A recent article in the CHADD newsletter drew our attention here at SECM.  It nicely summarizes how parents can best help their child affected by ADHD be successful and more independent, without “helicopter parenting”. . . . .

When your child struggles with executive function challenges—remembering homework, gym shoes and being able to make good decisions about the present and future—it can become a challenge to straddle the line between fixing the problem for her or holding tight and allowing her to experience the consequences. This is especially true with ADHD symptoms since these can cause more problems for your child with behavior, grades and decision-making than what your child’s peers might be experiencing.

In an attempt to make life smoother for your child, you can take the risk of doing too much for her. Children with ADHD often have delayed maturity. It is hard sometimes to know when to let go or when you are needed to direct your child or work with someone else on your child’s behalf.

Researchers at the University of Arizona and California State University at Chico took a look at the concept of overparenting versus supportive parenting. Their results are helpful in understanding how helicopter parenting and supportive parenting affects teens and young adults.

The researchers worked with college age young adults and found that overparenting was linked with psychological distress and performance anxiety for them. In addition, they found that the students had a sense of entitlement, along with increased self-importance, due to their parent’s over praise and involvement. By overparenting, they concluded, a parent unconsciously interferes with the age-appropriate development of competence, independence and a sense of connection to others.

Parents “helicopter” from the desire to improve their children’s success at school and in future life, the researchers noted, but it also happens when parents are highly critical of their children and fail to maintain a boundary between their lives and that of their children. The result is teens and young adults who become overly dependent on their parents and lack the ability to be self-starters or develop problem-solving skills when faced with challenges. The young adults told the researchers that although they resented the over-involvement from their parents, they hadn’t had the chance to learn how to overcome difficulties on their own and continued to need parental direction.

Parents who allow age-appropriate independence in day-to-day life encourage creativity, exploration and learning responsible choices in their children. How can you encourage independence and problem-solving for your child with ADHD? Some parenting tips to be a supportive parent without overparenting:

  • Listen to your teen and respect her thoughts and opinions. She can disagree with you but still follow your rules and directions. Help her learn to clarify her thoughts and opinions by asking why she holds them.
  • Allow your child to pick his own extra-curricular activities, rather than selecting those activities for him.
  • If your child makes a mistake, let her know you will be there to support her efforts to correct it. Talk with her about ways to fix the problem, but step back and let her decide which solution to use. Let your child experience the consequences.
  • Encourage your child to have downtime. Not every day has to have an activity scheduled. Young people need time to explore their interests without structure.
  • Allow your child age-appropriate independence. Establish basic family rules and expectations for behaviors.
  • Have your child take an active role in his ADHD treatment plan. Listen to his thoughts on treatment and encourage him to talk directly with the doctor.
  • Help your child develop a routine and planning system or calendar. Let her plan her activities and work with her system to stay on track.
  • Teach your teen how to prepare his own meals, do laundry, create a budget and spend money. Allow him to practice these skills without your assistance.

We can’t help but make assumptions sometimes. We do this even on our social networks. When you see one of your Facebook friends constantly engaging in a certain kind of Facebook activity – from being negative or fabulous to posting lots of food pictures – you start to wonder what’s the intent?

In a study published in September 2013, scientists at the University of Pennsylvania examined the language used in 75,000 Facebook profiles. Differences across ages, genders, and certain personality traits were found, leading scientist H. Andrew Schwartz to make certain predictions about the profile of each user. The study adds to a growing body of research suggesting that analyzing our activity on social media may be one of the best ways to learn about human psychology.

The researchers found that they could predict a user’s gender with 92 percent accuracy and could guess a user’s age within three years,more than half of the time.

To date, this is the largest study of its kind. Its magnitude allowed the researchers to use an “open-vocabulary approach”—that is, they let the data drive which words or phrases were considered most important. Most studies rely on a closed-vocabulary approach, using previously established lists of related words. That technique forces researchers to look at trait markers they already know, rather than discover new ones.

“Automatically clustering words into coherent topics allows one to potentially discover categories that might not have been anticipated,” the authors wrote. They were able to consider all words and thus adapt to the evolving language being used in social media.

The group was particularly interested in using this approach to determine users’ characteristics. Each participant filled out a questionnaire, scoring themselves on the “Big Five” personality traits: extraversion, agreeableness, conscientiousness, neuroticism, and openness. The researchers then looked at the profile updates for language that aligned with the participants’ test scores, clumping common words and phrases into word clouds. (Some of this data is publicly available at The World Well-Being Project.)

While some of the language is obvious and consistent with previous findings (for example, the idea that an extravert would talk about a “party”), other connections are less straightforward (Who knew that an extravert would also be likely to use the word “tanning” or “thinkin?”)

Some of the other novel discoveries included: introverts were more likely to talk about Japanese media like “anime” and “manga,” neurotic people were more likely to use the word “depressed,” people who were less neurotic mentioned social events like “vacation,” “church,” and “sports” more often, people who scored as less open were more likely to use shorthands like “2day” or “ur,” while older users were less likely to use the word “I” and more likely to mention family members.

This University of PA research comes on the heels of a similar study, which looked at the Facebook “likes” of over 58,000 participants who made their Facebook walls available to researchers and took a range of personality questionnaires and IQ tests. In that study, the results were even more striking. Based exclusively on the items people had “liked” on Facebook, researchers could discriminate between homosexual and heterosexual men 88% of the time, African Americans and Caucasians 95% of the time, and Democrats and Republicans 85% of the time. Researchers could even predict with 60% accuracy whether a person’s parents had split up before that person turned 21. One finding (which generated a lot of media attention) was the fact that people with high IQs tended to like curly fries.

In a way, all of this research has allowed us to take a step beyond simplistic stereotypes (think: extraverts are outgoing and introverts are shy) that have shaped the past near-century of personality psychology. It also generate hypotheses that create tremendous opportunities for further research. If emotionally stable people tend to talk more about athletics, is being part of a sports team a key component of a healthy lifestyle? If older people are more inclined to mention their family members, do relationships become more important as we age?

This research has the potential to provide more insight into what behaviors set different types of people apart and may make us reconsider our posts and “likes” in the future.

So since my recent occupational therapy post for December I had a parent ask about encouraging more language in her toddler. . .

Question: “My son is turning two and I’m noticing he isn’t as verbal as his younger cousins. Should I be worried?”

It’s not uncommon for parents to mentally compare their child’s performance with the performance of other children, siblings, or relatives. Although the stages that children pass through in the development of speech and language are very consistent, the exact age when they hit these milestones varies a lot from child to child. So even though a child may be slow in language development, he/she should still be doing new things with language at least every month.

Some ideas to encourage speech and language in children are included below:

Birth to 2 years

– Encourage your baby to make vowel-like and consonant-vowel sounds such as “ma,” “da,” and “ba.”

– Reinforce attempts by maintaining eye contact, responding with speech, and imitating vocalizations using different patterns and emphasis. For example, raise the pitch of your voice to indicate a question.

– Imitate your baby’s laughter and facial expressions.

– Teach your baby to imitate your actions, including clapping you hands, throwing kisses, and playing finger games such as pat-a-cake, peek-a-boo, and the itsy-bitsy-spider.

– Talk as you bathe, feed, and dress your baby. Talk about what you are doing, where you are going, what you will do when you arrive, and who and what you will see.

– Identify colors.

– Count items.

– Use gestures such as waving goodbye to help convey meaning.

– Introduce animal sounds to associate a sound with a specific meaning: “The doggie says woof-woof.”

– Acknowledge the attempt to communicate.

– Expand on single words your baby uses: “Here is Mama. Mama loves you. Where is baby? Here is baby.”

– Read to your child. Sometimes “reading” is simply describing the pictures in a book without following the written words. Choose books that are sturdy and have large colorful pictures that are not too detailed. Ask your child, “What’s this?” and encourage naming and pointing to familiar objects in the book.

Pay attention to the progress your child is making with language and make sure to follow up with your pediatrician and friends with small children. Their insight, reassurance, and/or recommendations can be very helpful to set your mind at ease.

Parent Question: When is it okay to give my child scissors? And what should they be able to do?

You’ll know she has the fine motor skills needed when she can shape play dough or hold a pencil, says Sue Adair, director of education for Goddard Systems, Inc., in King of Prussia, PA.

Set your toddler up for success by:

Buying well
Cheap scissors will not work well and easily become frustrating, so look for sturdy scissors that won’t break the bank. The fanciest ones — with springs that temper movement, wide handles, or three finger slots — are easier to use, but not necessary. Keep in mind that if your child is showing a left hand dominance, a pair of “leftie scissors” is a good investment to empower and foster confidence.

Taking short cuts
Many toddlers won’t be able to manage a straight line across a sheet of paper in the beginning. Start them off with snips along an edge or making “confetti” in whatever shapes they fancy. You can help by giving them narrow paper strips for your child to slice in two.

Falling in line
As your child masters scissors (which can take about a year), gradually challenge them with patterns to cut. Draw a line — later, a curve — for them to follow. Before you know it you will have a new scrapbooker for hire!

Deep down we all know that children are a gift. In every newborn child we can see the dawn of a better world. Yet how do we instill gratefulness and encourage our children to give back?

During the holiday season I get a lot of questions about exactly this topic. “My kids think it’s all about getting. How do I change that?” We would all like to think that our children will be thankful and appreciative of every gift and opportunity they receive, but it’s not going to happen if we don’t give them opportunities to practice and a home that lives by this premise as well. So I have started a list of ideas to spark a grateful spirit in our children.

Start a grateful journal. Have kids keep a separate journal or construct a family book where each child regularly (daily or weekly) enters 1 thing they are grateful for. This is only powerful if parents write entries as well!

Play the “Wrap Up” game. Wrap up some regular household items (spoon, roll of tape, one mitten, etc). Give each child in your house 1 wrapped item to open in turn. Instruct them to open the gifts and say something positive about it. For example, if one child opens a roll of tape, he might say with enthusiasm, “This is perfect for wrapping my presents. Thank you so much!” Kids get the practice of finding the positive in every item they receive and they love the opportunity to think on the spot and sound convincing.

For the next birthday/celebration have guests not bring gifts for your child. Instead choose a charity ahead of time and ask guests to donate or bring certain items instead of presents. For example: animal treats and toys for a local animal shelter, books for the children’s ward of your area hospital, canned goods or birthday cake mixes/icing for the food pantry, new school supplies for Salvation Army, etc. The possibilities are endless and can be customized based on your child’s passions and interests!

Create pockets of thanks. If you don’t have a pocket wall chart, purchase a door hanging shoe organizer. Number each pocket from 1 – 31 (extra pockets can house supplies: slips of paper, markers, etc). Throughout the year have children put the things they are grateful for on slips of paper and place them in different pockets. Fill out slips once a week or during regular family meals. Then starting Thanksgiving, count down to Christmas by reading one pocket of slips each day. it’s fun for kids to think back to all of the things they were grateful for all year!

Holiday “thanks” garland. Use your slips from above or separately construct as you go. Have kids write down something they are thankful for on red, white, or green slips of paper. As they read them to the family, staple them into a loop and create a holiday garland to hang around your house reminding all of the wonderful things your family is grateful for!

Remember, you have to model gratitude if you want your child to practice it, too. So make sure your children are hearing you find positive things to say about the gifts you get and opportunities you have.

We would love to hear about the things your family does to instill gratefulness – Please post and share them with us!

Drinking of alcohol while pregnant makes your child more likely to develop issues with social skills as they grow older, according to recent research.

A 2013 study published in Child Neuropsychology (Quattlebaum & O’Connor) found that children with prenatal alcohol exposure (PAE) who do not have a global intellectual disability are at a high risk of developing significant problems in a broad array of cognitive, emotional, behavioral, and social domains. The study looked at 125 children aged 6 to 12 years where 97 met the criteria for a Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder. The children went through a comprehensive multi-informant assessment of neurocognitive, emotional, social, behavioral, and adaptive functioning. Findings indicate that children who ad PAE returned significantly poorer scores compared to the non-exposed group on tests measuring executive functioning, attention, working/visuospatial memory, linguistic abstraction, adaptive behavior, emotional/behavioral functioning, and social cognition (understanding why people do what they do).

Some of the findings included:

– While the children with PAE and the non-exposed children attributed hostile intentions toward provocative behaviors by their peers (i.e. pushing, poking, etc), the children affected PAE were more likely to attribute hostile intentions to situations that DID NOT involve physical provocation (i.e. asking if they can play and being told ‘no’).

– The parents of children with PAE were more likely to report inattentive and hyperactive/impulsive behavior and the children were shown to also be more likely to show depressive symptoms.

– The children with PAE were shown to have more social problems according the ratings of teachers and parents. These results maintained significance past controlling for intelligence. Thus relying on IQ alone to guide parental, peer, and school expectations may be misleading.

Results of Quattlebaum and O’Connor’s work suggests that there is an increasing need for early identification of social issues related to prenatal alcohol exposue. This will ensure timely intervention in order to take advantage of the brain’s plasticity and the likelihood of effecting meaningful change in functional improvement in to the future.

Quattlebaum, J., O’Connor, M. (2013). Higher functioning children with prenatal alcohol exposure: Is there a specific neurocognitive profile? Child Neuropsychology; 19 (6).

Note: There is no known safe amount of alcohol or safe time to drink alcohol during pregnancy. Because of this, the current recommendation of the government agencies of several countries is to drink no alcohol at all if one is pregnant or planning to become pregnant.

It’s not new to hear the words “texting” and “adolescent drivers” together in media and legislative banter these days. However, educators and specialists are constantly asking the question, “how about LD and AD/HD students? Is it different?”

– Research has shown that 4 out of 5 college student drivers have used their cell phones to send or receive text messages while driving despite the majority recognizing that the activity represents a risk.

– Lantz and Loeb of King’s College in Wilkes Barre, Pennsylvania, found that male drivers are more likely to engage in texting while driving but consider themselves more proficient drivers than others, and so less likely to endanger themselves or others while driving (October 2013).

– Texting while driving is on par with driving while intoxicated with alcohol as a significant risk factor for highway accidents. Some research suggests that texting slows driver reaction times more than being drunk.

– Other studies stress the myth of multitasking and show that very few people (2.5%) can competently undertake two or more tasks at once. Moreover our brains allow us to focus completely only on a single task at any given time, so these people demonstrated as multitaskers are simply better at switching seamlessly between two activities.

– The US government has introduced a public awareness campaign based around the “distraction.gov” website. However, there appears to be a mentality that the use of electronic devices while operating a vehicle is dangerous for everyone but ‘me’.

If Lantz and Loeb find that “texting impulsiveness” is positively associated with people who text frequently and who text while driving, imagine how drivers with a neurological predisposition to impulsivity (like AD/HD) will fare? An August study in the Journal of American Medical Association Pediatrics (online) is the first to start the trend of delving deeper. It has found that yes, AD/HD and texting both significantly impair driving performance among teenagers.

Researchers from the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center used a driving simulator to test the driving performance of 16- and 17-year-old drivers; approximately half the study’s 61 participants had been diagnosed with AD/HD, the other half had not. During the 40-minute driving simulation, researchers measured the speed and lane position of the young drivers as they texted and talked on the phone.

Texting significantly affected drivers’ speed and lane position for all study participants and further increased the risk for drivers with AD/HD, according to researchers.

“Texting is especially dangerous because it involves visual, manual, and cognitive distractions,” Jeffery Epstein, Ph.D., director of the Center for Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder at Cincinnati Children’s. “Those are the very kinds of distractions that lead to car accidents.”

The study found that even when no distractions were present, drivers with AD/HD demonstrated significantly more variability in speed and lane position than did teens without AD/HD. Researchers report texting added to existing AD/HD driving impairments, essentially doubling the amount of time kids with and without AD/HD strayed from their lane.

Dr. Epstein’s emphasizes that, “our results demonstrate the need for increased education and enforcement of regulations against texting while driving for this age group. Teens as a group are already at increased risk of distracted driving accidents. Now we know that an AD/HD diagnosis and texting while driving increase those risks.”

Lantz, G., Loeb, S. (2013). An exploratory study of psychological tendencies related to texting while driving. International Journal of Sustainable Strategic Management, October.

Narad, M., Garner,A., Brassell, A., Saxby, D., Antonini, T., O’Brien, K., Tamm, L., Matthews, G., Epstein, J. (2013). Impact of Distraction on the Driving Performance of Adolescents With and Without Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder. JAMA Pediatrics.

The influence of the media on body image, life satisfaction, and symptoms of eating disorders in teenage girls has long been debated. Some experts believe that media will influence body dissatisfaction and lead to symptoms of eating disorders in impressionable adolescents. Others argue that the connection between media exposure and body image is unpredictable.

This year in the Journal of Youth and Adolescence, Dr. Christopher Ferguson and colleagues from Texas A&M International University found that peers exert a greater influence on teenage girls’ dissatisfaction with their bodies than do thin ideals on television or social media use. Ferguson and his team compared the effects of peers and the media on girls’ body dissatisfaction, eating disorder symptoms, and life satisfaction in general.

To assess exposure to thin ideals in the media, the researchers asked 237 Hispanic girls, aged 10 to 17 years, to name their three favorite television shows and rate the attractiveness of the female actresses in those shows. They also assessed each subjects weight and height, whether or not they had feelings of inferiority in response to other girls (peer competition), and how often they use social media. The girls were then asked about how they felt about their bodies, whether they had eating disorder symptoms, and how satisfied they were overall with their lives. Six months later, the researchers repeated these measures in 101 teen girls from the initial group.

On the whole, neither television exposure to thin ideals or social media use predicted body dissatisfaction, whereas peer competition did. Similarly, television exposure and social media use did not predict eating disorder symptoms. Peer competition predicted eating disorder symptoms long-term, though not in the short term. Interestingly, both peer competition and social media use predicted lower life satisfaction.

Ferguson concluded that, “Our results suggest that only peer competition, not television or social media use, predict negative outcomes for body image. This suggests that peer competition is more salient to body and eating issues in teenage girls. However, social media use may provide a new arena for peer competition, even if it doesn’t directly influence negative body outcomes.”

Ferguson, C., Munoz, M., Garza, A., Galindo, M. (2013). Concurrent and Prospective Analyses of Peer, Television, and Social Media Influences on Body Dissatisfaction, Eating Disorder Symptoms, and Life Satisfaction in Adolescent Girls. Journal of Youth and Adolescence.

Some may argue that social networking sites could be a great tool for people with lower self-esteem. It is perceived that it gives them an opportunity to share information and build relationships which strengthen an individual’s confidence and personal esteem. But, the reality is that people with low self-esteem seem to behave counterproductively, bombarding their friends with negative tidbits about their lives and making themselves less likeable, according to a study in the Psychological Science journal.

A graduate student at the University of Waterloo, Amanda Forest , co-wrote the study with her advisor Joanne Wood. Within their research they found that people with low self-esteem were more likely to think that Facebook provided an opportunity to connect with other people, and to perceive it as a safe place that reduces the risk of awkward situations.

The study investigated what people actually wrote on Facebook in their last 10 status updates (what is visible to their Facebook friends and people in their network). These updates were rated as positive or negative. For each statement, a neutral Facebook user/coder also rated how much they liked the person who wrote the statement. Forest and Wood found that people with low self-esteem were more negative in their updates than others and less likely to “liked” by the coders in the study. It was also discovered that people with low self-esteem got more responses from their real Facebook friends when they post highly positive updates compared to less positive ones. People with high self-esteem, on the other hand, get more responses when they post negative items, perhaps because these are rarer for them.

In conclusion, people with low self-esteem may feel safe making personal disclosures on Facebook – but they may not be helping themselves. Forest notes that, if you are talking to somebody in person and you say something that the other person does not like, you usually get an indication that they are tired of the negativity (body language, comment, etc). However, on Facebook when people have a negative reaction to a post they usually keep it to themselves. Thus Facebook does not help users with low self-esteem gain confidence but rather gives them a false sense of confidence to post updates that overtime may be more isolating and less likely to be helpful in personal growth.

It’s that time of year where many parents start to think about lining up summer camp opportunities for their children. But when you are a parent of a child with special needs, the thought of finding the right summer camp might be overwhelming.
We will be featuring a three part series to help families prepare for and choose from the many summer camp possibilities in your family’s area.

Part 1: Prepare

Finding the right fit between the child and the camp often involves plenty of research, dialogue and decisions. The available open slots in specialized camps go quickly, so parents have to start early and move fast on the camp selection process.

To begin your search, there are three important pieces of information you must prepare ahead of time:
• A clear understanding of your child’s wants and needs for the summer
• Information on the types of camps available
• Your family’s schedule and budget

Then taking into account your child’s age and temperament, you may want to find appropriate ways to involve him/her in this decision-making process. For some children, that means asking them to participate when you’ve already narrowed down the choices. Other kids can be involved from the beginning, helping you to brainstorm a list of possible summer camps from which to choose.

To help you organize your camp search, keep in mind this question, “What type of camp experience(s) will benefit my child most this summer?”

A good starting point for the summer camp selection process is to assess your child’s current challenges, strengths, and interests. This, along with knowledge of your child’s temperament, personality, and level of maturity, will help you choose suitable camps. Kids with learning and attention difficulties often benefit from being involved in non-academic activities during the summer, especially those in which they excel. For many, the school year takes a heavy toll on self-esteem. So, while you may worry that your child will “lose ground” academically over the summer, it can be important to balance academic skill-building with activities that help your child regain self-esteem, relax and have fun, or explore exciting new pursuits.

Make a list of the types of activities that could benefit your child over the summer and think about what your goals are for each activity. Some types of activities that summer camps offer include:
• Artistic or creative pursuits (music, art, theater)
• Social skills and confidence boosting
• Sports and recreation
• Academic knowledge
• Themes for new exploration (i.e. Detective, Insects/Animals, Environment, Water activities, etc)
• Relaxation and fun

Camps may also be structured in several ways, for example:
• Day camps (i.e. mornings, afternoons, all day)
• Overnight camps
• Travel/adventure camps
• Specialized camps for kids with learning disabilities or AD/HD

If you’ve got several choices of camps, it can be helpful to make yourself a chart. You can add columns for cost, dates, gear/equipment, and other details, as appropriate for your needs. The chart will serve as a reference point for a discussion of summer plans among family members. As you create a visual map of the summer, it may reassure your child to see, for example, that although he’ll have two weeks of math camp in June, right after that he’ll get to go to hockey camp with friends.