

We have more than our share frustrations and our meltdowns.  As a parent I have to practice letting go and taking things one step at a time.  Some days are hard.  We struggle a lot.  I am not trying to romanticize it.

But my daughter shows up everyday to do her hard work. She works harder than any child I know on learning how to read. Showing up everyday when something is hard is inspiring. At the end of the day, learning how to show up and learning how to not give up is worth more than being the best reader in the class.

 

 

Do You Need to Let Go of your SHOULDS?

Monday, November 4th, 2013

Many parents of children that struggle developmentally or academically have a complicated relationship with the word SHOULD.

Usually the words SHOULD and SHOULDN’T pop up at some point when you begin to wonder if your child SHOULD be doing something that they are not doing.

SHOULDN’T he be reading by now?

SHOULD she get so upset when I leave?

SHOULDN’T she be able to get up in the morning and get ready for school with out a meltdown?

SHOULDN’T she be able to ride a bike?

SHOULDN’T he be able to sit still at dinner?

And so on, and so on…

Often a parent or a teacher will make an observation and begin to wonder about what a child should or shouldn’t do.  An observation leads to questions.  Questions lead to experts, evaluations, diagnoses, plans and meetings.

The words SHOULD and SHOULDN’T become embedded in our view of the world.

When your children fall behind where they SHOULD be, it raises a lot of anxiety.  Anxiety is good in some ways.  It moves us to action to get support, find resources and to figure out how to raise children with different learning and social styles.

But SHOULDS create a lot of relentless anxiety and stress. Anxiety that does not serve us or our children.

Often, our  SHOULDS are about our personal rules about the world.  Rules we do not necessarily even know that we have.

 They are the HAVE TOs of our lives that may or may not align with the reality.

 We all have SHOULDS for our children. We all have SHOULDS for our daily life.  They represent our expectations and our hopes and our dreams. They represent what we were taught by our own parents about how to get though each day.

 He SHOULD make his bed.

He SHOULD eat different foods every morning for breakfast.

He SHOULD wear sneakers to school. 

He SHOULD know how to read by now.  He SHOULD do better at math. She SHOULD behave better at church.

When your children struggle with learning differences or social differences or emotional regulation or attentional difficulties, they are often not able to live up to our expectations.  They often cannot easily navigate the daily demands of life with a lot of support.

 Understanding our SHOULDs and how they create stress and anxiety is an important step in finding a path toward a calmer happier family life.

 Letting go of the SHOULDS is often the first step of managing our stress.

 It is often the first part of simplifying things for our family so we can prioritize what is most important right now.

 Sometimes, our SHOULDS are based on our own deep emotional needs from our own childhood.  

Most therapist, no matter what type of therapy they practice, listen carefully when someone starts throwing around the word SHOULD a lot.  The word SHOULD is a red flag that something or someone is causing your client a lot of stress and pain.

Often a SHOULD leaves a trail of distress when we think about letting it go, even temporarily.  Even in the service of meeting our children where they are at and building the skills for potential future success. When this happens it is our internal work as parents to sort out what is truly important and necessary at any particular moment. It is our work as parents to understand why we are in distress.

Letting go is not letting go forever…  in fact, creating calm reducing stress may actually get us closer to all those other goals.  But it can feel like a disaster in the moment.

Letting go is about thinking about what your actual child can handle right now.

It is making a plan for your particular situation that works for your child and for you.

Letting go of what you SHOULD expect as a parent and embracing what is possible right now helps us be fully present to our children.  It helps us make a plan to get where we want to go.  And it helps us accept who are children are today.

Be Kind and Compassionate to Yourself

Monday, October 21st, 2013

Do any parents here have children living in meltdown city?

All children go there. And parents are definitely along for the ride.  Some of us live there (at least temporarily).  Some of us are frequent guests.

Some of us have moved away but every once in a while we take an unexpected and unwanted detour.

We can spend a lot of time talking about different strategies and different approaches for supporting children when they are in distress.

Parents of children with special needs NEED a lot of strategies.  We need the latest and greatest of approaches.  We need a team full of people at their tip-top best thinking about how to help our children.

We can talk about structure and routine, sensory issues and social pragmatics and social thinking.  We can talk about how anxiety gets into the mix.  We can and need to talk about learning styles and learning differences and executive functioning. All of this is important and all of it matters.  All of it makes a big difference for our children.

I have talked about some of this in the past and I plan to be talking a lot about practicalities and strategies in the future.

This post does not imply in any way that those things are not important.  They are extremely important.

But what we do not often talk about is how we feel and what we think when our children get upset.

Often we do not talk about how to treat ourselves with kindness when things are falling apart.  And when things fall apart, kindness is often in short supply.

It is easy to be good and kind to ourselves when everyone is on his or her best behavior.  When the proverbial sh*t hits the proverbial fan, well, that is when we need kindness the most.  That is when we most need to generate compassion for ourselves because that is when we feel like we are doing everything wrong.

There is not a mother or father in the world who has not experienced shame and anger when their child meltdowns in private or in public.

Many of us, having been there ourselves, try and offer a kind word or a warm smile when we see a mom or dad out in the world trying to navigate a child who is in distress.  I always want another parent to know that I am not judging them and that I have been in their shoes.  I want that parent to know that a screaming child does not mean they are a bad parent.

But then, when I am in those shoes I am extremely hard on myself.  When I have a child in distress I am very judgmental of myself.    It does not matter that I am a psychologist or that I work with parents.  It does not matter that I know that, in the end, it does not help matters to be so judgmental toward myself.  It does not help me be more flexible or more creative. It does not help me stick to a plan. I know from my friends and from my work that most of us  are hard on ourselves in ways we would never be toward other people.

Why are we able to show compassion to others but then turn around and be so hard on our own selves?

Do we say to ourselves: I am providing such a safe and comfortable home that my child can express his distress to me?

Do we say to ourselves:  No matter how my child struggles, I am a good parent and a good person?

Do we say to ourselves:  It is ok or it will be ok even though it is hard right now?

Do we say to ourselves: Whatever feelings and thoughts are coming up now are ok.  I have every right to be frustrated or upset.  I will feel it and then let it go so I can figure out what to do next?

Do we say to ourselves: All kids get upset, not just kids with special needs?

Do we give ourselves a break when things are hard?

What does self-compassion look like for you?

It may not seem like this is important but in my opinion it is one of the foundations of being a parent.  In the end our children need to learn a lot about being kind and nonjudgmental and compassionate toward others and most importantly toward themselves.

 

 

 

Supporting the Siblings of Quirky Kids

Thursday, October 10th, 2013

Growing up with a special needs or quirky sibling sets you apart from your peers in many ways.

I grew up with a sister, who in today’s diagnostic terms, probably lives somewhere on the autistic spectrum.  One of the first multi-syllable words I learned was PERSEVERATE.  Because that is what my sister did, a lot.

I learned a lot about difference and disability.

I learned from a young age that having a different sort of brain isn’t necessary that most important thing about a person.  As a kid, the most important thing is how willing they are to share their toys and play house with you.

And I like to think I learned some things about perspective taking and empathy.

There are a lot of good things that come from growing up in a family that is, well, just a little bit different and that does not quite fit in.

When people find out that I grew up in a special needs family and then became a psychologist they often ask me what can they do to take care of the neuro-typical children in their homes.

I feel like the most important thing a parent can do is, make room for their children to be exactly who they are.  Really this is the most important thing we can for all our kids.

Often this is easier said than done.  Often the child with the official “special needs” has well, a lot of needs.  Often parents are stressed out and it is necessary to ask the other children in the home to have it all together.  This can happen in both overt and covert ways of course.

But if a parent is actively thinking about this topic, then they are halfway to having a good handle on it.  It means they have some perspective on the experience of all their children. It means they recognize that things can get out of balance and impact the emotional life of their children.

So this is my advice both as a psychologist and as the sister to someone with severe special needs.

1)   Make space for all your child’s feelings about what is going on in the family and with the special needs siblings. Even the hard, ungenerous feelings that we all have at times.

2) Make space for their unique struggles.  It is easy to minimize a child’s struggles when they are lucky enough not to have official “special needs.”  Let your children know that all struggles and problems are important.

3) Make space for their unique interests.  Give them a space or activity of their own where they do not necessarily have to share or accommodate their sibling.

4) Help them understand what the particular “special needs” are in your family in an age appropriate way, especially the things that impact them and family life directly.  Be honest when you answer their questions and let them in on your thought process (in an age appropriate way) as you make decisions that impact the whole family.

There are times when you will need your more capable children to step up.  That is life and there is nothing wrong with it.  It only becomes a problem the “regular” child is being ask to ignore his own emotional needs.

We know as parents that all children are not equal. Some child simply need more support.  Some children need more from us emotionally.  Some children have a much lower tolerance for frustration.  Some children are more flexible and some are less.  This is true in every family, special needs or not.

Being a sib to a quirky kid is a gift in many ways. I am proud to be a member of this group. You as a parent can help your child navigate this path in a way that allows all of the members of your family to thrive.