Lifetime Learning

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Posted by David Maddalena | Posted in Anghelika and David Maddalena | Posted on July-29-2014

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Everybody’s heard one adult or another say something like, “education never stops!” It might’ve been a teacher, encouraging students to see education as a part of life, rather than something in the way of their summertime. It might have been a commencement speaker, challenging graduates to see their recent success as ‘just the beginning’ of a lifetime of learning. Wherever you heard it first, we bet you’ve thought about it since. If you’re a parent, you want your child to learn good study habits in order to become a lifetime learner. If you’re a teacher, you want people to embrace every day as another opportunity to grow in wisdom and skill. If you’re a human being, you want to work and live with people who never stop learning.

It says, "Don't stop now!"

It says, “Don’t stop now!”

Sure it can seem a bit of a cliché, or trite. But it’s also true: the world never stops teaching us. We never reach the end of the great lesson that life is. We never do graduate into any kind of real expertise. We just get better … but we never really feel smart enough. We’re thinking about these things, because of Dave’s summer job. He’s working at a clinic in Menlo Park for students in need of a boost with their spelling, reading, and comprehension skills. Usually he works with school-age children, but occasionally someone older will come through the doors, a late high schooler or a college-age kid. This week he’s begun to work with a 32-year-old PhD candidate. This gentleman already has a masters under his belt, but testing reveals some weaknesses in certain comprehension areas, and he wants to up his game before he starts his doctoral program.

And though he’s chosen to submit to the process offered in the clinic, it’s been a struggle for him to begin with basic instruction, a necessity in this clinic’s process, as we build a new way for students to perceive and express information. Dave was particularly excited to work with him, primarily because they are studying in the same field. But in addition to shared interests, Dave was also able to offer this: even though he didn’t come to the clinic in need of remedial help, the training and subsequent work has been extraordinarily helpful in his own learning process. So here we have another aspect of that old trope: there’s always something new to learn. You can be working on a second Masters degree, doing fine in school, getting all the information you need in your field, and still have plenty to learn about how to learn. That’s been Dave’s experience.

Maybe there’s no way to convince a child that endless education is a good thing, but we can always model it for them.

Sensational Moments

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Posted by Megan | Posted in Megan Savage | Posted on July-27-2014

I wrote this post for SPD blogger network a few years ago. Reading those blogs helped me immensely dealing with a diagnosis that many have not heard of. Unfortunately they have since closed down the blog due to low funding. I was in Tahoe this past week and could not help to reflect back to this post. I still love to watch D frolic on the beach and now swim. I never take any of it for granted. Bubba will also need to get over some sensory challenges. He is scared of the sounds of the waves. He is nervous around the water. Again we use the same approach with him and nudge/push to have experiences in these environments so he is able to regulate and function in them.

As the summer is coming to a fast halt I reflect at the activities we have done and within those activities there has been many many obstacles and achievements.

Sensational Moments Equal
Sensationalimage Achievements

I have always been the type of person to get up and go. It was not until I had my son that I had to put the breaks on a bit. Since day one he has not been a pick up and go kind of baby now pre-schooler. I go back and forth with nudging him out of his comfort zone but having my back-ups of course. I always ask myself on the way to our destinations and in the midst of tantrums while we are stranded at a vacation spot is this worth it? Does the tantrums and sensory overload moments outweigh the moments of fun? I have yet to answer that. Having a child on the spectrum and tons of sensory challenges is like playing roulette daily. You never know what the outcome will be and I am always surprised in good times and bad.

I am glad we have nudged…… Ok pushed him to get over some of these challenges and break away from our rigid routine at home. It is these extremely dark yet exciting voyages that have helped me as a mom of a sensational kiddo gain some more tools in my tool box and my son an opportunity to overcome obstacles with a zillion back up plans in place.
Maybe a bit selfish but these trips keep me sane it is a little slice of therapy for me to go to a favorite scenic place. It is good and necessary for my soul.

After a particular difficult trip in Tahoe this summer I was able to reflect and look at our challenges last year and look at our current challenges. It was not until my reflection I was able to find a few achievements that were going unappreciated. I was standing at the beach paralyzed with knowledge ending and frustration had kicked in full force that quickly transformed to tears streaming behind my glasses. I froze and was unable to access any of those tools I had spent so much time researching. It was like he had never done this before. At the moment I was regretting I drove 4 hours with a screaming kid to then be miserable at our dreamy beach spot. My sister who “gets it” jokingly asked me if I was having fun yet and I was speechless.

After almost two hours of tantrums which brought us close to nap time at this point we resorted to going in our sensory break pop up porta-crib where no dogs or bugs could disturb him. I often repeat to myself during these lengthy tantrums it is harder for him than it is for me. Thank god for naps. It was the clean slate we needed to make this day a good one. I was able to re-fuel in order to deal with whatever the afternoons obstacles might be. During my break on the beach I was thinking how thankful I was to be around family who got it and could support us.

Last year he would go nowhere near the sand or water. This year he would sit in the sand and play in the water. This was HUGE!!! It is easy to get stuck, compare to other kids and make sand castles out of pity parties. I need that precious energy to help nurture the journey to these achievements that may seem minuscule to the typical family. The highlight of our trip was a walk on the pier where families were jumping off. After much observation my son had decided he wanted to jump in with me. I warned him that it was freezing and he does not do well with extreme temperature change. He is extremely cautious and hates not having control so this surprised me. He often will surprise me like this and it makes for an exciting ride up or down. I planned out my jump ahead of time to help him feel more comfortable. He freaked out for a second until he heard the whole pier clapping for him including his aunt, uncle and cousins. The look of pride on his face that lasted the whole afternoon outweighed the treturous morning we had.

This leap of faith decision he had made confirmed for me moments like this make all the struggles worth while. I can hang onto that colorful moment during the not so colorful times ahead. I always look back at my Facebook pictures and pretend I am a distant friend with no information about my kiddos jumbled up central nervous system. We look so happy. These happy snapshots of us jumping into freezing cold snow melt off look so seamless. If they only knew the blood, sweat and tears that go into every trip.

Tahoe was one of three trips this summer and who would have thought that the happiest place on earth was the hardest. We took him when he was 18 months and I joked I was going to move there because my guy is such a sensory seeker that all the stimulation was great for him. Not one single spout or scream in four days. We decided to visit a year and a half later. What we had not thought about was his new fear of the dark after spending a week in alaska where it is light out all the time. He also is older and has more schema of his world. Which resulted of him being scared and terrified of everything Disneyland had to offer besides the monorail and autopia. It was one of our toughest trips yet.

To get through such a tricky trip like this it helps me to pump myself up and tell myself I was handed it because I can handle it!!! May sound a tad egotistical. When in reality I was handed my son to learn and grow. I have learned so much about kids on the spectrum and SPD. For that I am extremely thankful!

In Defense of The Blankey

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Posted by David Maddalena | Posted in Anghelika and David Maddalena | Posted on July-23-2014

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Most of us can remember that special object that traveled with us through the years (usually between ages 1 and 6 or older), spent as much time near our skin as a piece of clothing, was privy to secrets and confidences like a good friend, and had an unparalleled power to derail a day’s plans if it went missing. Yes, we are talking about the humble blankey. Our security blanket, stuffed animal, or whatever it was that gave us that feeling of comfort when we held it to our faces, was at its post, steadfast, right there next to our thumbs, whenever we needed it. We may or may not remember how much it meant to us when we were children … but it is always a bit jarring to see how powerful this connection can be in a child, when we look at it from an adult perspective.

To see a child panic and freeze just when you need to get out the door for a day of errands–or worse, just after the car is packed for vacation–is to to witness a force of nature: “OH NO! Where’s Blankey?!”. We might be tempted at times like this to gently argue the relative unimportance of a piece of cloth when compared with the exciting wonders of the world that await just outside the door, or, when that utterly fails, to weakly suggest that we’ll look for a stuffed animal at the gift shop. Woe to the parent who leaks out the very adult perspective: “It’s only a piece of fabric (and one that seriously needs a wash)!”

It is never ‘only a piece of fabric’.

Donald Winnicott, the English pediatrician famous for his psychoanalytic insights into relationships, wrote about these Transitional objects–blankets, teddy bears or whatnot–and how important they are. Transitional objects, he taught, serve as bridges between that time when a child could magically summon a parent with a cry (he used the word, omnipotence to describe the child’s role in this amazing stage) and the later times, marked by a more a more realistic understanding about our separateness as individuals.

At some point every child recognizes that things are changing: parents respond with less promptness, and perhaps a little less unbridled joy when baby cries out. Whether this transition is gradual (as it should be) or sudden and traumatic (as it can be for a number of reasons), it will be hard for a young mind to adjust. And while it is a normal kind of stress for an infant to face, many children need extra comfort to ease this transition.

For a child, the blanket is there to make the transition from omnipotence a little easier. The chosen object is infused with the qualities that are needed: comfort, availability, protection, love. Objects are always satiny soft, furry, or fleecy to match the comforting touch of mother or her clothes. And they become a surrogate for parents who can’t be on soothing-duty 24/7. The presence of a blanket or other transitional object is a sign that a child is learning to soothe themselves.

Parents shouldn’t question their meaning or value, at least not in the presence of the child for whom they have significance. Though we may think, “It’s just a blanket, silly”, let’s remember that life can be a challenge at any age, and we often reach outside of ourselves for comfort. In fact, consider some of the things adults reach for when stressed. Could reaching for a blanket really be that wrong?

Saving Grace Moments

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Posted by Megan | Posted in Megan Savage | Posted on July-20-2014

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Not sure if I have really written about this or not since my mommy brain pretty much prevents me from remembering anything….let-alone a years-plus worth of blogs. We are in the middle of summer and D has extreme difficulty with change and lack of routine and I use to hate to admit this but I am quite comfortable with now….. D and I are not the best at staying home with each other full time. I always thought prior to having kids I might want to be a stay at home mom. After D was born and as I have written about before he was not the easiest baby , toddler, pre-schooler and now school age kiddo due to sensory challenges and autism. While I had extreme anxiety and separation anxiety when I went back to work ~ I learned that he and I could not stay home with each other full time. Even though I hate guilt and I rarely use that word I felt guilty that I would not want to stay home with him. Although it was not an option for me. It did not sit well in my heart. After a good amount of work on myself personally with a professional I have learned that it is ok and it is just a fact. So fast forward 6 years and He is in school and is off all summer and we are on a budget so camps are not really an option therefore that makes me a stay at home summer mom. It is not easy for us. While I am extremely grateful for the feathers in my cap that D has helped me earn… Those hard moments are stressful and take a tremendous amount of energy out of me.

Lately I have been really appreciative of one of the many wonderful things that my second kiddo does. Bubba is a love-bug naturally at an early age. As
I mentioned above the summer is hard for us, traveling is hard for us. There has been a few moments with D that sucked the energy out of my entire body for that I can remember three times one was in San Diego while D was having a pretty major meltdown at the beach at night trying to find a place to eat. It was a pretty long and drawn out tantrum that stressed the whole family out except for Bubba who just sits in his stroller and goes with the flow( thank you universe tremendously!) after the storm was over I sat there deflated and not hungry and wondering how we were going to survive the rest of
the trip. I was holding Bubba and he cupped both of his chubby little hands on my face and kissed my lips, forehead, each side of my cheeks and nose. I felt like he filled me up with the energy that was sucked out of me. There have been a few more occasions where he has done that….today at a park being one of them. It was such a long day of tantrums and complaining. I was wavering back and forth with being the mom D needed and trying to get in his brain and understand
what he needed and what was the root of this Or….. telling him to F off( in my head of course :) but definitely an incognito middle finger). I told him I was trying to understand what his brain needed and he finally was able to communicate that he wanted to be left alone. ✅ Done! I could do that but my energy level was getting low. Once again Bubba came up behind me with a big bear hug, twirled my hair and said ” I uv you momma”. That is what I needed to have the ability to turn his mood around again and have the energy to play something that would be a game changer and flip his switch. I am so great-full for those saving grace moments. D is full of them as well during our many toddler meltdowns….D is so extremely observant that he has so many tools to calm bubba down and flip his switch.

I love that both my kids have this graceful and emotional intuition. It is extremely crucial to develop strong relationships in this crazy world.

With Great Power

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Posted by David Maddalena | Posted in Anghelika and David Maddalena | Posted on July-15-2014

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Today at the preschool, it’s superhero day! Kids will be picking superhero names, discovering their super-powers, and making all-important costume choices. But it’s not all about dress up.

super-m

The teachers know that a day of making superhero costumes won’t be like a quiet sewing circle, with kids sharing ideas for color combinations and snappy logo designs. No, superhero day means that the planet is in trouble and we need our super-kids to call on all their powers to help! And if we’ve learned anything from recent superhero movies, our heroes will win the day, but bystanders better run for cover because it’s highly likely there will be some collateral damage. Parents are excited for superhero day; kids are excited for superhero day; teachers are thinking crowd control.

Ok, not really. If there’s anybody rooting for the inner superhero, even as all that inner super-power comes busting out, it’s preschool teachers, who’ve always known the power is there, and are all about training it.

And the kids? Yes, they love the dress up, they love the make believe, and they love the drama of it all. But it’s also true that young children are drawn to superhero play when they feel weak, or frightened, as when events in the world are overwhelming. They’ll try out their power to resist, experiment with moral choices, and even practice forming ad-hoc super-groups: the Fantabulous Four, the Super-Duper Friends. They will learn, in the words of Spiderman’s Uncle Ben, that “With great power comes great responsibility.” (Sure he’s probably quoting Voltaire, but try teaching Voltaire to 5 year olds.)

If we believe that play is how young children learn (and we do) … then Superhero Day is when they get to learn what resources they have inside of them, to discover their own responses to the great challenges of this life, and have a chance to practice acts of kindness, justice, and protection. And they will do it all anonymously, letting an idea win the day while keeping their not-so-secret identities under the mask and cape, and just out of the spotlight.

Expectations

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Posted by Megan | Posted in Megan Savage | Posted on July-13-2014

Having kids is HARD work. It puts stress on finances, your body and your relationship. I have learned post having kids and with traveling with them the key to having a decent trip is lowering your expectations of their behavior and what you are going to see or do. My husband and I recently had a conversation where we compared two polar opposite trips. One was camping for a week in Big Sur and our most recent trip to Legoland.

The kids have lower expectations camping and a stream with some rocks and twigs is pure amusement. On the other hand you bring them to an amusement park and you have up’ed the ante along with their expectations and a theme park creates an ‘I want’ disaster. I have found that lowering your expectations can apply everywhere in your life. It really does set you up not to fail or be disappointed.

Picture Yourself Here

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Posted by David Maddalena | Posted in Anghelika and David Maddalena | Posted on July-8-2014

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Our daughter is home for a week this summer. She is a senior attending an art college in Seattle, where she has a job that keeps her working through the summer.

She has not been home in six months.

Anticipating her arrival, Anghelika scanned photo albums of when she was a toddler and preschooler.

I (Anghelika) love remembering her at that age. But then I also remember how tired I was. How I never, ever, was alone, how sleep seemed like a thin wisp of time. I remember how much I looked forward to the time after she went to bed. A little time to think about … nothing. Watch some junky TV. Do a crossword. Just give the ol’ heart and mind a rest.

However, now I can’t be around her enough.

For this visit, I planned … nothing for the time she is home for these 5 days. All I could imagine is sitting and holding her on the couch. The day before she arrived she texts me, “Are we gonna see Gram & Grandpa?”

My first thought was … “What? You want to see other people?”

And then realizing she has a whole family excited to see her, and friends in the neighborhood. I can’t keep her on the couch for myself … I have to share her!

Preschool teachers, by way of encouragement tell parents, sure these preschool years are hard, but that they don’t last. And parents roll their eyes. Preschool parents are in the thick of diapers, spills, sleeplessness, food fights and potty dramas. How can they even lift their heads to see outside of that?

But all that comes to an end.

I won’t stop reminding parents of preschoolers that it does end, and (even though they roll their eyes when I say it) to savor today even though they are so dang tired.

Because when you get to the future, its better to feel nostalgic for the drama and raw emotionality of the preschool years then feel sorry that you were too tired to savor it.

Motivation

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Posted by Megan | Posted in Megan Savage | Posted on July-6-2014

I don’t know why I am constantly surprised when my son does something or achieves something he usually would not have……had it not been for motivation on his part. It’s a great thing in the autism community to run with likes to create motivation. At age six he climbed up and slid down a jump house slide. He did this because his school age friends were doing it. Yes he was slower and struggled more than they did but because there was motivation he did it. The same reason he learned how to ride a bike…. My husband bribed him with a lego set….. A big lego set. We just got back from a trip to San Diego where we surprised D and took him to Lego land which is safe to say he is pretty obsessed with Legos. We went to Disneyland a few years ago and he hated the sounds, rides and pretty much everything. I know it’s a couple years later but he went on rides that he did not know how scary they would be. But because it was ‘Lego’ he was willing to do anything. Don’t want to build too pretty of a picture here. It definitely had its extreme challenges. D did not earn getting a souvenir at Lego land unfortunately due to his behavior. But we let him earn his spending money and on the way home he was a saint. We had a 10 hour drive. Yes! We are crazy for doing that in one day. He earned a quarter for every fifteen minutes he did not throw a tantrum so he had the possibility of buying his souvenir of a lego set when he got home. He was motivated so he earned it. Call it bribery but as a parent it is hard work mad you need to do what you need to do to survive. It was a win win for us all.

Gray Matters

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Posted by David Maddalena | Posted in Anghelika and David Maddalena | Posted on July-1-2014

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As a part of Dave’s clinical psychology studies, he’s learning about the brain. In a class recently, students toured the structures of the brain and got a peek into how they grow and what they do. Much of our brain (parts that are shared with certain animals) develops fully by a few years of age, enabling us to move and eat and communicate enough to get along. But there are a few bits and pieces that undergo a second growth spurt around the time of puberty, and continue to develop throughout the teen years. The most notable of these is the prefrontal cortex, which, when healthy, handles functions like attention span, judgement, impulse control, organization, critical thinking, and self awareness. This part of our brain (the front, top part) might not fully mature until the mid twenties. When the prefrontal cortex is injured (by stroke) or undeveloped, we see problems that include short attention span, distractibility, impulsivity, disorganization, etc. These might be symptoms of a problem in a healthy adult. Should we even call these “symptoms” in a child?

A student in that class raised a concern: can current childhood psychiatric diagnoses be explained partly as a response to children simply not fitting into adult structures and expectations that require a level of brain function that they don’t have the brain structure to support? To put the problem another way: we are finding more fault than ever in our kids (if the increase in diagnoses is any measure) … Do we expect too much of them? Do we expect adult control and attention from a brain that is not neurologically optimized for these things?

But kids are smart, and they have a killer ability to learn. So even while we recognize that they don’t think like us, they can think deeply and intelligently, and are capable of great leaps of insight (sometimes even greater than in adults, we must admit). We don’t think we should treat children like children, if you know what we mean. But while we challenge them, and expect great things from them, and lead them into adulthood, we want to remember that our standards of behavior tend to be, in fact, adult standards. Kid’s are wired for growth and challenge, but not necessarily wired for constraint and consistency. As educators and parents we want to remember to challenge our children to take on more difficult things, while giving them the freedom to still be children.

What do you think? Are we expecting our children to exercise adult restraint? Do we diagnose lack of adult control in our children? Give us your opinion in the comments.

Experience

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Posted by Megan | Posted in Megan Savage | Posted on June-29-2014

Like I have said in previous posts…. I am a total experience person. My kids have inherited that kind of
lifestyle as well. I don’t feel my kiddos are spoiled but they are definitely spoiled with experiences. I love a diverse variety of experiences. This world just has so much to offer. We tried soccer and sports is not D’s thing. I try and expose D to a variety of experiences that are out of his comfort zone and teach him new things. It is also fun to run with his interests and involve him in Legos. Friday I entered him into a Lego competition at the fair. He would need to bring 300 pieces or less and his project would need to be broken apart and he would have an hour to build it during the competition. On his own he came up with building a sign language robot. D has been super intrigued with the language of sign after out neighbor moved in and is deaf and he watched his stunt interact with a bunch of her co-workers who sign. I was so proud. He won second place. Winning second didn’t impress me. It is his curiosity and original idea. I loved watching him interact with the other contestants.

We are on our family vacation and today went to an art festival and we got the opportunity mold pottery. That is a texture and feel he will never forget. Talk about a cool sensory experience. Interacting with an artist and following her directions…..You can’t get more experience than that. Experience rocks!!!