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Atypical Representation: Special Needs Is Out of the Closet

Last updated on October 14th, 2018 at 08:24 pm

Recently there has been a lot of talk about diversity – in the workplace, in politics and in entertainment. Usually people assume diversity means people of different races being represented, but it also means people of different abilities. In the past we occasionally saw a lead character in a wheelchair or with some other disability but lately some shows are not only centered around a character with special needs, the cast also includes people with special needs.

The groundbreaking show Life Goes On featured actor Chris Burke who has Down Syndrome, but has been off the air since 1993. Glee showcased a multi-ethnic, multi-sexualitied and multi-abilitied cast with not one but two supporting actors with down syndrome, although the main character in a wheelchair was a typically-abled actor. Glee ended its run in 2015. Daryl Mitchell is one of the rare actors who has become disabled but continues on with his performing career. Speechless stars actor Micah Fowler, who like his character has cerebral palsy. The show’s creator Scott Sylveri based the show on his own family as he grew up with a brother with disabilities.

The Good Doctor is centered around a surgeon with autism and savant syndrome, played by Freddie Highmore who is neurotypical. The actor does know someone with autism and also heavily researched the role. His performance consistently gets praise as the actor always conveys the inner thoughts and feelings of an often emotionless character. The show staff includes people on the spectrum and advisors so as not to be stereotypical, and the show’s executive producer David Shore points out that the surgeon is a unique character who has these conditions and is not meant to portray autism in general. The show has just started its second season in network television.

The latest addition to this brave history is the Netflix show Atypical, which has just completed its second season. Created by Robia Rashid, it follows a high school senior with high-functioning autism who struggles to be independent and move forward in life. Although a supporting character is played by an actor with autism (Anthony Jacques, who is hilarious), the first season was criticized for not including enough people on the spectrum on the staff or in the cast ( the lead actor Kier Gilchrist is neurotypical). The show does have an “autism advisor” who is a special education professional and researcher named Michelle Dean. Ironically, many of the writers and directors are female so the show was doing a lot for diversity, just maybe not the special needs kind of diversity. The second season expanded the writing staff and the actors to include more people on the spectrum, including some young people in a support group. I was amazed to actually see a casting call for high-school aged people with autism. It is progress, but these are still supporting characters. (For a negative review of the show by an actor on the spectrum, check here)

It is encouraging to me that young people growing up and dealing with challenges are being shown possibilities, just as I am sure it was encouraging for minorities to see their own races being portrayed positively. I hope that all around them; in school, at home, in the workplace and on TV and in movies young people with disabilities are being bombarded with uplifting, inspiring messages. That everywhere they look, they see potential. They will never know their full potential unless they are given opportunities and the courage and self-confidence to take them.

Last year, Micah and two other members of the Speechless cast performed at a benefit for the institute that runs my kid’s school – a school that is based on inclusion. And they were wonderful.  Watching Micah it was clear – his disability didn’t rule his life – he was using it to inspire others.

To let them see…once more…anything is possible.

Best Dental Hygiene For Your Child, From Baby to Teenager

Last updated on October 14th, 2018 at 08:24 pm

A smile is important at every age, but especially for children. The health of a child’s smile today can affect his or her oral health decades down the road.

Here are a few important things that your dentist wants you to know in regard to helping children of all ages have healthy teeth for life.

Infancy

Pediatricians and pediatric dentists recommend scheduling your baby’s first dental visit by age 1, or when the first teeth erupt. Before your baby gets teeth, clean his or her gums with a soft damp washcloth after every feeding.

Once teeth start to erupt, use a small toothbrush to clean your child’s teeth with tap water or a rice-sized smear of fluoridated toothpaste (recent ADA recommendations have change from introducing fluoride toothpaste at a later age, to a much younger one).

Toddlerhood

Until your child can tie his or her own shoes, he or she needs your help brushing his or her teeth. While it’s fine to encourage independent tooth brushing, be sure to go back behind your child to get a “good” clean in at least twice daily.

Start to watch for teeth touching side-by-side. If they do, use a handheld floss pick to clean these areas, too.

School Age Children

By now, your child is likely brushing his or her own teeth and starting to learn how to floss. Adult molars will be erupting somewhere around the age of 6 (first set) and 12 (second set). Boys tend to get theirs around the same time or slightly later. When they do, talk to your dentist about getting protective sealants to prevent cavities before they start.

Teens

The day finally arrives when your child has a full set of permanent (adult) teeth. Encourage daily flossing, since these teeth will be with him or her for life.

During dental appointments, have your dentist evaluate your teen’s bite for possible orthodontic needs along with developing wisdom teeth. Because your teen’s oral anatomy is still developing, it’s the best time to intercept any orthognathic (skeletal) needs. By the time your teen reaches 18 or early-college age, his or her oral anatomy will be nearly completely formed.

Schedule a Dental Checkup Twice a Year

Be sure to take your child for a dental checkup and cleaning every six months. These regular visits allow your dentist to screen for common issues that can leave a lasting impact on your child’s smile. With great preventative care and oral hygiene starting at a young age, your child can enjoy a confident smile that lasts for years to come.

How to Make Back to School Feel Safe? a Pediatrician Perspective

Last updated on October 14th, 2018 at 08:24 pm

It is certainly understandable, given the amount of press and official and unofficial commentary through law enforcement, social media discussions, and easily seen news programs, that fear should arise in the minds of both children attending school and parents of those children about their safety in what has traditionally been a bastion of safety, their schools.

This publicly available information, easily seen by children, has always been centered around the person responsible for the shootings occurring in schools and other public places. The information made available in the news media is repeated ad infinitum after the event occurs and only later is there information about the victims.

This public, news-related, policy needs to be changed to include minimal information, if any, about the perpetrator and immediate coverage about the victims and their families.

The American Academy of Pediatrics refers to the situation surrounding school shootings as “a public health threat to children” and has shared their perspective on the general health of the Pediatric population with such statements as: “We can start by working to advance meaningful legislation that keeps children safe….We also call for stronger background checks, solutions addressing firearm trafficking, and encourage safe firearm storage….children and their families (should) have access to appropriate mental health services.”

As a Pediatrician, I absolutely agree with their statements.

This is an issue that should be taken up by the public as a whole, through local involvement in both federal and local government. This is only one method by which fear is spread. The fact that domestic terrorism has occurred at all promotes the initial terror also seen repeatedly on television and written forms of news media in all its gory details. Your child is exposed to this every couple of months in our society. It’s no wonder there is some fear of the school environment.

To balance my professional opinion with my personal experience, I have three grandchildren who live in Connecticut, not far from Newtown where the Sandy Hook killings took place. I am probably biased, but I consider them to be stable, “normal” children, with good, close ties to their parents compared to the general population.

Although there has been no clinical PTSD, they have certainly become more aware and somewhat fearful of their surroundings. I consider the awareness to be a positive result of this episode, as every person in America has become more aware of their surroundings since 9/11. A fact that has possibly contributed to the absence of further attacks of this magnitude having taken place. They have also become much more tolerant and even thankful for the occasional practice drills in their school.

What can be done to decrease and hopefully eliminate such events and fearsome coverage of those events?

  • The ultimate answer to this is involvement by you and your children in local, civic activities. The Federal government can only do so much and every time it tries there is resistance from many sides. The real power lies in local and state governments who can exert a lot of power if supported by their constituency, something that changed in this respect after 9/11.
  • Get involved. There is much improvement possible at the local and state levels, but it must arise from the grassroots. To start, sale and ownership of assault rifles and large magazines capable of carrying large volumes of ammunition should be limited. There is always pushback on this and officials are slow to act as a result. We must push such acts, as statistics do not necessarily show either side to be correct on this issue.
  • You must answer your children’s questions honestly in an age-appropriate format and up-play the quality and determination of those people in their schools who are there to protect them from harm: from teachers to any law enforcement officers in place. If your child can grasp the concept of statistics, you might point out to them that 56 million students attend US elementary and secondary schools, and only a relative handful (159, less than 3/1000 of one percent) have been affected by such school tragedies, and many of these involved single episodes. Try to relate those numbers to things in their personal lives that at that statistical rate they clearly would not be involved.

  • In the extreme, especially if such events have occurred near to your home and school districts, your child might require a short period of counseling. Although child psychiatry services are not readily available in many smaller communities, a parent can ask his/her Pediatrician, the local medical society or the nearest large children’s medical center for such references.

Understand their fear and as parents there will be no trouble empathizing 

The bottom line is, as always, good communication with your children is of paramount importance! Never stop talking to your children, keep all the channels open, and you will be greatly rewarded as your children grow to maturity.

How To Teach Kids Storytelling To Improve Their Friendships

Last updated on September 27th, 2018 at 02:09 pm

Thinking, speaking or acting impulsively without planning or thinking things out poses social challenges for children. We can help children better manage their impulsive thoughts, words, and actions by using a storytelling activity we call The Thought Bubble Technique. In this visual conversation activity, we help children think, write, draw, and talk about what characters in a story might be thinking, feeling, saying or doing. The Thought Bubble Technique encourages children to use their imaginations while building their thinking skills.

Here is how you do it…

Open a book with vivid imagery such as a Dr. Seuss book. Let your child or student turn the pages until he discovers a page he finds interesting. Tell your child, “We’re going to use our imaginations. We’re going to imagine a thought bubble is over the head of each of the characters on the page. Then we’re going to imagine what they might be thinking.”

By looking at the images on the page ask your child to make up a story about what’s happening on the page. What are the characters thinking? What are the characters saying? What are the characters doing? How are the characters feeling?

Help the child “THINK OUT” how is the thought, feeling or action helpful or not helpful? How might the other characters respond? How can the characters shift their thoughts, words, feeling or actions so that each story has a happier ending?

The key is to use the creative exploration of images to help the child thoughtfully reflect on how words, thoughts, feelings, and actions are prosocial, facilitating relationships or challenging causing others to feel uncomfortable, unhappy or withdrawn. Use your own creative license, adapt the “Cognitive Conversation” with the child to help him or her see things in a new way. Thoughtful exploration leads to the mindful development of new thinking skills.

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How To Prepare When You Are Expecting Healthy Twins

Last updated on September 27th, 2018 at 02:09 pm

If you’re pregnant with more than one baby, a healthy diet and lifestyle will help you cope with your pregnancy and give your babies the best start in life.

The advice for keeping healthy in pregnancy is similar whether you’re expecting twins, triplets or just one baby. Eat well, take gentle exercise, drink lots of fluid and, if you feel stressed, get support from friends and family, or talk to your midwife. It’s also important to attend all your antenatal (*prenatal) appointments so your maternity team can keep a close eye on you and your babies.

Healthy eating with a twin pregnancy

Expecting two babies doesn’t mean you have to eat significantly more than during a single pregnancy. However, it’s normal to put on more weight than a woman who is only carrying one baby.

Aim to eat a healthy, balanced diet that includes plenty of fruit, vegetables and wholegrains. These will help you avoid constipation and provide a range of vitamins and minerals.

You also need some protein foods, such as lean red meat, well-cooked eggs, and nuts and seeds. Dairy foods such as milk, cheese and yoghurt are important for calcium.

If you feel peckish, it’s best to fill up on healthy snacks, such as fresh fruit, low-fat yoghurt or sandwiches filled with grated cheese, lean ham or mashed tuna. Try to avoid foods with empty calories, such as sugary snacks, crisps and fizzy drinks.

You’re more at risk from anaemia during a twin pregnancy. You’ll be offered extra blood tests and may be offered iron supplements. Good sources of iron include lean red meat, leafy green vegetables, beans and fortified breakfast cereals.

Read more about healthy eating in pregnancy and foods to avoid in pregnancy.

Staying active with a twin pregnancy

Gentle exercise will help you tone your muscles and protect you from aches and pains. Exercises that won’t overstress your joints are recommended, such as swimming, walking, antenatal yoga, pilates and tai chi.

Doing pelvic floor exercises regularly will help your pelvic floor get back to normal after your babies are born. Even if you’ve had a caesarean birth, you pelvic muscles can still be weak from your pregnancy.

Read more on how to keep active in pregnancy.

Common pregnancy health worries with twins

  • It’s not necessarily true that you will have more morning sickness if you’re expecting twins.
    • Although some women expecting twins or more report lots of morning sickness, others don’t experience any.
    • If you do experience morning sickness, you may find it helps to eat little and often, and to avoid getting hungry.
  • You’re more likely to experience piles and varicose veins during a multiple pregnancy, because of the weight of your babies pressing on the blood vessels of the pelvic area.
  • Pressure from your womb (uterus) pushing on your stomach may make you more prone to heartburn and indigestion as well.
  • You may also find you have backache and pelvic pain, particularly later in your pregnancy. Speak to your midwife, who may refer you to an obstetric physiotherapist.
  • If you register with Tamba** on their website, you can download their Healthy Multiple Pregnancy Guide for free.

For more information on how to have a healthy pregnancy, feel free to read:

Editor’s Note:  * Clarification Provided for our U.S. Readers

**Resources Available Outside the UK

  • Marvelous Multiples: provides links to support organizations throughout the world for expecting parents and families of multiple births.

NHS Choices logo


From www.nhs.uk

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How to Keep Kids From Getting Bit Helping with Dog Training

Last updated on September 16th, 2018 at 02:57 pm

As a professional dog trainer for many years, there are many things I have had to learn to do differently when working with the dogs around children versus what I would normally do.

Things that I would not typically think twice about, I must when kids are around…. Because they tend to copy everything – and some things may be quite dangerous for them to copy without the know-how and quick reflexes.

Some commands are simple to teach, and for those, the children can be around without encountering any issues, for example:

Sit….Stay….Down….Off

All of those commands are simply taught using some treats and simple leash work.  Not only are they simple – they’re predominately safe – meaning if your child is practicing this with the pup later on, and he or she hasn’t mastered the art of “sitting”, it is highly unlikely (unless it a 180 lb mastiff and sits on your 3 year old) that there’s a hospital trip in your future

There are however, other commands that I would highly suggest teaching the dog when the children are NOT around, and show them the after-results – such as:

  1. Corrections of negative behaviors
  2. Drop It
  3. Leave It

There are very specific reasons these aren’t taught around children, and I will explain these in detail below.  However, the one reason above all that I want to emphasize is that we train our dogs because it keeps our whole family safe, including our pup. The 3 commands I mention above (correcting negative behaviors, Drop it and Leave it), while not particularly complicated, have the potential to endanger your child if they attempt them on their own (ranging from simple emotional distress to a bite).

Correcting negative behaviors

I typically avoid teaching this when working around children because sometimes a pup may require firm quick corrections on a leash – which can cause problems for children:

  • A more sensitive child can get upset when a negative behavior such as jumping on people or guarding a toy or food requires a quick, firm correction with the leash. They do not always understand that corrections of bad behavior are just as imperative as praising the positive, and that we are not hurting the pup or dog.
  • On the flip side of that, a more confident or bold child may try to emulate what we are doing, but in the process may unintentionally hurt the pup or dog because they do not yet know or understand the amount of pressure required on the leash to make the correction yet not hurt the dog in the process.

Drop It and Leave It

These two commands are typically not taught around children for safety reasons.  Kids do much better working with these commands after your pup has mastered them.

I also want to clarify here that when I say ‘teaching these commands’, I am not just referring to specific focused moments of training, like when you’re with a trainer, or even when you plan a specific time to work with your pup.  I am speaking in general. Any time training takes place – because impromptu training takes place ALL THE TIME.  You feed the dog, you want him to sit before he eats, you’re training.

You need to be careful though with impromptu “Drop It” and “Leave It” training.  Remember – kids copy everything. Take for instance a dog that just grabbed the TV remote.!  The dog has obviously not taken it to switch channels, so chances are it’s taken to become a new chew toy! And they are not cheap to replace! That is when our ‘protect the item’ Instinct kicks in.

Usually the first thing we do is call them to us. We are never thrilled in these moments, so the call unintentionally gets done in an angry voice (“COME HERE!!”) which clearly told Fido you are not happy with him! Of course, now that he knows you are angry, not only does he ignore your call, but he took off in the opposite direction!  So what happens next?  We jump up to chase them and retrieve the item back.

It is at this point that one of two scenarios ensue:

  1. The kids join the chase… it becomes a big game to both kids and dog, and you end up with more aggravation and pandemonium on your hands, or:
  2. You ran to chase the dog (which was loads of fun for the dog, as he now has your full attention and is playing the “You can’t catch me” game!) and when you finally get him, your kids see you reach in and grab the item from his mouth.

Now some time passes, and you may have forgotten all about this incident…. But your kids haven’t. So the next time Fido grabs something he should not have, such as one of their toys, your kids repeat what you did… only now the dog also remembers it, and also remembers once you caught him, you took the item away, so this time he is more possessive and guarding the item. This is behavior your child did not see last time, and the next thing you know, they reach out to grab the item back, and the dog strikes out and bites.  Impromptu Drop It training gone really wrong.

So how could all of this have been avoided?  We start with PLANNED Drop It training when the kids aren’t around.

The “Drop-It” command is a simple task to teach, and can be accomplished using one of their simple rope toys:

  1. Get them interested in a toy by playing with it with them.
  2. Once they are engaged in the play, bring the hand holding the toy closer to your body to stabilize it and hold it still…. This ‘discontinues’ the ‘tug’ action of the game.
  3. Grasp the toy with your free hand right in front of their mouth, and start creeping your hand forward, all the while saying, “Drop-It”. This forces them to lose their grip on the toy.
  4. As soon as they do, praise them, and begin again.

Essentially what this does is show them that you are not just taking the item away from them (which can create some ‘possession aggression’) but rather that the game can continue…. but only if they drop the item when you tell them to.

Now, let’s revisit that scenario.  To start with, during the early training stages with your dog, the leash needs to be a vital part of his everyday life. Leash equals control.

  • Dog grabs remote, but since the leash was on, you can step on it and then reel him back in!
  • You have already taught the dog the ‘drop it’ command so the kids never see you reach into his mouth to retrieve the item.
  • You can calmly tell the dog to drop it, they do, you praise them, and the moment is done.

Now, the biggest difference between “Drop-It” and “Leave-It” is that Drop It is used when they already have the item they are not supposed to have, while Leave It teaches them not to pick it up in the first place! To teach “Leave-It” we use desirable ‘training traps’ (things that your dog loves to grab) and the leash. Throw the item on the floor, and when they run to grab it, give a quick, firm tug on the leash and say Leave-It!”. Continue doing this until you can drop the item and they do not lunge forward to get it.

Leave-It is especially important for the safety of BOTH the kids and the dog…. if you accidentally drop a pill on the floor, with the Leave-It command, they will not lunge for it. Also, if your child is eating and they drop a piece of food, using the Leave-It command will avoid the dog racing to grab it, and more importantly, the child reaching into their mouths to get it back!

My last piece of advice…. If you have not had the option to teach them yet what ‘Drop It’ or ‘Leave-It’ means and how it is done, and Fido gets ahold of something you do not want him to have, Distraction is always a great alternative. Grab a very high-value treat (a piece of cheese, a piece of hot dog, etc.) something they do not get often, but they will choose over a tasteless remote. Start off standing still and show it to them, and if they do not come immediately, take tiny steps backwards (movement is very interesting to dogs and gets their attention quicker… moving away from them means they should follow or they may miss out on that treat) Try to make it a treat or an item that they can’t gobble up in one bite, giving them ample time to return to the discarded item faster than you can. What you do not want is a race back to the original item…. I can pretty much guarantee they’ll get back there first.

I also want to note that this last piece of advice should be used as an emergency back-up plan, and not a go-to plan of action. The reason being we do not want the dog to learn that if they want a good high-quality treat, all they need to do is grab something they re not supposed to have, and we’ll replace it with something awesome!!

Being one step ahead of a potential disaster is always preferable to the alternative! So teaching your dog these basic manners when the kids are not present will keep everyone safe, happy and healthy!!!