• For the Caregiver,  Mental Health

    Increase Resilience with Mindful Self-Compassion Training

    Parents of children with autism face many choices when they want to give their kids extra help.  How lucky are we to have all these options! The downside is that the number of available choices becomes overwhelming.

    We try one thing, it doesn’t work. We try something else, still no luck. The third or fourth try might get results. Meanwhile, precious developmental milestones fly by. How frustrating!

    It’s easy to get discouraged and be hard on ourselves as we go through this process. Of course we want our kids to function well in this world. We can blame ourselves when it doesn’t happen the way we think it should:

    “Why did I let her eat cotton candy that led to a public meltdown?” “I’ve let him play video games and he’s done nothing else all day. What a slacker parent I am!” “Why didn’t I put him in that social skills program years ago??” On it goes.

    If all this negative self-talk becomes habitual, feelings of guilt and shame can also become a habit. These negative feelings put our brains and our nervous systems on high alert—a state of fight or flight; freeze or submit. Psychologists say that if we are in a state  of high alert often enough, we are more vulnerable to anxiety, depression, and general unhappiness. (Leaviss_Uttley_2018) 

    Practicing Self-Compassion Builds Emotional Resilience

    Practicing mindful self-compassion can halt this downward spiral! It can soothe our fight-flight-freeze or submit response. The simple techniques of mindful self-compassion prove to interrupt harsh self-criticism and help promote feelings of well-being. 

    Here is a Quick Self-Compassion Meditation for Caregivers

    This meditation was adapted from Kristin Neff’s “Meditation for Caregivers.”
    Fold your arms over your chest. Give yourself a gentle, inconspicuous hug. Or put your hands over your heart if that’s more comfortable.

    Say to yourself:
    1- “This is a point of suffering (or sadness, confusion, anger, etc.) at this moment.”
    2- “I did not cause my child’s suffering. I cannot completely solve my child’s problems. However, I will try to help the best I can.”
    3. “I am not alone. Many caregivers experience difficulties like mine.”
    4- “May I be gentle and kind with myself right now.”

    This exercise can take less than a minute! It’s part of the increasingly popular Mindful Self-Compassion Training program (MSCT) created by leading psychologists Kristin Neff and Chris Germer.

    Also, here is a quick all-purpose self-compassion meditation.

    Why Self-Compassion?

    Self-kindness and warmth can lead to self-encouragement and replace self-blame. It does not mean that we don’t take responsibility for our actions. Just the opposite. If we look at ourselves with a kind eye, we can become more objective.

    If you’re concerned that self-compassion is molly-coddling, or an excuse to stop challenging yourself, clinical evidence shows the opposite: Beating ourselves down with harsh self-criticism leads to shame and self-judgment. We are more likely to give up. When we understand our self-criticism as a self-protective measure against feelings of rejection, we can show kindness to the self-criticism. This kindness can allow us to persist rather than give up. (Neff, 2011) 

    What is Mindful Self-Compassion Training?

    Many therapies like Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT) and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) have exercises that promote self-compassion.

    Mindful self-compassion training is unique because it’s main focus is to teach us how to access feelings of kindness and direct it towards ourselves.

    MSC-T specifically “trains people to generate feelings of compassion and warmth when they feel threatened, angry, or disgusted with themselves or others.” (Gilbert and Procter).

    Mindful Self-Compassion Training is offered in 8-week courses

    Each class is about 1 1/2 hours. First, we learn basic mindfulness taught in MBSR (Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction) which helps us bring caring awareness to difficult experiences. From there, we develop loving awareness of ourselves and our strengths and limitations through focused exercises.

    They offer user-friendly ways to increase our ability to face challenges with calm and self-care instead of self-blame and self-criticism.

    It offers simple meditations that can be used just about anywhere.

    To find out more about Mindful Self-Compassion Training, visit Kristin Neff’s and Chris Germer’s Center for Mindful Self Compassion at https://centerformsc.org and the Mindfulness-Based Professional Training Institute at https://cih.ucsd.edu/mbpti

    ************************************

    Links and references:
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jJ9wGfwE-YE

    Leaviss, J., & Uttley, L. (2015). Psychotherapeutic Benefits of Compassion-Focused Therapy: An Early Systematic Review. Psychological Medicine, 45(5), 927-945. DOI: 10.1017/S0033291714002141

    Lucre, K.M., & Corten, N. (2013). An Exploration of Group Compassion-Focused Therapy for Personality Disorder. Psychology & Psychotherapy: Theory, Research & Practice, 86(4), 387–400. https://DOI-org.scroll.lib.westfield.ma.edu/10.1111/j.2044-8341.2012.02068.x

    Neff, K. (2015). Self-Compassion HarperCollins. Kindle Editio

     

  • Health,  Mental Health,  Sports + Games

    Fun, Calming Fidgets For Your Sensory Tool Kit!

    What We’ve Got
    Favorites

    Flashing color ice cube by Litecubes The best party favor ever! It flashes in about 7 colors that you can control. Meanwhile, it’s actually waterproof! Although they’re sold as drink-ware, they make great fidgets! I found it on www.partyglowz.com. About $5.50 each plus shipping and handling. You can buy them in bulk for less.

    Rainbow star-shaped miniature slinky I see my son using this one the most! It’s bouncy and the colors run into each other as you stretch and flick it. There is one just like it as part of a glow-in-the-dark 6-pack on Oriental Trading Company’s website. 12 pieces for $5.28! 

    Go-Tos

    Pineapple Pop-It A teacher gave him this one as a prize. Amazon.com carries the yellow version for about $3.50. For an interesting twist, Etsy has it in rainbow! About $3.50 plus shipping and handling

    Stretchy-String This is also a big favorite. Surprise–one string stretches over 10 feet!  You can step on it and pull-pull-pull! Tie them together to stretch them 20 feet as well. Playing with these is both calming and energizing. Our local, lovable Therapro store has them in stock. Therapro is a great resource for many special needs items. They ship all over the country. About $6.95

    Ones to Grow With

    Speks These amazing little super-magnets come in many shapes and colors. Squish and squash them into different shapes for a satisfying sensory experience that also helps you focus. Now in rainbow! www.getspeks.com The adults in the house love them just as much as the kids do. About $35

    Twidget Liquid bulb toy with moving balls. Part of a three-piece set. The one pictured above is the most challenging of the three! Squeeze one bulb and transfer the balls to the other one. Strengthen your hands all the while. Schoolspecialty.com carries these. About $36 for the set

    Interesting Finds

    Cyclops Sam squeeze ball toy Complete with stretchy hair and filled with squishable putty. He is no longer available new, but this sun-shaped squeeze ball with flashing and push-pop features will do the job! Check it out on amazon.com. About $7.99 for 2

    Beanbag baseball Good for a toss-around. This was probably a prize from the O.T. I found a soft, colorful bean-bag ball a lot like it on Flaghouse.com$3 each

    What’s your favorite thing in the sensory toolkit? Comment below!

  • Compassionate heart drawn in sand
    For the Caregiver,  Mental Health

    Disarm Self-Criticism with Self-Compassion

    Self-Criticism–who isn’t familiar? In small doses, it helps us self-correct as we navigate our complicated world. It can open our eyes to where we might have done harm. It can show us where we need to improve. Sometimes it gives us the self-awareness to grow and change.

    But when we criticize ourselves harshly for any mistake large and small, life gets unmanageable. It hacks away at our belief in ourselves. It pulls the rug out from under us as we try to take a risk. The voices of self-criticism can be so loud that they distract and undermine our focus. At this point, this self-talk is no longer self-correcting. In fact, psychologists find that it leads to self-doubt and feelings of shame.

    Say we’ve made an ordinary mistake. Here comes Self -Criticism knocking at the door! It pelts our backs and ratchets up the stress level in an already uncomfortable situation.

    Self-Compassion = the Breaks

    We need something equally powerful to put a pause on our rapid fight, flight, fear, or submit response. That’s where self-compassion comes in! Kristin Neff, leading psychologist and co-creator of the Mindful Self Compassion course defines self-compassion as having three main themes: 

    1- Self-kindness versus self-judgment
    2- A sense of common humanity versus isolation
    3- Mindfulness versus over-identification with painful self-judgement 

    Here is a Quick Self-Compassion Meditation 

    Fold your arms over your chest, giving yourself an inconspicuous hug.
    Say to yourself:
    1- “This is a point of suffering (or name feeling: sadness, confusion, anger, etc) at this moment.”
    2- “I’m not alone. Every person on the planet goes through pain even if theirs is different than mine.”
    3- “May I be gentle and kind with myself right now.”

    Compassion and Affiliation Regulates Our Response to Threat

    In a 2008 study, it was found that humans make threatening situations manageable through social connection. Social bonding sets off our mend-and-befriend response, and that produces oxytocin.

    In my own desire to avoid self-criticism, I’ve blinded myself to my shortcomings and opted to find them in others instead. As fun as that can be sometimes, my fun is usually short-lived. Back to the drawing board as I focus inward. I might see that I’ve fallen short in some areas. Maybe I’ve (gasp) made a mistake! Here come the rubber bullets of self-criticism, pelting my back, beaning me on the head. I run for cover, I explode, I implode.

    Studies find that self-criticism and shame trigger feelings of fear. Fear stimulates the amygdala, the brain’s alarm system. The amygdala sends signals to our instinctive survival response of fight, flight, freeze, or submit. Adrenaline and cortisol course through our veins. Suddenly we are in survival mode. The negative chatter goes on and on. We feel bad about ourselves, we feel angry at others. The bicycle of shame or blame is speeding down the hill, no breaks.

    All this Caring Cues Our System to Make Oxytocin

    Oxytocin is a potent, ancient hormone that produces feelings of contentment, well-being and safety. A 2020 study of oxytocin found that it’s linked to preventing inflammation, healing damaged tissue, inhibiting cancer growth, and protecting the gastrointestinal lining in both children and adults.

    Oxytocin Helps Manage Our Chronic Stress

    A 1998 study discovered that oxytocin prevents us from freezing with fear in the face of ongoing stressors.

    What if We Gave Ourselves the Same Caring and Kindness We’d Give a Close Friend?

    That warm, wonderful feeling of relief we get when talking to an understanding friend about our troubles?  We can provide that for ourselves with self-compassion.

    We could actually trigger inner feelings of soothing, reassurance, and contentment for ourselves. We can feel that same happy feeling of being cared for by others by caring for ourselves.

    Self-Compassion isn’t Self-Indulgent

    We might think self-compassion is too self-centered, that it could let us off the hook for mistakes too easily. But it isn’t. Research shows that when we are kind to ourselves when we fail, we are naturally more motivated to self-correct. When we feel soothed and encouraged, we have strength to try again. We may feel soothed and safe enough to new things and change. 

    When we feel safer, our defensiveness decreases. It becomes much easier to admit our mistakes.

    When we feel empathy for ourselves, we can access patience for ourselves and others.

    Mindful Self-Compassion Training

    With all of the proven benefits of self-compassion, Kristin Neff and Paul Gilbert created a Mindful Self Compassion Training course to teach self-compassion skills. It’s an eight-week course designed to help people who struggle with high shame and self-criticism. 

    Self-c0mpassion meditations and exercises are also available for free at www.self-compassion.org. Exercises like these can be used in daily life to provide immediate relief from self-criticism.

    They can access our innate caring and befriending abilities and help us turn them towards ourselves.  ❤️

    *****************************

     

    References

    Carter, S.C., Kenkel, W.M., MacLean, E.L., Wilson, S.R., Perkeybile, A.M., Yee, J.R., Ferris, C.F., Nazarloo, H.P., Porges, S.W., Davis, J.M., Connelly, J.J., & Kingsbury, M.A. (2020). Is Oxytocin “Nature’s Medicine”? Pharmacological Review 72:829–861. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1124/pr.120.019398

    Kirsch, P., Esslinger, C., Qiang C., Mier,D., Lis, S., Siddhanti, S., Gruppe, H., Mattay, V.S., Gallhofer,B. & Meyer-Lindenberg, A. (2005). Oxytocin Modulates Neural Circuitry for Social Cognition and Fear in Humans. The Journal of Neuroscience, 25(49):11489 –11493. DOI:10.1523/JNEUROSCI.3984-05.2005

    Leaviss, J., & Uttley, L. (2015). Psychotherapeutic Benefits of Compassion-Focused Therapy: An Early Systematic Review. Psychological Medicine, 45(5), 927-945. DOI: 10.1017/S0033291714002141

    Lucre, K.M., & Corten, N. (2013). An Exploration of Group Compassion-Focused Therapy for Personality Disorder. Psychology & Psychotherapy: Theory, Research & Practice, 86(4), 387–400. https://DOI-org.scroll.lib.westfield.ma.edu/10.1111/j.2044-8341.2012.02068.x

    Naismith, I., Santiago, Z.G., Feigenbaum, J. et al., (2019). Abuse, Invalidation, and Lack of Early Warmth Show Distinct Relationships with Self‐Criticism, Self‐Compassion, and Fear of Self‐Compassion in Personality Disorder. Clinical Psychology, Psychotherapy, 26:350–361. DOI: 10.1002/cpp.2357

    Neff, K. (2015). Self-Compassion HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.

    Thomason, S. & Moghaddam, N. (2021). Compassion-focused therapies for self-esteem: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Psychology and Psychotherapy: Theory, Research and Practice 94, 737–759. DOI: 10.1111/papt.12319

    Please visit www.self-compassion.org for exercises in self-compassion

  • Social Skills,  Sports + Games

    Inclusive Basketball–Hoops

    Originally posted 9/19: Sports were never my thing. Not that I despised them, I just felt a little…meh, I guess, about all of it. Like many people, I couldn’t see why the big excitement or all the time and money funneled into it. Then kiddo—now 11, found a game so beautiful and sparkly and true for him, that he can watch 2 hours of it without blinking his eyes much at all. This sport, this one and only, b-ball, brownball, hoops…you know, it’s “nothing but net” as the NBA fast approaches.

    He loves it and the NBA players so very much. He knows details about his favorites’ performances, and is on a first-name basis with many of them, though we haven’t been to a live game yet. It thrills his young heart to see replays of Wilt’s successful “granny shots,” and “Spicy P’s” last-minute 3-pointers.

    He even likes to play the sport—almost as much as he likes to watch it 🙂

    At first, I was just happy he was happy. He lights up a room. Then, the social possibilities of such an interest, I thought…are unlimited, I thought, eyes a-glitter. In came the basketball T-shirts, basketballs of almost every size and color, and as many trips to ball courts as we could stand.

    We were lucky to find a basketball team for kids with disabilities through Newton Athletes Unlimited—The Newton Bears. It was a Saturday basketball oasis, and we loved it. The coach made no apologies for his differently-abled team members, nor did he try to make them “pass,” or be “up to snuff.” It was “come as you are, do your personal best, and not only will we accept you, but you will have fun.” What a concept, sign us up forever!

    Each week I looked forward to seeing the faces of other parents who could relate to living with disabilities, who had been through the mill with their own versions of biomedical interventions, in-home therapy visits, sleepless nights long after toddlerhood, IEP meetings from the netherworld, and more.

    At the end of the season, Athletes Unlimited hosts an awards dinner at a local hall to honor their players from ages five-to-adult. That group knows how to party! Through the game weeks and up to awards night, part of me held my breath—here was something rare and happy—a break from the loneliness of special needs parenting.

    A few months later we decided to enroll him in a “typical” basketball clinic—a parallel universe with different rules:

    • Look cool.
    • Smile slightly, with a hint of enthusiasm.
    • Yes, you are being scrutinized.
    • Giggle when a child (not yours) misses the basket.
    • Humble-brag about how many baskets your child made in a row last week.

    There was no cheering for making it cross-court with the ball, and clapping would have been…juvenile. I turned into a seated, silent cheering squad. When kiddo looked over, I nodded my head vigorously and pointed to my dancing feet.

    He barely kept up, and I knew how hard he was trying. I was so flipping proud! Maybe this crowd—who seemed to have no reason to sign their kid up for The Newton Bears, was missing out…it’s possible Hallmark has me brainwashed, but I think it’s true. At The Bears’ practices, it was good enough to be together, to have some fun and laugh, to know you’re not alone, to have some empathy for each other’s humanity…I mean, what’s the point?

    TO BE INCLUSIVE, OR AT LEAST TRY…that’s the point.

    Competition is a fact of life and sure it has its place, but having some extra kindness and understanding never hurt, and pretty much raises everyone who sees it. Autism, or any other disability, is not contagious, so why not give inclusion a try?

    I would like to live in a world where inclusion is a given, not an anomaly or saved for special places and occasions like temple, church, or the holiday season.

    We as a society have a long way to go, I think. But if you see a disabled or disadvantaged person, why not go out of your way to be a little kinder and possibly make the world a bit warmer? Just saying.

    Ok, I’ll get off my soap-box now. But thanks for reading, just the same.

  • Health

    Holy Basil– “Queen of Herbs”

    When I was helping out at a health food store in the supplements section, customers kept asking where they’d find the adaptogenic herbs. “Oh yeah, those!” I’d say. (Ermmm, adapto-what?) “Let me just look it up!” Out came the smartphone. How did I ever manage before 1999? 

    I found out that adaptogens are plants that help resist many kinds of stressors. These stressors can be chemical, biological, or physical.

    Luckily, many adaptogenic herbs could be found in the stress-relief section, or the cold-prevention section, or wait, they’re also in the anti-inflammatory section too. Thankfully, adaptogenic herbs are here, there, and everywhere.

    I noticed that many people sought out holy basil to soothe coughs and colds. Others looked to it, along with rhodiola to relieve anxiety.

    The name “holy basil” or “tulsi” was both charming and powerful, and the happiness on peoples’ faces when I told them we had it in stock drew me in. So I decided to do some research on it myself. I sorted through a wealth of information, and the following are the highlights of what I found.

    Also known as tulsi, Ocimum sanctum has been used for centuries for its potent and diverse healing powers. It’s a centuries-old staple in Ayurvedic medicine. Its broad range of uses and long-standing presence has earned its nickname Incomparable One and Queen of Herbs.

    Tulsi is a perennial shrub and a member of the basil family. Unlike the culinary herb sweet basil, it has a strong, peppery taste and a plethora of nutrients.

    Most of its health benefits are found in its spiky, light green leaves. They can be ground up to make teas, tinctures, and supplemental capsules.

    As an adaptogenic herb, it nurtures the nervous system and helps people bounce back faster from the effects of mental and physical stress. That’s why people use it to counter the effects of anxiety.

    “Early research suggests that taking 500 milligrams of Ocimum sanctum twice daily after meals for two months reduces anxiety and depression.”

    Holy basil hasn’t been thoroughly studied yet, but it is packed with these and other health-giving plant chemical compounds, known as phytonutrients:

    Ursolic acid  Researchers have found that ursolic acid has anticancer activity and anti-inflammatory effects. One way it helps the body avoid cancer is by initiating the self-destruction (apoptosis) of certain cancer cells, including breast cancer cells! Ursolic acid also absorbs and destroys free radicals that harm human cells.

    Eugenol: Along with rosmarinic acid, this compound helps protect against skin, liver, oral, and lung cancers caused by toxins. One way they do this is by helping the body get rid of the harmful chemicals. Another way they do this is by stopping cancerous cells from spreading to other areas of the body (metastasis).

    Oleanolic acid: Several studies have found that it prevents the growth of malignant tumors and other cancerous cells. Also, if you’re worried about high blood sugar, oleanolic acid that’s extracted from tulsi has been shown to reduce blood glucose levels.

    Rosmarinic acid:  Scientists have discovered that when this phytonutrient is broken down and made absorbable to us humans, it suppresses amyloid accumulation. Amyloid is a waxy plaque that builds up in organs that occurs in diseases like Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s.

    * Studies also indicate that holy basil reduces fertility, so it isn’t recommended if you are trying to conceive.

    After reading about its almost magical healing abilities, I decided to take a chance and buy some from my local health food store. I found 45o mg capsules as a combination of organic holy basil leaf and holy basil leaf extract.

    I opened the bottle, I was greeted by a clean, sweet, tomatoey scent. I split a capsule to try the powder–wow, it is truly a peppery plant!

    After a week of taking them twice a day, I do notice an uptick in my mood and in my ability to take deep breaths. This happened alongside the days getting warmer, longer, and sunnier here in the northeast. Coincidence? If I’m to believe the studies, it seems only fair to give more than a little credit to the Queen of Herbs.

    ******************************************************************

    Sources

    https://medericenter.org/the-mederi-blog/holy-basil-an-herb-with-incomparable-benefits.html

    https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/27469428/

    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6150249/

    https://www.sciencedirect.com/topics/pharmacology-toxicology-and-pharmaceutical-science/oleanolic-acid”

    https://time.com/5025278/adaptogens-herbs-stress-anxiety/

  • Health

    Quick, Gluten-Free and Nutrient-Packed

    It’s 20 degrees outside, who wants to make an ice-cold berry smoothie? (crickets)

    As the days get shorter, darker, and cooler, our instinct to lay low and seek comfort food naturally comes to the fore. This is normal–even expected!

    While it becomes a little harder to muster the willingness to keep up with regular exercise and healthy eating, we can make a few easy adjustments to give our energy and spirits a boost.

    Here is a minimal effort (I like it already), nutrient rich, comforting recipe that I hope will warm your tummy and your heart.

    ***********************

    Berry Blast Oatmeal–it’s pink, it’s yummy, it’s filling–

    Total time needed: 10-15 minutes
    What you need:
    1 cup of frozen berry mix (mine contains blackberries, strawberries, and raspberries)
    1/2 sliced banana for extra creaminess
    1 cup of quick-oats oatmeal
    1 cup of almond milk
    1 tablespoon of honey
    sea salt to taste (if desired)

    ***********************
    Rinse berries with filtered water.
    Microwave them on high for 1 minute (or until just defrosted) and set aside.
    Combine in a medium pot:
    -quick oats
    -almond milk
    -banana
    -honey
    Cook until the mix starts to bubble (3-5 minutes).

    Stir in berries, warm for 1-2 more minutes.
    Pour into a bowl.
    Salt to taste.

     Makes one generous serving!

    ***********************

    Blackberries, raspberries, and strawberries contain plenty of antioxidants!

    Blackberries and raspberries contain an abundance of flavonoids. Flavonoids are powerful antioxidant chemical compounds found in plants. An especially helpful group of flavonoids are colorful Anthocyanins. They give berries their deep red, blue, and purple hue. 

    Anthocyanins are linked to reducing unhealthy LDL (low-density lipoprotein) cholesterol. LDL cholesterol sticks to the walls of blood vessels and arteries. So generous amounts of them in our diets can improve heart health and strengthen blood capillaries.

    In-vitro lab tests also show that Anthocyanins slow down or stop the production of enzymes that create cancer cells in the stomach, colon, and lungs(!)

    Researchers have also started to study how Anthocyanins can inhibit the progression or possibly prevent Alzheimer’s disease. https://www.verywellfit.com/blackberry-nutrition-facts-calories-and-health-benefits-4109221

    I hope you try this recipe for yourself. I did a few taste-tests on my family and it turned out to be a winner. Comment below to let me know how it goes!

    ***********************

    Other references:

    https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/283018

    https://www.amhsjournal.org/article.asp?issn=2321-4848;year=2018;volume=6;issue=1;spage=73;epage=80;aulast=Mahmood

    https://nutritionandhealing.com/2005/06/30/the-health-benefits-of-dark-berries/

    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1082894/

    Photo credits: Raspberries, Blackberries, Blueberries: Markus Spikus for Unsplash.com, Winter Scene: Lorelei Mann

  • Living Skills,  Mental Health,  Social Skills

    Increase Literacy Through Visualizing and Verbalizing

    Lindamood-Bell’s Visualizing and Verbalizing Reading Program is a rocking way to increase reading comprehension skills and something you can do from home!

    Who knows what the 20-21 school year will bring for our kids. Let’s face it—there’s no guarantee it will be safe enough for them to physically stay in school for the duration. Now there’s a cringe-worthy thought!

    One thing looks certain: our kids will need extra support this year. This post offers one method to help grow their reading comprehension skills no matter what comes next.

    I had already found and fell in love with Linda-Mood Bell’s (LMB’s) Visualizing and Verbalizing program in September 2019. I still adore how it addresses the heart of comprehension difficulties. Its central idea is clear:

    To better understand content, learn to create vivid, detailed mental images of what you read.

    This process is called dual coding. Dual coding happens when you learn something through both word and image.  

    The program is for people at all different reading levels.

    So it meets the student where they are. The program starts with having you verbalize what you see in a given picture. Once you master that skill, the visual aids vanish and they lead you step-by-step through a series of progressively more challenging exercises. The next activity is visualizing words, after that, visualizing sentences, and finally. visualizing paragraphs.

    To help you start your reading journey, they also supply these structure words:

    A simple premise and basic tools, but not so breezy with autism or nonverbal learning disability!

    A lot of our kids have trouble painting a picture of verbal information, so they naturally lean on processing things through words instead. Verbal processing needs to happen in sequence, and in small chunks. This takes more time and effort than making an image in your brain. When you make a visual in your brain, lots of info can be processed simultaneously.

    A quick contrast between verbal processing and visual processing:

    Verbal processing happens in the left brain hemisphere and visual processing happens in the right. Verbal information is digested sequentially in little bits. Visual information is organized synchronously—so rich details and the big picture are perceived simultaneously.

    The goal of the Visualizing and Verbalizing program is to make and strengthen new neural connections in the areas of the brain that visualize information. 

    With a little imagination, you can jazz up the assignments.

    For example, in Picture to Picture, where you describe what you see, it’s easy to find a slew of images from the web that will fit any hobby or obsession. So if your kid happens to be a Star Wars fanatic (ahem, like mine), you could use “Kylo Ren,” “Yoda,” or my favorite go-to, “Darth Vader.” This picture is a fun activity for all SW fans out there. (Note: This kilt-wearing man truly exists, and his fascinating videos can be found on the world wide web!)

    This program really works. It can be done—like balancing on a unicycle while playing the bagpipes, except easier!

    With enough practice, it can be done. “Ten weeks of intensive reading intervention for children with autism spectrum disorder was enough to strengthen the activity of loosely connected areas of their brains that work together to comprehend reading.” Says a study of the Lindamood-Bell program by the University of Alabama at Birmingham. It’s hard work, and it takes tenacity, but it does the job. If you keep at it, you can see results in as little as a few weeks.

    You can get in touch with a center and have your child evaluated remotely. They also run online Visualizing and Verbalizing training events for caregivers and educators. You can find more information about the program here.

    ***********

    References:

    https://lindamoodbell.com/press-releases/uab-study-on-children-with-autism-improved-reading-and-brain-activity-utilized-lindamood-bell-instruction

    https://lovetoteach87.com/2019/05/02/examples-of-dual-coding-in-the-classroom/

    https://www.learningscientists.org/blog/2016/11/17-1

     

  • For the Caregiver,  Health

    Caring for the Caregiver, Bringing the Beach Home

    Summer’s warm gentle hands are starting to fold as autumn creeps in around the edges. A few brown leaves crunch underfoot. Dandelions turn fluffy and smoke from a wood-burning stove (or is that a BBQ?) fills the air.

    The warmest season of the year is coming to an end, and so are treasured trips to the beach.

    After just one day there, I feel energized, happier, healthier. There are many reasons to love ocean beaches.  Here are just a few of them:

    It’s the water…

    Whether I only put my feet in or take a running flop, the cold numbing seawater also feels healing and fresh.

    It turns out that ocean water is much like some of the fluid that surrounds our cells, called interstitial fluid (source). Both are rich in sodium and chloride, which makes it non-irritating and soothing to our respiratory system. In this way, seawater helps relieve allergies.

    Sodium has antiseptic attributes, so wounds heal faster in the ocean! Chloride helps with nerve function. Also, the magnesium in the water reduces eczema and helps our skin hold onto moisture longer.

    It’s the air…

    Because water and air mix together so easily at the beach, we actually breathe in all those super-charged, nutrient-rich water-droplets. 

    There’s also a high concentration of negative ions found in beach air. Negative ions happen when air molecules break apart. Sunlight and waves naturally slice them. So do rainstorms and waterfalls!

    Studies say that airborne negative ions remove pollution including fine particles like soot that harm our health. They also remove certain bacteria, viruses, and mold. Breathing ocean air gives us a break from highly polluted areas.

    Also, having an abundance of negative ions around you has a positive effect on brain function and mood by regulating serotonin. Serotonin is a popular neurotransmitter responsible for feelings of well-being and happiness.  It also has been shown to decrease symptoms of depression and of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD).

    It’s the light…

    The generous bath of sunlight the beach offers on a clear day naturally sparks the brain into making serotonin. While the sun helps you make this feel-good chemical, negative ions in the air help you regulate it!

    Also, the ultraviolet sun rays cause our bodies to produce vitamin D. Depending on skin color and location, it could take anywhere from 15 minutes to more than an hour in full sunlight to get your daily dose of vitamin D.

    Having enough Vitamin D is needed to fight viruses, bacterial infections, and maintain respiratory health. Evidence suggests there’s a link between vitamin D and cancer risk in mice. They found that increased levels of vitamin D slows or completely prevents cancer cell and tumor growth. It also helps the body kill off malignant cells (source)

    News to me: UV rays from the sun help regulate our white blood cells. It helps prevent our immune system from attacking itself in the form of lupus, multiple sclerosis, asthma, IBS, and type 1 diabetes. 
    Plus the sand…

    My senses love the crunch-crunch of it. It’s not everyone’s favorite, but that feeling of sand under my feet has a comforting way of reminding me of where I am in the moment. 

    BOOM–Instant Beach Resort in the midst of winter, the pandemic, and chilly Boston.*

    I’m 50 minutes away from a beautiful ocean beach on a straight run, without traffic, speeding. It takes extra effort, determination, and polar bear genes to make the trip in the freezing cold. So I pulled some things together for a possible home beach situation:

    *All of these items can currently be found on the web. A list of where to find them will be added shortly.

    ***************************************************************************************

    Additional References:
    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2873555/

    https://www.wellness.com/blog/13295843/the-benefits-of-ocean-air/wellness-editor

    https://gracefullyagingtips.com/sunshine-good-for-health/

    https://www.cancer.gov/about-cancer/causes-prevention/risk/diet/vitamin-d-fact-sheet#what-is-the-evidence-that-vitamin-d-can-help-reduce-the-risk-of-cancer-in-people

    https://www.lifehacker.com.au/2015/02/why-sunshine-is-good-for-you-its-more-than-vitamin-d/

    https://study.com/academy/lesson/interstitial-fluid-definition-pressure-composition.html

    Photo Credits: Sergio Sousa for Unsplash, Marcus Spiske for Unsplash

  • Health

    Stealth Midline-Crossing Exercises

    Sneaky…Sidewinders…Stealth Do-Gooders, we special needs caregivers know who we are. 

    We slip supplements in our child’s smoothie on the sly. We act like dumb bunnies so they can polish their social pragmatic skills as they explain the art of Uno, or we pretend we’re at a loss for what to do next so they can test-run their planning abilities. I know, it takes one to know one.

    So how about adding some subtle cross-body exercises to your toolkit? Occupational therapists do them with our kids all the time, and we can do some of them too, FOR FREE!

    Cross-body movements happen when you move your arms and/or legs across the imaginary vertical line running down the center of your body.

    When we cross our midline intentionally through exercise, we engage both sides of the brain simultaneously. When both sides of the brain are activated, they communicate with each other as they work together. This can lead to more coordination between the two brain hemispheres and more coordination in the body.

    Babies practice cross-body coordination by crawling. It’s a building block of walking, eye-teaming, and later, reading and writing. If you ask an 8-month-old why she crawls, she’ll say “Sashee-watchee–kwak–kwak,” but really she is exercising to grow and integrate her brain and nervous system. She is also building up her core strength.

    For a lot of our kids, this cross-body coordination doesn’t come easy. There can be issues with balance, core muscle strength, body awareness, reading, and writing. The more consistent exercise they can get crossing their midline, the better. 

    Here are some easy midline-crossing exercises (imperfectly demoed below) you can do almost anywhere:
    Standing Cross-Crawl. Do these s-l-o-w-l-y so that most of the time you are balancing on one foot.

    Arm Swings
    Cross-Body Arm Swing Exercises
    Side Stretches

    Cross-body exercises also relieve anxiety, increase focus, and support a sense of calm. As a stressed special needs caregiver, I was glad to find that these exercises could help both of us.

    cross midline brain balance hook-up pose
    No sweats required!

    I’ve given this one a try when I’m about to have my own melt-down. Just a quick cross-body “hook up” I found in the book “Educate Your Brain.” 

    We also love these morning exercises with Moe Jones, where he crosses the midline plenty. He’s a very welcoming, daddy-like, and calming presence. One repetition of his workout routine takes only 5 minutes.

    My goal is that we do these exercises just 3, 5, possibly 10 minutes a day to help with reading, writing, and having a general sense of centeredness and peace. Just another something for the toolbox. There’s always room for one more!

     

     

    References: Mayo Clinic, wholebrainliving.com, “Educate Your Brain” by Kathy Brown

  • Living Skills,  Mental Health

    Easy Summer Activity Menu

    My son hits the three-hour mark of gaming on his iPad, and it’s not even lunchtime. Fingers poised on the internet-rationing app, I’m ready to give him just…30…more…minutes, when…

    “Wait, wait, there’s another way!” a little voice chirps in the back of my mind.

    “Yeah, maybe,” I say wearily, “but I can’t think of a single one right now.”

    “That’s where a little photo chart comes in handy!” the tiny voice enthuses.

    “Handy, you say? You sound a little too cheerful to me, but go ahead, I’m listening.” 

    “You can use a photo chart of simple activities to help anchor your day. It’s a small something to resist the screen, if only for an hour. Something eye-catching, fun, and easy to make!”

    ……………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………….

    Bulleted activity lists quickly get buried under stacks of papers or posted on a forgotten wall. But a splashy photo collage? That’s way more fun and a little bit harder to ignore.

    Me and the voice of Hope, let’s call her, put this activity menu together (pictured) in about 5 minutes. We used Layout for Instagram, but there are many other free layout apps for mobile devices out there. Here’s what I did: (“And you can do it too!” adds Hope)

    1. I took pictures of my person doing enjoyable, easy activities other than screen-time—no prompt needed for that one! I chose my favorites and flagged them in my album.  

    2. For activities that I didn’t have images for, I created screenshots of random, similarly-aged people doing the preferred activity, saved them, and flagged them on my device.

    3. I downloaded the free layout app.

    4. I pulled my images into the app, chose a pre-formatted layout, then cropped, flipped, and resized them within the program.

    5. I sent that beautiful creation to print!

    These apps are so much fun because there’s no need to take the extra steps of downloading images and bringing them into a layout program on your PC (so 2010!). I gave our menu a blue backing and pinned it up in a high-traffic area.

    Activity Menu is on the scene

    I adapted the idea of a Free Time Activity Menu from Sarah Ward’s Executive Functioning Webinar, where she had it formatted as a written list. You can find out more about her Executive Functioning Webinar on this blog post, or on her website https://efpractice.com.  

    Some popular layout apps are: Layout for Instagram for iPhone/Android, Collage Maker for Android, Grid Post Maker for Instagram for iPhone/Android, Pic Jointer Grid Photo Collage for iPhone, 9Square for Instagram for Android

    Free images can be found on these websites: pexels.com, unsplash.com pixabay.com.