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My Transgender Daughter, Nicki: A Story of Suffering and Survival

Sharon has a teenage daughter who is transgender. She describes how Nicki was born in a male body but felt from a very young age that she should have been a girl.

“When my child Nick was about two, I realised that he wasn’t playing with toys that I expected a boy to play with. He was interested in dolls and girly dressing-up clothes. At that age, it doesn’t really matter. You just think they’re trying lots of different things, so I never made a fuss about it.

My-transgender-daughter“But when he was four years old, Nick told me that God had made a mistake, and he should have been a girl.

“I asked my GP what I should do. He told me to wait and see, and that it might just be a phase and go away. But it didn’t. It got stronger.

“One day when Nick was six, we were in the car, and he asked me when he could have the operation to cut off his ‘willy’ and give him a ‘fanny’ (*vagina). His older cousin had told him about these things.

“I spoke to a friend who’s a psychiatrist. He said I should contact the Tavistock Clinic [now The Tavistock and Portman service for children and young people with gender identity issues].

“He also told me that the medical term is ‘gender dysphoria’. When I looked it up online, I found Mermaids, a charity that helps children with gender identity issues and their families.

“I also spoke to my GP again, who referred us to the local mental health unit. The person at the unit had worked at the Tavistock and knew about gender identity issues.

“He was brilliant. It was such a relief to talk to somebody who understood what was going on. I’d blamed myself, but he reassured me that it wasn’t my fault. We were then referred to the Tavistock Clinic.

“The team from the Tavistock came to Nick’s school and talked to the teachers. They helped the teachers to understand that Nick wasn’t being difficult, and that this may or may not be a phase. When a child is this young, you just don’t know.”

From Nick to Nicki

“Nicki desperately wanted to be female all the time. When she was 10, we feminised her name from Nick to Nicki at home. The following year, Nicki started secondary school as a girl.

“The school was very supportive, but because she moved up to secondary school with her peer group, everybody knew.

“In the first week, she was called a ‘tranny’ and a ‘man-beast’. She was spat on and attacked in the corridors. Within her first six months of being at that school, she took four overdoses.

“We then pulled her out of school, but after a few months she decided to go back.

“Each year, the bullying and isolation got worse, and Nicki started harming herself. At the beginning of year nine, I transferred her to another secondary school, but unfortunately the kids there found out.

“At that point, I withdrew her from school completely, and the education welfare office found her a place at a Specialist Inclusive Learning Centre, which is a unit for children who can’t cope with mainstream schooling for various health reasons.”

Going Through Puberty

“When Nicki started puberty, I wanted her to get the type of treatment that’s offered in the Netherlands, where puberty is blocked before major physical changes take place.

“I felt that if she was going to change her mind about being a girl, she would have done so by now.

“The Tavistock Clinic wouldn’t give her hormone blockers. [The Tavistock and Portman follows British guidelines, which at the time suggested not introducing hormone blockers until the latter stages of puberty. Since January 2011, the age at which hormonal treatment may be offered has been lowered from 16 to 12, under a research study that is being carried out by the Tavistock and Portman into the effects of hormone blockers earlier in puberty.]

“In the end, we went to a doctor in the US. I found him through the WPATH network (The World Professional Association for Transgender Health). Nicki was 13 when she started taking hormone blockers. It’s put her male puberty on hold, and given her time to think.

“If she hadn’t been given blockers, she would have suffered the psychological agony of going through male puberty. She told me she would have killed herself. Nowadays, you’d never guess that she was born male.

“If at any point Nicki were to tell me that she wasn’t sure that this was the right thing for her, we’d simply stop the injections and male puberty would go ahead.

“For Nicki, the next step is starting hormones and surgery as soon as she can.

“During the first few years of secondary school, I was constantly in fear for Nicki’s life. It was so distressing to watch her go through all of this.

“Now it’s a million times better. She’s a typical teenage girl, and it’s a blessing. She leaves a mess, she borrows my clothes, my make-up and my perfume. I never thought she’d reach this stage. She still has to face many more hurdles but she’s looking forward to adulthood.”

*The names in this article have been changed.

Where to Get Help

Sharon, who tells her story above, says that the most helpful thing was speaking to other families who’ve been through the same thing. The charity Mermaids provides family support for children and teenagers with gender identity issues, and can put you in touch with other parents with similar experiences.

Further Information

The story above reflects one mother’s experience. Because gender identity issues are complex and each case is different, Sharon’s story shouldn’t be seen as typical.

For more information on gender identity issues in children and young people, see: Teenagers and gender identity, and Worried about a child with gender identity issues?

Editor’s Note: *clarification provided for our US readers.





AMC is Screening Alien: Covenant Sensory Friendly Tomorrow

AMC Entertainment (AMC) has expanded their Sensory Friendly Films program in partnership with the Autism Society. This Tuesday evening, families affected by autism or other special needs have the opportunity to view a sensory friendly screening of Alien: Covenant, a film that may appeal to older audiences on the autism spectrum. 

As always, the movie auditoriums will have their lights turned up and the sound turned down. Families will be able to bring in snacks to match their child’s dietary needs (i.e. gluten-free, casein-free, etc.), there are no advertisements or previews before the movie and it’s totally acceptable to get up and dance, walk, shout, talk to each other…and even sing – in other words, AMC’s “Silence is Golden®” policy will not be enforced during movie screenings unless the safety of the audience is questioned.

Does it make a difference? Absolutely! Imagine …no need to shhhhh your child. No angry stares from other movie goers. Many parents think twice before bringing a child to a movie theater. Add to that your child’s special needs and it can easily become cause for parental panic. But on this one day a month, for this one screening, everyone is there to relax and have a good time, everyone expects to be surrounded by kids – with and without special needs – and the movie theater policy becomes “Tolerance is Golden“.

AMC and the Autism Society will be showing Alien: Covenant tomorrow, Tuesday, May 23rd at 7pm (local time). Tickets are $4 to $6 depending on the location. To find a theatre near you, here is a list of AMC theatres nationwide participating in this fabulous program (note: to access full list, please scroll to the bottom of the page).

Coming Soon: Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Long Haul (Sat, 5/27) and Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie (Sat, 6/10),

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Editor’s note: Although Alien: Covenant has been chosen by AMC and the Autism Society for a Tuesday Sensory Friendly screening, we do want parents to know that it is rated R by the Motion Picture Association of America for sci-fi violence, bloody images, language and some sexuality/nudity. As always, please check the IMDB Parents Guide for a more detailed description of this film to determine if it is right for you and your family.

Kids Can Fidget in a Vidget: Seats that Inspire Natural Movement

Healthy movement. Healthy learning. Healthy minds. Healthy spaces.

As I explored many different topics for my MFA Thesis in Industrial Design at RIT back in 2009, my mind and soul kept taking me back to my childhood experiences and how connected I was to the mystery of nature. Living in a rental property in an urban area, I didn’t grow up around fields of green grass but what I did have, I treasured. My backyard was cement but in the front of our house, there was a narrow bed of dirt with bushes, probably about 3 feet wide. This narrow bed of dirt became my haven for exploration and inspiration. As I explored my feelings of nature, I was directed by one of my advisors to read the book, Last Child in the Woods, by Richard Louv.

While in nature, Louv points out that children will “use more fantasy play, and their social standing became based less on physical abilities and more on language skills, creativity, and inventiveness” (Louv, 2008, p. 88). As I thought about this, I thought what better place to impact children than the classroom environment.

Do you remember sitting in chairs like this as a child?  When you look at this picture does it bring back memories of cold, hard and uncomfortable chairs that were too small or too large?

As a student, I remember feeling confined, trapped and limited. I had so many ideas, questions, and my imagination was wild, yet I was told to “sit down, be quiet and not to move.” I remember being very distracted, frustrated and, what teachers called back then, a “satisfactory & fidgety” student. Who wants to be “satisfactory? I wanted to be great, express myself and share my ideas and imagination; I instinctively needed to be creative, but the classroom demands took precedence over mine. I felt like I was different because my body needed to naturally move.

Not much has changed from this picture in today’s classrooms until recently. Reflecting on this time of my life, I remember wondering… could the classroom objects take on a “life” – that inspired natural movement we find in nature?

As part of my user research, I started observing classrooms from kindergarten – 6th. I found the teachers inviting and interested in my thesis topic, especially how to provide children with a way to move without too much disruption in class, finding that balance between control and natural movement.  I observed classrooms using all traditional type chairs and alternative chairs that move like the exercise ball.  While the ball provides proven benefits such as core muscle strengthening and better posture control, it is dangerous, disruptive and difficult for classroom management.  Teachers were very reluctant to bring the ball into classrooms but at this time, it was the only “dynamic” seating device on the market.

Research proves that sitting for more than 10 minutes at a stretch reduces our awareness of physical and emotional sensations and increases fatigue. Playing, running, jumping and feeling a sense of freedom is not only a desire but a human need.

When children are locked indoors all day within a controlled environment, stress and tension build, and learning suffers.

I wanted to provide a seating device that allowed kids to move but in a discreet way so that it didn’t stigmatize the child with special needs.  ALL children need to move, but some kids with ADHD, Autism and Sensory Processing Disorder need more movement.  I needed to design something for the inclusive classroom or environment as a way to allow for more integration.

In July 2010, the Division of Adolescent and School Health at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services issued a research report, The association between school based physical activity, including physical education, and academic performance, to better understand the changing needs of students and teachers. Children’s’ bodies are meant to move, even if it is just standing.

As the ideas for the Vidget® started to take shape, I decided on the following design elements:

  • children feel safe to be free & explore (both physically and cognitively safe)
  • modular system that inspires natural movement.
  • fun yet functional with many possibilities
  • reduce feeling of confinement
  • inspire children & teachers to build their own environment based on individual and group changing needs
  • simple, inviting, flexible, and intuitive
  • organic, flowing

I used clay as a way to start building the form of the Vidget®.

As I played with the shape, I had the “aha” moment that if the bottom surface could be shaped like an arc, it would rock side-to-side, similar to the stability ball.  I turned it over and realized the cut-out for the feet could be used as a stool and turned the other way, the child could use it as a desk! Now I was on to something very special and it met my design elements – safety as the first goal!

After several more full scale models and user testing – taking about 3 years and additional design expertise – we finalized the dimensions of the 5 sizes (toddler – teen/adult).  We took our prototypes and started sharing with local school districts and parents for feedback and more user testing, especially parents with special needs children like ADHD and Autism who had a much higher sensory need.  During this process, we learned that Special Education Teachers and Occupational Therapists put Velcro underneath tables and chairs for kids who have more sensory needs.  We thought, how can we add this type of feature into the Vidget®?  Another “aha” moment was to add recessed handles in the sides with sensory bumps on the top surface – kids fidgety fingers naturally find the bumps which provide a temporary sensory input some children need to promote calmness and focus.

I also wanted children to embrace the idea that a chair doesn’t have to be just a chair and inspire them to use their imagination. Parents and teachers are focused today on how to create “innovative thinkers” but they are still using the same old chairs and desks that are more of an obstacle vs. adding a benefit to the learning process.

In 2012, we were fortunate to meet the Chairman of our Board, Dick Kaplan, who invested in our company allowing the manufacturing of the Vidget® to begin. Since launching the design in 4th quarter 2015, we’ve sold more than 2,000 to parents, educators, health care providers and many more users across the country.  We’ve attended 10 conferences in education and healthcare and received a number of positive reviews about how it is helping students in so many ways:

  • “My oldest son is on the spectrum (ASD, high functioning) and has ADHD. The rocking feature helps him stay seated but allows him to rock & move when needed. His OT even ordered two for her office!  Great product!”
    Trisha, ​Mom
  • “Since incorporating the Vidget in our classroom, I have noticed an improvement in attention span, participation, and regulation in my students. They are happy and engaging in classroom routines and activities. The Vidget’s bright colors make it fun and attractive to use, and the kids love the versatility of the seat.”
    Tara, PreK Teacher & Occupational Therapist
  • “After only having the Vidget chairs in my room for less than a week, I have observed a noticeable increase in on-task behavior from students who use them. Students who sit in the chairs participate more and demonstrate greater self-management. I am extremely excited and grateful to have these “tools” as part of my classroom.”
    Dan, 6th Grade Teacher (integrated classroom)

Fidgeting improves focus, releases energy, and promotes calmness. Vidgets create a healthier environment by providing a safe and quiet way to release some of the endless energy kids, teens, and adults have. Teachers who have incorporated flexible seating in their classrooms have noticed positive results such as longer attention spans, less disruptive behavior, and higher quality work. And for special needs, fidgeting and movement helps children with ADHD focus and problem solve. So rather than tell students to sit still, teachers are encouraging quiet fidgeting to help students learn.

With the Vidget®, we are not just moving our bodies, we are changing the way we look at the learning environment.  Creating healthy and flexible spaces that inspire collaboration, creative and critical thinking, is what builds innovative spirits and ideas. The Vidget® is just one tool that helps in the process.

HEALTHFUL HINTS:

  • If you are looking at seating devices that move for your special needs child, consider your child’s typical movement needs and ask the following questions: (Note: there are several seating options that provide movement, some with a lot of movement and others with less; Wobble Seat, Stability Ball, ergoErgo, and Vidget). 
    • Does my child require sensory input
    • Does my child have issues with tipping back in their chair
    • Does my child benefit from being allowed to move naturally
    • Does my child have balance or mobility challenges
  • If you are purchasing a seating device for a school environment:
    • Consider getting a couple different models to try. For schools, we encourage a universal design approach by offering several options to let the student decide based on needs.
    • When having students choose their seats, be sure that legs are 90 degrees when seated and feet are flat on the ground.  It’s estimated that 83% of students are sitting in chairs that are not the correct height leading to increased fatigue, poor posture, and loss of attention.
    • When possible, have different sizes in the classroom to accommodate all students as they grow throughout the year.

Video: How to Introduce Your Child to Sleeping in a Bed

In this brief video, NHS Health Visitor, Sara, discusses how to approach moving your young child from a cot (*crib) to a bed and gives some tips for success.

Editor’s Note: Video Highlights

  • child-moving-to-a-bedThere are no hard-and-fast rules for when to move your baby from a cot (*crib) to a bed – do it when it feels comfortable for your child and for you
  • From 18 months, you might find that your child is too big for a cot or is trying to climb out – that’s the time to move them into a bed
  • For some children, moving from a cot to a bed is really exciting and they accept it really well
  • For other children, they might feel a bit stressed about the change – so you might need to choose a calm time in their life
    • Challenging times for moving from a cot to a bed can be if you’re moving house, if you’ve gone back to work or if your child is not feeling well
  • You may need to move your child to a bed if you have another baby on the way – if so, do it about six to eight weeks before your new baby is born, to help keep your child from being unsettled with too much change
  • Once sleeping in a bed, your child might get up in the night and wander around, so be sure to childproof their room
    • Put a stair gate across the door
    • Check their room for any electrical appliances or wires they could trip over, any small toys or objects they can get hold of or any cord blinds that they could get tangled in
    • You might also want to put barrier next to the bed or put cushions on the floor in case they fall out
  • If your child doesn’t like the bed initially and they want to protest, just stay calm, reassure them, give them a cuddle, but put them back in the bed
    • You might find that you have to do it a few times, but if you’re consistent, they’ll soon get used to being in the bed
  • When your child has slept in the bed, or had some naps in the bed, praise them because it can make a big difference to their confidence and they’ll feel much more willing to sleep in the bed if you praise them for what they’ve done

Editor’s Note: *clarification provided for our US readers.

 





Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2 is Sensory Friendly TWICE in May

AMC Entertainment (AMC) has expanded their Sensory Friendly Films program in partnership with the Autism Society. Twice this month, families affected by autism or other special needs have the opportunity to view a sensory friendly screening of Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, a film that may appeal to both younger and older audiences on the autism spectrum. 

As always, the movie auditoriums will have their lights turned up and the sound turned down. Families will be able to bring in snacks to match their child’s dietary needs (i.e. gluten-free, casein-free, etc.), there are no advertisements or previews before the movie and it’s totally acceptable to get up and dance, walk, shout, talk to each other…and even sing – in other words, AMC’s “Silence is Golden®” policy will not be enforced during movie screenings unless the safety of the audience is questioned.

Does it make a difference? Absolutely! Imagine …no need to shhhhh your child. No angry stares from other movie goers. Many parents think twice before bringing a child to a movie theater. Add to that your child’s special needs and it can easily become cause for parental panic. But on this one day a month, for this one screening, everyone is there to relax and have a good time, everyone expects to be surrounded by kids – with and without special needs – and the movie theater policy becomes “Tolerance is Golden“.

AMC and the Autism Society will be showing Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 tomorrow, Tuesday, May 9th at 7pm and Saturday, May 13th at 10am (all local times). Tickets are $4 to $6 depending on the location. To find a theatre near you, here is a list of AMC theatres nationwide participating in this fabulous program (note: to access full list, please scroll to the bottom of the page).

Also in May: Alien: Covenant (Tues, 5/23) and Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Long Haul (Tues, 5/27),

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Editor’s note: Although Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 has been chosen by AMC and the Autism Society for a Tuesday Sensory Friendly screening, we do want parents to know that it is rated PG-13 by the Motion Picture Association of America for sequences of sci-fi action and violence, language, and brief suggestive content. As always, please check the IMDB Parents Guide for a more detailed description of this film to determine if it is right for you and your family.

Study: ADHD Meds Given More Often to Youngest Kids in Class

“Youngest children in class more likely to get ADHD medication, study says,” The Guardian reports.

The results of an Australian study have caused concerns that, in some cases, immature behaviour may be misinterpreted as evidence of a behavioural disorder.

In a brief report, researchers found nearly 2% of 6-15-year-olds in Western Australia received a prescription for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) medication in 2013. Those born in the last months of the school year intake were more likely to have had a prescription than the oldest children in the year.

The gap between the oldest and youngest children in the class had a small, but significant, association with the increased use of ADHD medications. The researchers say their findings compare with those of other international studies.

It’s possible the youngest children in a school year may find it harder to keep up in lessons than children almost a year older than them, and may be more likely to have problems with concentration.

But it would be a big assumption to say ADHD is being overdiagnosed and overtreated on the grounds of this study alone.

The use of ADHD medication for under-16s in the UK is far lower than in many other developed nations – 0.4%, compared with Australia’s 1.9% or the US’ 4.4% – so the potential problem of inappropriate treatment may not be as much of an issue in this country.

Where did the story come from?

The report was authored by four researchers from Curtin University, Murdoch University and the University of Western Australia, all in Australia.

The study was published in the peer-reviewed Medical Journal of Australia, and the researchers declared no conflict of interest or study funding.

It’s available to read online on an open access basis, so you can download the study for free.

The UK media coverage was accurate, but does not point out the limitations of this brief report.

What kind of research was this?

In this brief one-page report, the researchers say four international studies found the youngest children in a school year are more likely to be receiving ADHD medication.

They aimed to see how Western Australia compares by analysing data from the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme – a scheme similar to the NHS, where the cost of medicine is subsidised by the Australian government – to see how many children were receiving ADHD medication.

This brief report provides very limited information about the authors’ methods, making it difficult to critique.

And we don’t know how the authors identified the four international studies they reported, so we don’t know whether this is a fully comprehensive look at the subject.

This means the report must largely be considered to be the opinion of its authors.

What did the researchers do?

The researchers compared the proportion of children born in the first and last months of a “recommended school year intake” who were recorded in the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme as receiving at least one prescription for ADHD medication in 2013.

The study included a total of 311,384 children, covering two age bands: those aged 6-10 (born July 2003 to June 2008) and those aged 11-15 (born July 1998 to June 2003).

The researchers looked at the number of children receiving medication and the patterns by time of birth.

What did they find?

The researchers found 1.9% of the full study sample (5,937 children) had received at least one prescription of ADHD medication, with more boys than girls being prescribed for (2.9% versus 0.8%).

In the 6-10-year-olds, they found those born in the last month of the school year intake (June) were nearly twice as likely to have been prescribed medication as those born in the first month (the previous July): relative risk (RR) 1.93 for boys (95% confidence interval [CI] 1.53 to 2.38) and RR 2.11 for girls (95% CI 1.57 to 2.53)

The same pattern was seen for 11-15-year-olds, but the risk increase was less, though still significant (RR 1.26, 95% CI 1.03 to 1.52 for boys; RR 1.43, 95% CI 1.15 to 1.76 for girls).

The authors say similar effects were also seen when comparing those in the first three to six months of intake with the last three to six months.

What did the researchers conclude?

The researchers say at 1.9%, their observed prescription rate is comparable to a recent Taiwanese study, and both this study and three North American studies observed the effects of birth month on prescription rates.

They describe a professional from the American Psychiatric Association who feels ADHD is overdiagnosed and overmedicated, saying that, “Developmental immaturity is mislabelled as a mental disorder and unnecessarily treated with stimulant medication.”

The authors say the findings indicate that, “Even at relatively low rates of prescribing, there are significant concerns about the validity of ADHD as a diagnosis.”

Conclusion

Overall, this study suggests that in Western Australia – and reportedly in other countries, too – the youngest children in a given school year are more likely to be diagnosed with and treated for ADHD than the eldest in the year.

However, it’s important not to draw too many conclusions from this brief report. The authors provide very limited information about their methods, so it’s not possible to critique how they conducted their study.

We don’t know why they selected the 2013 school year, for example. It was said to be recommended, but we don’t know why. It could be it was known there were an unusually high number of prescriptions noted in the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme that year, which means it might not be representative.

Also, this database can only tell us the number of children that filled out at least one prescription for ADHD medication. We don’t know how the children were diagnosed, how long they had been diagnosed or treated for, or whether they actually took the medication.

The authors also point out the possible limitation that they didn’t know how many children may have entered school outside of their recommended starting year – although this was thought to be few.

We also don’t know how the researchers identified the international studies, and we don’t know that these reported findings give a comprehensive look at ADHD diagnosis and treatment worldwide.

It would be a big assumption to say ADHD is being overdiagnosed and overtreated on the grounds of this study alone. And, as no UK studies were reported, we don’t know what the true situation is like in this country.

It’s possible the youngest children in a school year may find it harder to keep up with lessons than children almost a year older than them, and so could be more likely to be distracted – though this is clearly a big generalisation and is not always going to be the case.

However, it does perhaps highlight there is a need for children who are struggling or finding it difficult to concentrate at school to be recognised, and get the additional attention and support they need – something both teachers and parents of the youngest children in a school year may need to be aware of.

Analysis by Bazian. Edited by NHS Choices

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