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The flexible classroom: Helping students with mental health challenges to thrive

September 15, 2013 in Special Education Articles by Dennise Goldberg

About 10% of the school population — 9 to 13 million children — struggle with mental health challenges, some of the most challenging students that educators face. In our inclusive classrooms, teachers are becoming skilled at working with children who exhibit learning, physical, and cognitive disabilities, as well as those on the autism spectrum while students with mental health challenges continue to mystify and frustrate. Read the rest of this entry →

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Anxiety—The Hidden Disability: It Affects One in Eight Children

August 5, 2012 in Special Education Articles by Jess

The Anxiety Disorders Association of America reports one in eight children suffer from anxiety disorders. Without intervention, they're at risk for poor performance, diminished learning and social/behavior problems in school. Because anxiety disorders show up differently in children, parents and teachers can't always identify them until the child hits the breaking point.

When a student acts out—throws a book, yells, storms out of the room—or has difficulty learning to read or grasping new math concepts, teachers often don't suspect anxiety as the underlying cause, which means the problems may persist or worsen.

This fall, I consulted with Mr. Lee, an exasperated third grade teacher. “I want to give up,” he said, slumping in his chair. Mr. Lee is one of the most thoughtful, talented teachers I’ve worked with. It's unusual to see him so defeated. He related an incident from that morning's math class. Read the rest of this entry →

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The Overwhelming Choices of a Parent

July 17, 2012 in Special Education Articles by Jess

Making decisions for others is never easy. In fact, it’s probably one of the hardest things one can do for someone, especially if that person is their child. When a family is coping with mental illness and intense special needs and a parent is charged with not only choosing interventions to support what a child’s life will look like as they grow but also what their adulthood will look like long after they themselves are deceased, the challenge becomes overwhelming. The alternative to not making the decision to support the child and instead controlling them dis-empowers the child who might then lash out and become more oppositional and self destructive the more a parent insists on them conforming.

The emotional weight of making choices for someone else can cause a tremendous amount of anxiety and stress not to mention an underlying feeling of dread.

Perhaps the hardest part about making the decision about what your child’s future will look like is accepting that it isn’t going to even slightly resemble what you dreamed of when you fantasized about their life. If you are like me, that included typical milestones like dance recitals, graduation ceremonies, walking the wedding aisle and holding grandbabies. Often when our children are struggling to keep their heads above water, maintain appropriate behaviors and perform in socially acceptable ways, there are rarely those extraordinary ordinary moments like congratulating them on their first job or the joys of helping them to decorate their first apartment. A large percentage of the time, they will never live independently or be able to keep a job. Sometimes they will continue to self destruct into their adulthood needing even more intervention for their addictions and behavioral disregulation.

  • ”What would my daughter want her home to look like?”
  • “What kind of services must be there?”
  • ”What level of confinement or independence will be afforded to my child?”
  • “What if my child becomes oppositional? What is the discipline policy?”
  • “Will my son be safer in a single sex environment?”
  • ”Will there be enough security to keep my child safe from eloping or from other potential self destructive tendencies?”
  • “What if my child hurts someone else? Will she be kicked out of the program? ”
  • ”What if I make a choice that my child won’t be happy with?”
  • “What if the program loses its funding?”
  • “What if my child turns a corner on their illness and finds a balance of wellness? Can he unravel my decisions? ”
  • “What if I choose a location or a home for my child that is compromised by someone else long after my child is there?”
  • “What if…what if…what if…”

As anyone would fantasize about what their future might look like, trying it on for size in one’s imagination is the first step. Again, trying a situation out in ones head is quite a bit different than realizing it in the flesh. Like fantasizing about getting the perfect pet, a first home, and having a perfect relationship, we often find that the journey from A to B can also include a dog that chews everything in sight, a home next to a nasty neighbor, and a mate who would rather watch football than spend time together on a Sunday afternoon.

How does a parent plan for this? What kind of setting can one imagine that can address all of the probables no less the possibles in the future life of a child they love so deeply?

The first and most important factor is that, as parents, we make decisions only with our child’s best interests at heart. Trusting that the universe will help when there are bumps in the road and planning for all of the potential hairpin turns of their yet-to-be-realized adulthood is nothing short of the most loving and selfless decision a parent will face.

Sometimes decisions made in a vacuum work to relieve the underlying discomfort, but often it only serves to support the regret a parent will no doubt feel if they turn out to be the wrong ones.

Choosing to design a life for a child rather than empowering them to choose their own seems antithetical to the whole purpose of parenting. We spend our adult lives loving them, keeping them safe and raising them into character-filled individuals who will stand up for what they believe in and then leave our homes with full intention to change the world they live in. Planning for anything less than our children having more fulfillment and success and life and love in their lives than we had in ours might feel like a disappointment. Perhaps you have wondered how this could be anything but the case, but with time and much heartfelt soul seeking, I have realized that as much as all of our lives are different, so are all of our expectations and even though I’m creating a blueprint for my daughter’s life, it’s no less a disappointment to her than it would be if she had the capacity to create it for herself.

Finding a home and choosing a foundation to support our children when we can no longer serve them doesn’t have to feel like a disappointment to them. In fact, while our children were swimming upstream in their lives, in the homes we can create for their future, they will not be against the current. There will be flow. And in that flow, will be the success that they will come to know in their contented adult lives.

Author Bio: Lori Gertz makes her living as a strategic marketing consultant, writer, and Reiki Master and is currently studying to be a Homeopath. She faced the ultimate Sophie’s choice—to give up the daughter she had adopted as a newborn or to keep her, even though she and her husband Craig could not ensure that their other children would be emotionally and physically safe if their troubled sister remained in the family home. Her book, “Mama Can’t Kiss It Better: An Idealized Motherhood Lost” is in the final editing stage.

She has created a resource for parents struggling with many of the same issues on www.Facebook.com/lorigertzauthor

Twitter @lorigertzauthor




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Crisis Plans in the Classroom

June 26, 2012 in Special Education Articles by Jess

More and more, schools are pushing towards inclusive environments. Classrooms are a mixture of typical children, bright children, and children with a variety of skill deficits and developmental delays. Many of our more atypical students struggle with what can be considered moderate to severe mental health issues. Whereas many of these students are cognitively capable of managing the curriculum, the emotional and social aspects of school are more overwhelming for them than their more typical peers. Read the rest of this entry →

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Working Together to Educate a Child with an Emotional Disability

May 9, 2012 in Special Education Articles by Jess

There appears to be a lot of misunderstanding about services and programs for children with emotional disabilities. Emotional disturbance is one of the disability categories that children can qualify for special education services under, according to the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). The following is the definition as it is written into the IDEA Regulations.

“Emotional disturbance means a condition exhibiting one or more of the following characteristics over a long period of time and to a marked degree that adversely affects a child's educational performance: an inability to learn that cannot be explained by intellectual, sensory, or health factors, an inability to build or maintain satisfactory interpersonal relationships with peers and teachers, inappropriate types of behavior or feelings under normal circumstances, a general pervasive mood of unhappiness or depression and/or a tendency to develop physical symptoms or fears associated with personal or school problems.” Read the rest of this entry →

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Is it Time to Look at Therapeutic Schools?

January 18, 2012 in Special Education Articles by Jess

Making huge decisions in times of trauma is never an ideal situation. Alternatively, finding the time to be prepared with potential options and solutions for children struggling within the confines of their current educational setting isn’t always the easiest thing to do either.

Many of you know the tell tale signs that your child’s needs are not being met in their current educational environment. Whether they are in a least restrictive setting or a most supportive setting either within the classroom, often times what is demonstrated is a more rageful, dysregulated child at home when, at school, it takes them more and more effort to keep it together. Perhaps the school tells you things are fine in your IEP meetings and that you need more family therapy but you know in your gut that your child’s needs are being placed second to the underlying financial woes of your district. Read the rest of this entry →

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Proposed DSM 5 Changes and Autism: What Parents & Advocates Need to Know

January 10, 2012 in Special Education Articles by Jess

In May of 2013 the new diagnostic criteria for Autism Spectrum Disorder will be distributed to doctors via the fifth version of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM 5). Think of the DSM 5 as the Bible of diagnostic criteria, developed and written by the American Psychiatric Association (APA).

One of the most discussed changes in the DSM 5 Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is the removal of Asperger’s syndrome and PDD-NOS as individual diagnoses. Under the new diagnostic criteria, Asperger’s and PDD-NOS will come under the umbrella of ASD. Read the rest of this entry →

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