You can work towards your Occupational Therapy goals at home too!

You can work towards your Occupational Therapy goals at home too!  

While Covid-19 has made our days unpredictable, some of us are still living our lives like we always have. Most if not many of us are racking our brains trying to keep the kids busy at home in order to provide continued structure untill they go back to school or therapy. I find myself thinking on daily: When will they go back to school? When can I go back to work? When can I bring them back to therapy or take them to their normal appointments etc.? Even through the unknowing, we need to remember, we can provide structure, predictability, and even therapy to the household.  

Here are some simple things you can do to keep therapy at home productive. 

  1. Keep the morning routine as if they are going to school or therapy.  

Continue to have everyone wake up around the same time they normally would. This is not a vacation; this is just a pause in their norm. Continue to get dressed, no laying around in pajamas all day. Staying in what we slept in signals our body that we aren’t ready for the day and to work. Most importantly, remember to eat breakfast, then get up and do something. This can look like several things depending on your routine, but remember to stay hydrated, nourish and move your body. 

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2. When it’s time to do therapy/school make sure the space is clear from distraction. 

Set up an area at the kitchen table, or a small working table for the kids with only what they will be using during their therapy/school time. Keep favorite toys away and electronics off. Even if they aren’t the ones using it. A good example would be the TV in the background; hearing this, let alone seeing it, is enough to distract each child away from something non-preferred.  

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3. Provide a visual schedule.  

Listing out what they need to do is a big motivator. Especially if you list a preferred item they DO get to engage with at the end. They can see what they are working towards. If your child can’t read yet, draw or use pictures. Once that task is complete, let them cross it off or erase it from the schedule. Being able to do this is a big motivator that they are one step closer to completing their therapy for the day. Lastly, Keep the visual schedule short. No longer than an hour at a time. You can always come back to do another list of items later. 

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4. Be available to help your kids. 

Being engaged in their therapy and tasks is very helpful. It shows each child that you are “in it” with them. When they are struggling with a task and they ask for help, encourage them to try independently first and then chime in or physically help them start the step, allowing them to finish it. A good example is buttoning a shirt. You can help feed the button halfway through, but allow them to pinch and pull the button to complete the task. Don’t be afraid to step back and let them struggle or even fail at the job. This is the only way they learn. Through trial and error, they gain increased independence and they learn from their mistakes. Encouraging them to use their own executive functioning skills such as problem solving or planning to work through each repetition. Remember, they are in a safe environment to make mistakes and you will be right there to help them along the process.  

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5. Use peer models if available 

If you have other children at home, involve them in the therapy process. There have been studies showing that watching a peer model complete a task, then having the child copy, furthers their learning at a faster pace. Some may know this as “monkey see, monkey do learning. Having peer involvement also allows for natural encouragement and social interaction with children around their age. As humans we learn by watching and trying to copy what we see, we thrive on engaging with others. This is an easy way to engage the whole family to spend time with one another and show their love and encouragement. 

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6. Most important, Make Therapy FUN 

This is by far the best way to get a “buy in” from kids that do not like to do challenging tasks. Use a character they love, their favorite color or a stuffed animal as a puppet, to encourage them to engage and try. At the clinic this is something that is done by a lot of clinicians. Find what interests the child and use that as a motivator with the task that needs to be worked on. Chanel your inner kid! If your child is 5, then you be 5. During this time, don’t take life seriously! If the kids mess up, don’t let it affect your perfectionistic parenting side. Brush it off and say,That’s ok, we all make mistakes, let’s try again”, or “Oh man, that’s hard for me too, lets help each other”. One that I use a lot is “I don’t know how to do this. Do you? Can you show me?” engaging in the same task, side by side. When others are doing the task as well its called “The group plan” and can help children stay focused on participating in the job. Everyone has their part, not just the child with the goal. It goes along with point 4 above. Be there to help and be silly and fun while you are doing it! 

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7. Lastly, Keep it simple. 

Use what is around your house. If the therapy goals are dressing, use their own clothes, start by practicing off the body at the table or on a doll. Then once they have that skill, complete it on their body. This adds another element that is challenging to motor plan while learning. Use items in the kitchen like tongs to pick up items if they have a grasp goal, or circle cereal to feed onto dried spaghetti noodles for more hand eye coordination. Use your imagination and creativity! You can always go online and find simple ideas for therapy in the home. Try not to add to many extra bells and whistles, just remember to keep it simple. 

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This too will pass and we will be back in the clinics receiving therapy from the professionals and living our structured lives soon. Till then, hang in there parents! Take this time to enjoy the simple moments that we normally do not get and remember to breathe. You can do this! 

 

Breanna Mosebach, COTA/L 

PCI Certified Parenting Coach  

Helping Your Kids Reduce Anxiety During Covid 19 Situation

Helping Your Kids Reduce Anxiety During the Covid 19 Situation

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We are currently living in a time that is unsettling. We do not know what tomorrow will look like, if we will have jobs, if we can pay bills, if school will finish this year, etc. I am beginning to notice a change in our kids as well with their anxiety raising.

Many kids are enjoying this long break from school. I predict in a few weeks they will all be bored after being stuck home, not going anywhere, and not spending time with friends. I also am anticipating many kids having high anxiety as parents and caregivers begin to experience financial strain, job loss, changes in jobs, etc.

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So what can you do as a parent or caregiver to support you kids?

  • Check in with them daily to see what they are thinking and feeling.
  • Remind your kids this situation is a grown-up problem, and they should just focus on them being a kid, doing their expectations, and enjoying a break from school.
  • Share with your kids any changes that are going to happen, including you working from home, the loss of a job, changes in finances, etc. Do not do this to raise their anxiety, but rather remind them you as the grown up have decisions to make to continue to support the family.
  • Explain to your kids the expectations each day that they have, i.e. chores, schoolwork, etc. Keep them structured with fun free time built in!
  • Be open and honest with them (but keep it age appropriate) about the global situation with Covid 19. Use this as an opportunity to teach them about global response, economy, health issues, sanitation of home and work area, etc.
  • If your child has a lot of anxiety, deal with it! Please do not let it go untreated. Again, support your child with their emotions, validate how they are feeling, remind them grown-ups are dealing with this situation, remind them they are safe at home, and if needed, seek out medical support with counseling and/or medication.
  • Many therapists and doctors are now offering temporary telehealth sessions for therapy and medical appointments. Reach out to those professionals for more support for your child.
  • Likely you as a parent or caregiver have high anxiety right now too, be careful to not show this to your kids. Keep this between you and other grown-ups in your life. Kids can often pick up on the anxiety from adults; show them your happiness, happy thoughts, etc!

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Hang in there! This is a crazy time but positive can come out of this situation. Enjoy the extra time you have with your family right now and teach them the board games we played growing up that they have never experienced! Find fun things at home to do, take time to do self-care, and most of all, just laugh and be silly with your kids!

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Jen Edwards, LMHC

Owner and Director of Beautiful Autism

ABA is not the Only Option for Behavior Therapy

ABA is not the only option for behavior therapy

 

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Eight years ago when we got the diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorder for our son, all the medical professionals told us to get Applied Behavioral Analysis (ABA) therapy. Lists were all years long, there were not enough services, and it was expensive. Instead we went for an alternate direction for behavior therapy which was more holistic, inclusive, and focused on the main issues at hand- emotional regulation and social skills.

Our son thrived with this therapy and we ended up coming back to Washington and opening a clinic based on this therapy. There are certainly some ABA aspects in our therapy, but it is more grounded in the overall idea of a counseling approach rather than driven solely by data.

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ABA has some great aspects and has proven in many studies to be highly effective. There is currently a lot of controversy around ABA Therapy, one of the issues being it tends to make many kids more rigid in their flexible behaviors.

I purpose this idea: get the therapy you feel like is best for your child and your family. For us, this was clearly not ABA. We want our son to be less rigid in his thinking, more flexible with thinking and experiencing life in general, working on social skills, but especially working on the emotional regulation piece that is so vital for individuals with ASD. I want a therapy that is going to be inclusive and tailored to his individual needs, not a cookie cutter approach like some other therapies are. I want my son’s clinician to be focused on the therapy itself and supporting my son, not focused so much on data gathering that the true essence of why he is there is no longer the priority. It is wise to get data at times, it is wise to analyze the cause of the behavior issues to a point, but it is far more productive to be working on the coping skills and tools that he will be needing his entire life in therapy, home, school, work, etc.

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It is important to look at all options, not only the recommendations that the doctor put on the psychological evaluation report. And it is important to remember that what direction one family chooses to go for therapy may not be the right direction for your family and may not be the direction that you even agree with.

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Jen Edwards, LMHC

Beautiful Autism

http://www.BeautifulAutism.com

Jen@BeautifulAutism.com

Decreased Time on Electronics, Increased Usage of Imagination

Decreased Time on Electronics, Increased Usage of Imagination

Times have changed since we were kids. Nowadays kids have access to any type of electronic, phones, video games, tablets, computers, etc. We are seeing increase in negative behavior from our kids and studies are clearly showing an increase in negative behavior with increased time on electronics.

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One of my clinicians brought up the idea that kids do not seem to have imaginary friends anymore like many of us did as children; their imaginary friends tend to be named Siri and Alexa. But our kids also do not imaginative play much anymore either. So as parents, how do we handle this situation?

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I encourage all of my families that I serve at our clinic to have tight restraints on electronics. Here are some tips:

  • Keep all electronics password safe that only the adults in the home have access to, this way in order for your child to play on an electronic, they must first ask you
  • Set timers on the electronic device or elsewhere that allows the it to shut off after a certain period of time, such as 30 minutes
  • Give positive incentives for getting off electronics calmly or for reducing their amount of time on them
  • Require certain things be done first before any electronic time, such as chores, homework, or spending time as a family
  • Require children to be on electronics in open area of home, such as living room, and not hiding in their bedroom behind a closed door
  • Have one day a week be “electronic free day” at home; encourage your child to play outside, read, play with TOYS!
  • End any and all electronic time at least 30-60 minutes before bedtime; this helps with transition to bed as well as begins to prepare the brain for sleep

By reducing the amount of time a child (or adult) is on electronics, you are allowing them the opportunity to learn through play, reading, etc. The brain is not overstimulated anymore, and can rest and do what it is designed to do.

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At first you may have some difficulty with change in home policy for electronic use; but eventually you should see improved behavior from your child. Give you child the opportunity to allow their brain to be energized by natural play and imagination!

By Jen Edwards, LMHC

Jen@BeautifulAutism.com

http://www.BeautifulAutism.com

Autism Parenting: Active Vs. Reactive

 

Autism parenting: Active vs. Reactive

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As any parent, it is very easy to react to our children with anything they do. A child can get 100% on a test and we praise them; a child can spill a glass of milk and we scold them. When we have a child with behavior problems, such as autism, oppositional defiant disorder, or ADHD, our human nature tends to be more reactive towards their behavior.

When we are reactive towards behaviors, we end up with a lot of raised voices, scolding, and anger. Our children begin to take on these behaviors and react negatively towards anything, such as us asking them to do a chore or get off the iPad.

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I purpose to us parents that we change our thinking, our approach, and our parenting style with our children.  We need to be active in our approach. We need to look forward and predict what will happen.

Here are some suggestions on how to have active parenting:

  • Constantly look for small problems that you can prevent, such as milk being too close to the edge of the table or too close to their hand so they knock it over, excessive screen time in a given day, and overstimulating environments.
  • Instead of giving a negative remark about something, turn it to a positive remark. For example, if they take thirty minutes to get dressed, simply state, “Thanks for getting yourself dressed” and be done with the conversation. Eventually, and only infrequently, you can add, “I really appreciate it when you get dressed in five minutes!”.
  • If an action does happen that you need to react to, calmly in your head count to five first, then use calm words that are quiet and low. You will be surprised how your child reacts to your calm and low voice.stress4
  • Do not verbally unload on them when they are being difficult with behavior.Keep your words very minimal and again, only find the praise. For example, if your child is in a therapy session and had extremely defiant behaviors throughout the session, do not focus on the negative behaviors, but simply say, “It was great that you made it all 50 minutes of your session!”.
  • Be sure the first thing and the last thing your child hears in their day is positive thoughts from you.
  • parents love 1Say and show your child you love them. They may not say and show it back, but you are modeling how this is done. This might be writing a note in their lunch box, helping them make their bed, or just sitting with them and watching their favorite television show. Spend a minimum of 15 solid minutes each day with them where your phone is put away and you are engaged in their world.
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  • You need to model expected behaviors! If you are always being negative towards your child, they will be negative towards you. This also includes modeling expected behavior towards your partner/spouse.
  • Reward your child for positive things they accomplish. Rewards do not always need to be candy, toys, etc. They can be extra time playing a favorite video game (within moderation), staying up 10 minutes late for bedtime, or simply whatever it is that seems to catch their individual attention.

Yes, I know changing your way of parenting is difficult! And I understand people may look at you with scorn because you are not always focusing on the negative behaviors your child is doing. But do what is best for your family! Have an open mind when considering how to change your parenting style.

I encourage parents to sit down with someone who specializes in working with children with behavior problems to really get a good idea on how to approach and parent your child. This may be having a parent coaching session with your child’s counselor or another therapist.

Reach out with questions or thoughts! I enjoy hearing them!

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Jennifer Edwards, LMHC

www.BeautifulAutism.com

Jen@BeautifulAutism.com

 

Autism: Focus on the Abilities, Not the Disabilities

Autism: Focus on the Abilities, Not the Disabilities

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As parents of children with Autism, we often hear the negatives of our children. For example, when we attend the IEP meeting, most of the time can often be spent in the aspect of what our child is still not doing and accomplishing yet. Over time we hear the disabilities often enough, or the negative aspects, and we begin to have this negative connotation about our child’s ability. Our outlook on life becomes more negative.

My dear friends, let us gather together and focus on the abilities that our children do have! Autism is such a beautiful thing! The way these individuals think, the way they can see things in life that others cannot, it is such a beautiful and unique outlook. Such an ability to have that others simply struggle with!

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May I please challenge you to find times throughout the week to sit down and meditate on the many abilities that your child does have. Be thankful for those abilities and use them to build character for your child.

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Some parents have told me they struggle to find abilities in their child. This is always heartbreaking for me. I encourage those parents to make a goal each day for two weeks to find one strength, ability, or special thing about their child; at the end of those two weeks you will hopefully have 14 amazing things about your child that you can then focus on!

Share these abilities with your child’s team at school. Use these abilities to strengthen your child’s learning environment, activities, social interaction, etc. Help your child to become a better person because of their ability, not become less because of their disability.

Above all, love your child for who he or she is. We are all made different and uniquely. So let us celebrate all of who we are and emphasize the abilities of what we can do!

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Jen Edwards, LMHCA

Counselor and Behavior Therapist

Jen@BeautifulAutism.com

Autism: Changing the Parenting Style

Autism: Changing the Parenting Style

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People often ask me what it is like to parent a child with Autism. I usually respond with something along the lines of I think I am more tired, more aware, and it is just different. They ask how it is different, but I usually cannot find the exact words to describe it. It is just different.

The rules of our home are different. If our son has a bad day at school, he usually does not get privileges taken away. If we had the “normal” rule and took privileges away, he would likely never have any privileges.

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We mold our son and constantly work on flexibility. This is something we were trained on by his therapists at Rocky Mountain Autism Center in Denver, CO. Specifically his level of flexibility with objects, activity, and people. As parents, we teach and train our children to do things; they learn the task and move forward. But we tell them how to do it, we instruct them, show them, and then they practice it and master it. For example, washing our hands. We teach this skill at home when they are young. Then our children can do it anywhere there is a sink and soap.

However, with many children that have Autism, this is not the case. We teach them at home- they only will wash their hands at home because that is how they were taught. We create the problem for them; in essence, we as parents have basically set up the situation and now they attribute washing hands at home in that bathroom with that soap.

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So how is our parenting style different? We teach our child to wash his hands in many different sinks. (Yes, this is an analogy) We drive a different way home somedays. We eat at the restaurant he does not like to eat at (when we are done, then he can get a happy meal somewhere). We do not reason with him, as this gives him authority which allows for him to control the situation (we give an inch, he takes a mile idea). And yes, when he is screaming and angry, we let him get it out, as reasoning with him using words only makes it worse.

Am I exhausted? Yes. You better believe when he is asleep, I am asleep. But ultimately we need to do what is best for him. We cannot let him stay in his bubble and become rigid and set in his ways. We cannot adhere to the typical American way of parenting, otherwise our son cannot be successful.

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Sometimes people will not understand; they cannot understand what they do not live and experience. We can explain and model, but it is not our job to make them see things our way. We use our support from friends and loved ones. We stay focused on what really matters, our son. We change what needs to be changed when it needs changing. It truly is a never ending job!

We were not called to be his parents because we were trained already; but we are becoming trained as we go because we were called to be his parents. And such a blessing it is and will forever be!

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Jen Edwards, LMHCA

Counselor and Behavior Therapist

Jen@BeautifulAutism.com

Autism and Going Back to School: A Must Read for Teachers and Parents

Autism and Going Back to School: A Must Read for Teachers and Parents

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I taught school off and on over eleven years. I am also a parent of a child with Autism. So one could say I clearly understand both sides of the picture when it comes to the beginning of school. It can be complicated, overwhelming, stressful, and yet exciting. The emotions are much more intense for kids with Autism. But the stress of having to face the social norms and functioning once again with peers can be daunting. I would even go as far to say that most higher functioning children with Autism stress more about the socialization aspect of school then other areas, though they may not always realize it or be able to express it.

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Here are some simple tips and reminders to help families and teachers prepare the darlings for going back to school:

  • Remind them weeks and days ahead of time when the first day of school is.
  • Go visit the school and the new teacher and classroom before the first day of school.advocate2
  • Email the new teacher a few days before going back to school. Allow your child to ask some questions, share some concerns, etc.
  • Spend some time playing on the playground before going back to school. This will allow time for your child to relax a bit and readjust back into school.explaining5
  • When you visit the classroom, take pictures of your child sitting in the new desk, with the new teacher, etc. This way you can help prepare your child for going back to school by looking at the pictures and talking about them once you go back home.
  • Read books about going back to school. Write social stories about going back to school. Ask the teacher for a daily schedule ahead of time so you can begin to process it with your child.
  • Find some students in the class that you might recognize or know from previous years that you know has been helpful and positive for your child. Let the teacher know who they are. Also, do not hesitate to express concern over any student who you know can be a trigger for your child.
  • Parents, consider writing a letter to the teacher, explaining who your child is and the “dos and don’ts”.
  • Teachers, consider writing a letter to the student (and family) telling who you are, things you like to do, etc. Make the family feel welcome to your classroom.
  • One of my all-time favorite ideas is to have the teacher within the first few days of school talk to the class about Autism. I usually suggest doing this while your child is out of the room, maybe for speech or something. The teacher can explain briefly what Autism is, how it affects people, and what we can do to help people that have it. If you are comfortable with it, allow the teacher to even tell the students your child has Autism. When I have done this for my son, the school year has been MUCH better socially! The students accept him and understand why he acts the way he does. They go out of their way to help him and understand when they need to back off from him to give him space. It truly makes all the difference in a school year. If your child is old enough, consider having him/her talk to the class about it, or even yourself! If you are the teacher reading this, approach the parents and ask about it. I have done this before and usually get a positive response from parents. Again, I have seen students go from feeling irritated and annoyed with the student, to complete empathy and understanding towards the student.

TEACHERS: Remember these parents are exhausted and very busy! Just like you! So they may not respond quickly to emails or phone calls. Be patient with them and understanding of their situation. We want what is best for our child, but often we need to process it. I sometimes think families that have members with any disability is a culture all of its own. Often teachers struggle to make connections with these families; I think this is likely why. Sometimes just asking the family how you can continue to help and support them makes them feel more appreciated and loved. Continue doing the best you can, get support from teammates, and love on that student!

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Feel free to ask any questions you might have about going back to school. Tis the season! And Good Luck!

Jen Edwards, LMHCA

Counselor and Behavior Therapist

jen@BeautifulAutism.com

Experts: I am the Best Expert on my Child; Teachers and Therapists are Experts for Their Field

Experts: I am the Best Expert on my Child; Teachers and Therapists are Experts for Their Field

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As parents we know our child best. We know their needs, wants, and desires. We see them through their best times and their worst times for more than eighteen years, then we send them on their way to college or work… usually. But in the meantime, we raise them the best way we know how. And we often say we know our child best because we are their parents… we are the experts.

We hear advice constantly from teachers and many of us hear advice from therapists on ways to help our child. At times we take their advice, many times we seek their advice and wisdom, and at times we look at them and think to ourselves, really? But I want to encourage all you parents out there with this thought: You are the best expert on your child and the teacher/therapists are the experts in their field.

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I look at my son with his Autism diagnosis. There have been times when therapist or doctors have recommended things to us and quite frankly my thoughts were there is no way that is going to work for our family. Something people outside of our family needs to remember is that Autism, like many other diagnosis, occurs within a family context, not just with my son (See Autism Occurs Within the Context of a Family). Changing something for my son means changing something for the family. I remind myself the person who just gave that recommendation is the expert in his or her field of study, but I am the expert on my son and the needs of our family.

Does this mean I turn down advice from people, or never go looking for outside help? Goodness no! That would go against all I believe in. It truly takes a village to raise any child, especially one with special needs! But I am always having to remind myself that I am the expert on my child. I often feel down or frustrated that I cannot seem to be doing right by my son. Or I get weary when things just are not going well. Or my particular favorite, when everyone around me wants to put in their advice on raising a child with special needs. But I am the expert on my child, not the speech therapist, not the doctor, not the teacher, not the counselor. I know my child best, I know his needs, I know his wants, I know his cries.

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I have seen many families feel pressured into doing things and changing their entire way of life because teachers, therapists, or doctors have told them to, and the parents did not feel it was the best choice for their family. I plead with you parents to think hard about your choices and ask if this is the best choice for your child. Find out if other families have done that change and if has helped them as well. You are the expert on your child!

So as you sit at the next IEP meeting for your child, remember that it is you that is the expert there. You are the best advocate for your child. Everyone else there is the expert in their field. Speak up for what your child needs. If you get push back, remember there is a reason behind it, which might be reasonable or not. But if you feel that your child needs it, continue to advocate for it. You only have one shot at raising your kid, might as well be the best expert at it now!

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