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Feeling Helpless? Reframe “I Can’t” For Your Special Needs Child

Learned helplessness is defined by Google as a condition in which a person suffers from a sense of powerlessness, arising from a traumatic event or persistent failure to succeed. It is thought to be one of the underlying causes of depression. But I think we need to question ourselves and our children more often and challenge this assumed defeat. This helplessness can become a bad habit and we need to find opportunities to make new, better habits.

The other day I was (once again) at the orthodontist with one of my kids. I should have used the restroom before I left work, but I knew we had this appointment and I didn’t want to lose any time. I made my way in the usual ridiculous traffic, picked up my son and we rushed along to the dentist. I practically ran from my car to the lobby, rode the elevator and hurried across the hall to the office…where I saw a teenage girl take the women’s room key and leave. I know it is a one-person bathroom so I wasn’t going to get in until she was finished.

I sat down, crushed, but figured it would only be another few minutes. The time stretched out and she was still not back. Then it hit me – why was I torturing myself? What would happen if I didn’t follow the standard practice? I stood up and took the men’s room key. I mean, all I needed was plumbing – does it really matter what the sign on the door says? I knew it was single occupancy so I wasn’t going to go barging in on a group of guys.

I remember when my child was younger and would tell me that she couldn’t read, yet she managed to navigate the television’s on-screen guide to find the show she wanted to watch. Sometimes the familiar “I can’t read” response was an excuse to get out of homework, sometimes it was a plea for attention or assistance and sometimes it was just a bad habit that no longer served any purpose.

So I urge you to question everything for yourself and for your child with special needs. Re-examine skills from time to time. Check back in on tasks that were challenging in the past. And also, take a long look at your thoughts and assumptions.

How to Reframe Your Child’s Negative, Anxious Self-Talk

Anxious-child-with-negative-thoughtsDo you have a child who is often emotional or moody – or prone to anxiety or depression? If so, you might be familiar with the negative self-talk that often contributes to these conditions. And, actually, any child – or adult – is subject to these thoughts on occasion.

Negative or anxious self-talk – sometimes also called “automatic negative thoughts” – is unhelpful, often skewed thinking that tends to drive negative emotions and behaviors. For example, your daughter might react to a friend who gets angry while playing and goes home, by thinking “I’m no fun to play with….nobody likes me” – and might avoid inviting any other kids to come over and play.

I learned about the concept of negative self-talk years ago through cognitive behavioral therapy while dealing with issues from my childhood. But I was surprised when I first began noticing examples of this thought pattern in my young son. When Elliott was in his first couple of years of elementary school, he would often come home at the end of the day and report that his day was “terrible”.

After digging a little I would often find out that one “bad” thing had happened each of these days – which then tainted the whole rest of the day. This overgeneralization / all-or-nothing thinking is an example of negative self-talk – and caused Elliott to have negative emotions about school and resist going in the mornings.

There are several different types of negative or anxious self-talk. A good reference book on anxiety for teens and kids – My Anxious Mind: A Teen’s Guide to Managing Anxiety and Panic (by Michael A. Tompkins, PhD and Katherine Martinez PhD) – gives an interesting classification for these unhelpful thoughts (a summary is listed at the end of this post). This book was recommended to me by a child and family psychologist and is well worth a read.

As the book title suggests, there are ways to deal with and manage such unhelpful thinking – and it’s useful to start early with kids who are prone to negative thoughts. At a minimum, it helps to start by identifying and unpacking the negative thought.

For example, with my son Elliott and his “terrible” days at school, I started asking him if anything good happened during the day. This got him to go over all the events of his time at school and put the “bad” experience into context – and I suggested that one or two bad experiences might not make a whole day terrible. Pretty soon, when I asked him how his day was, Elliott would outline how different parts of the day went (great, so-so, neutral, awful, etc) – and this pattern has persisted for more than five years! Even better, he has generally been much more positive about his school days ever since.

Additional exercises for recognizing and dealing with negative self-talk are provided in My Anxious Mind. Another practical book, with useful exercise to help teens cope with negative thoughts and other drivers of anxiety, is The Anxiety Workbook for Teens, by Lisa M. Schab, LCSW.

Types of Anxious Self-Talk  (from My Anxious Mind: A Teen’s Guide to Managing Anxiety and Panic)

Book Ends

This is anxious thinking that assumes there are only two possible outcomes of a situation – both at opposite extremes, with no possibilities in the middle. So, the child in the earlier example might be focused on how the play date with her friend needed to be perfect, and if that didn’t happen it would be a disaster.

Binocular Vision

In this unhelpful thought process, your child will “magnify” the effect of something bad – like failing a test – and assume that he won’t be able to go to college as a result. Or he might “shrink” the importance of something good, like all his excellent grades in other classes.

Fortune Telling

This type of self-talk involves your child thinking he or she can predict the future – usually thinking something bad will happen. For example, your child is engaging in fortune telling if she decides to audition for a part in the school play but spends the weeks leading up to the audition thinking “I’m not going to get the part”. Maybe she will, maybe she won’t – but she doesn’t know, and anxious self-talk won’t help the outcome either way.

Mind Reading

In the earlier example, the girl whose friend got angry and went home assumed that she could read her friend’s mind; that the friend thought she wasn’t fun and didn’t like her anymore. This is the mind reading track – and it’s important for the girl to know she isn’t a psychic and her friend will probably be back to play the next day.

Overgeneralization

With overgeneralization, similar to binocular vision, your child will focus on something small (usually bad) to make broad conclusions or sweeping statements – like, if one friend gets angry at me then no one likes me. Or if your son has one bad soccer game, assuming he’s no good and will get cut from the team.

End of the World

With this anxious track, your child is always expecting something terrible to happen. This could be at school or in relationships with friends, but it could also be thinking that every noise around the house is a burglar.

Should-y/Must-y Thinking

Too many thoughts with “shoulds” and “musts” can set the bar for performance and life experience way too high – and make your child anxious and less confident.

Mind Jumps

In this type of unhelpful thinking your child will jump to conclusions (usually negative) without all the facts – like when hearing that he isn’t invited to a party at a friend’s house, your son assumes his friend doesn’t like him. Getting the facts might tell him otherwise, especially if he finds out it’s a family-only affair (for example).

 

Video: Kids and Cancer – What You Need to Know About ALL

Dr Victoria Grandage, Consultant Hematologist at the Children and Young People’s Cancer Service at University College London, describes the signs and symptoms of Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia, also known as A.L.L. She and the mother of a young former patient, Josh, talk about the treatment and experience of ALL; a cancer that, thankfully, has a high cure rate in children. Click on the picture below to go to the NHS YouTube channel to watch the video.

Editor’s Note: Video Highlights

  • Acute lymphoblastic leukaemia or ALL is a form of cancer of the blood
  • For reasons we do not yet fully understand, immature cells in the bone marrow – lymphocytes or lymphoblasts – rapidly build up and crowd out the normal bone marrow cells
  • Some of the symptoms of ALL include:
    • Anemia: tiredness, shortness of breath, lethargy
    • Infections, high fevers, maybe mouth ulcers
    • Bleeding, bruising and rashes
    • Enlargement of some lymph nodes around the neck or in the groin
    • Enlargement of the liver and spleen
    • Bone pain (a prominent symptom)

“When Josh was about two and a half, he went back to crawling rather than walking. He’d say his legs were too sore to walk and he’d crawl around for the first half hour or so (after getting up) and then start walking after that.”                                    Josh’s Mom, Angela

  • child with cancerInitial treatment, before a diagnosis has been confirmed, is supportive to address the above symptoms and can include fluids for hydration, antibiotics, and possibly a blood transfusion
  • Treatment of the leukemia itself involves chemotherapy, a broad term for many different drugs that may be given in tablet form, as injections, or directly into the blood stream as IV infusions
    • Some ALL chemotherapy drugs are also given via a lumbar puncture
  • Side effects of the chemotherapy include nausea, tiredness, and hair loss
  • Treatment begins with acute therapy – for Josh this lasted 9 months – and is followed by maintenance treatment for a couple of years
    • Josh’s total treatment lasted three years
  • The majority of children with ALL go into remission – and 75%-80% of those are cured
  • Further intensified treatment, including a stem cell transplant, may be required for children who do not go into remission

 





Child Health & Safety News: Wk 7 “Making Sports Safe for Kids”

twitter thumbIn this week’s Children’s Health News: A new study underlines the long-term consequences of disciplining your teens too harshly https://t.co/QRmE0jaC6E

Welcome to Pediatric Safety’s weekly “Child Health & Safety News Roundup”- a recap of the past week’s child health and safety news headlines from around the world. Each day we use social media to communicate relevant and timely health and safety information to the parents, medical professionals and caregivers who follow us. Occasionally we miss something, but overall we think we’re doing a pretty good job of keeping you informed. But for friends and colleagues not on Twitter or FB (or who are but may have missed something), we offer you a recap of this past week’s top 20 events & stories.

PedSafe Child Health & Safety Headline of the Week:
From Sports Injury to Med School – ex Green Bay Packers tackle offers tips to make sports safe for young athletes  2017-02-09

What Dental X-rays Does My Child Need? Are They Safe?

girl with dentist and x-raysDental x-rays are necessary for determining the present status of a patient’s oral health, along with identifying a patient-specific treatment plan. A request for x-rays can depend on several different factors, including how much dental work has been previously done, the current condition of that dental work, dental hygiene, a patient’s age, a patient’s risk for disease, and any signs or symptoms of dental decay or gum disease. For example, children may need x-rays more often than adults, because their teeth and jaws are continually developing and are more likely to be affected by tooth decay. Each intraoral x-ray shows several teeth, from the upper surface to the supporting bone. Dentists can order multiple images in order to learn more about a specific area of concern.

Dental x-rays are safe. However, they do require extremely low levels of radiation exposure, which makes the risk of potentially harmful effects very minimal. In other words, any level of radiation poses a potential risk to patients. For this reason, team members want to minimize a patient’s exposure as much as possible.

In most dental offices, every precaution is taken to ensure radiation exposure is As Low As Reasonably Achievable, also known as following the ALARA principle. Thanks to advanced dental technology, dental teams operate dental x-ray tools and utilize techniques designed to limit your body’s exposure to radiation. A leaded apron minimizes radiation exposure to your child’s abdomen, while a leaded thyroid collar protects the thyroid from radiation.

Here are 5 different types of dental x-rays your child may need, depending on his or her oral health:

  • Bitewing X-rays (also called cavity-detecting x-rays): These x-rays are used to view the areas between teeth that cannot be easily seen. These X-rays are needed only after the teeth in the back of the mouth are touching each other, as they show where cavities may be forming. In some children, this doesn’t happen until the first permanent molar (also called the 6-year molar) has erupted.
  • Periapical X-rays: These x-rays are used to view the entire crowns and roots of one, two or three teeth that sit next to each other. They also show the supporting bone structure of the teeth, allowing the dentist see your child’s permanent teeth developing below the baby teeth. They are also used to look for abscesses and gum disease.
  • Panoramic X-rays: These x-rays are used to obtain a comprehensive view of all of the teeth on one film, displaying the upper and lower jaws, the temporomandibular joints (TMJs) and the sinuses above the upper teeth. They are often used if a child has hurt his or her face, has orthodontic problems, or is mentally or physically disabled. Panoramic X-rays, unlike other types, do not require a film to be put in the child’s mouth. This is helpful for children who gag easily or have small mouths. This X-ray must be exposed for 12-18 seconds, and the patient must be able to sit or stand still for that whole time.
  • Occlusal X-rays: These are used to view most of the upper or lower teeth on one film. This is useful when the dentist does not have a panoramic X-ray machine or when the child has difficulty in taking bitewing or periapical X-rays.
  • Orthodontic X-rays (also called cephalometric or lateral skull): This type of X-ray shows the head from a side view. It is used to evaluate growth of the jaws and the relationship of bones in the skull. It also helps an orthodontist make an accurate diagnosis and develop a treatment plan.

If you have any questions or concerns regarding dental x-rays, please do not hesitate to contact us!

AMC is Screening Rings Sensory Friendly Tomorrow Evening

New sensory friendly logoAMC 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 Rings, 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 Rings tomorrow, Tuesday, February 14th 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 Later in February: Rock Dog (Sat, 2/25), Fist Fight (Tues, 2/28)

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Editor’s note: Although Rings 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 violence/terror, thematic elements, some sexuality and brief drug material. 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.

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