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Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) Parenting

When my son was diagnosed with ADHD, I thought, as a psychologist, I was prepared for the continuing challenges of parenting. But I was wrong. All my knowledge went out the window as I attempted to plead, cajole, beg, bribe, yell my way through parenting my son.  Those early childhood years of his life were increasingly tough. There were many moments I wished that there could have been a support group, a therapist, someone, who knew what I was going through. So that all of these increasingly difficult behaviors weren’t on mine and my husband’s shoulders alone. We were very lucky. We had friends and family, and a WONDERFUL therapist who helped us through it all. And even with all the support, we felt isolated from our parent-peers.  There are many parents out there who don’t have the support base we had. And it’s not just parents of children with ADHD that experience this burn out. One population of parents in particular has an exceptionally high rate of anxiety and depression. Parents and primary caregivers of children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) have significantly high rates of depression and anxiety (50% and 40% respectively).  Despite this, very few seek treatment for themselves. We know that if treatment is received, we can decrease these rates of anxiety and depression, thereby increasing satisfaction and effective parenting techniques, and decreasing alienation and loneliness. A recent study by Lushin and O’Brien (2016) has found that using the Early Intervention Program to provide treatment to parents, either in a home-based or clinic-based setting (where their child receives services) helps reduce the symptoms and severity of the depression and anxiety related to parenting s child with ASD. Receiving treatment for their depression and anxiety helps them parent effectively, which in turn helps their children. The Early Intervention Program seems like a perfect vehicle to provide these services. And we know that the early the effective services are provided to the child (and that includes appropriate parenting), the better the child is in the long term. And the better we all are. Lushin, V., & O’Brien, K.H. (2016) Parental Mental Health: Addressing the unmet needs of caregivers for children with autism spectrum disorders. Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, 55, 1013-1015. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.jaac.2016.09.507

How to Talk to Children about Traumatic Events

I was at a function on 9-11, with parents and children all under the age of 13. In respect to the day, a 9-11 tribute was planned. One parent walked away, visibly upset. Understandably. We have lived through this day, and the following weeks: in real time, in our minds, in our waking and dreaming hours. But our children haven’t. They have only known a world where we don’t wear shoes on the security line in the airport, and metal detectors are common place. How do explain 9-11 to our children? At what age do we start? It’s important to be able to talk about scary events to our kids. Bad things happen. And we need to be able to speak to our children about them, in an understandable and relatable manner. If we can start speaking to our children when they are young, it will be easier for us (as parents) to talk to about, and for them (as growing minds) to process.
  1. Don’t shy away from the truth, but give it to a child in a developmentally appropriate way: Young children don’t need to know that planes struck two iconic buildings in Lower Manhattan. But they do need to know that something bad happened.
  2. Stick to the facts: It’s so easy to add commentary. Don’t. This is true in any tough situation. It muddies the waters and doesn’t help young children process what occurred. You can simply say, "Some people wanted to hurt America." If the child is older and prepared to hear more facts, give them slowly. Remember that what you say will inform how they react and think in the future.
  3. Try to give hope: Even when things are hopeless. Children look towards the adult in their life to guide them. Even when we don’t have answers ourselves. It’s important to remember what we are doing to keep people safe, and how those actions, in turn, are keeping our children safe. We might find the lines in the airport long and cumbersome, but they help ensure that everyone flying that day is safe and secure. Present the positive to the child.

Sometimes, in the moment, we don’t know what to say. If that’s the case, it’s ok to say “I don’t know. Let me get back to you.” Seek out a pediatric psychologist or other qualified mental health professional to sort through the information and help you come up with plan of what to say. When you have a plan, you’ll be calmer and be able to talk to your child in a clear manner.

Talking to kids about scary times is tough. But it’s important we build that foundation for children. Because our children deserve to know how to process both positive and negative events in their lives. And it’s our job as parents to guide them.

Top Three Tips to Help Your Child Build Better Friendships

As parents, we want the best for our children. We want the best education, the best toys, the best friends etc. However, what happens when we can’t give them that, when we can’t dictate their friendships or even help our kids to keep their friendships healthy and thriving? It’s the hardest thing to watch your child try and fail, or not try at all. Yet, there are things you can do and ways to help your child succeed in their friendships. I hope my top three tips prove useful to you and your child. 1. Check your ego at the proverbial door. It’s not about you. Sometimes we want our children to like whom we like, or be friends with the type of kids we weren’t able to build friendships with when we were younger. This isn’t about that, after all, they have their own needs and wants. Our job is to steer them into making healthy decisions. They don’t need to gravitate to the richest or the most popular kids, and that’s hard for some parents to understand. True, healthy, thriving friendships should always be the goal that every parent seeks for their child. Sometimes our children choose to engage in friendships that we think are not the best options for them. Step back, encourage and support them; let them know that you’re there. The friendship may continue for a long time or it may abruptly fail. It will be difficult to see your child hurt but this real life experience helps them learn best. As long as they are safe, let them engage in that opportunity to gain experience and learn more about healthy friendships with the group they have chosen to be with. 2. Find their group where they are at. If your child gets along better with younger children, so be it. The friendship skills are similar. Getting them comfortable in their own skin, with their own developmental peers, is more important. Remember, it’s best for your child to have one or two good friends than to continually try to break into many other unhealthy friendship groups. 3. Find their passion. This is often harder, because it may change monthly, or daily. So don’t go spending tons of money on hockey equipment at first, try to rent or find some used. Expose your kids to many different types of activities and know that something will stick. It may not happen today, it may not happen in a year and that’s ok. The more exposure to various activities, the better rounded your child will become. The wonderful added bonus in this approach is that it gives your child even more exposure to different peer groups and a greater chance for them to find their niche. Remember, above all, a calm, loving and supportive parent is most important. Everything else will come in time.

Top Four Tips to Combat Loneliness for Parents of Children with ADHD/ODD

I remember the first time a parent said to me “Your son is too violent. I hope you understand. I don’t want my son to get hurt. I can’t let him play with your son.” I remember being devastated and feeling so alone. If you’ve ever been in a similar situation, I bet you’ve asked yourself questions like, ‘how do you find yourself again? How do you find a group, who loves you and understand you AND your child?’ Here are four tips to help you navigate through this difficult time. 1. Smile. Through the tears, through the feelings of sadness, hurt and anger. Just smile. When you look happy, you are more approachable to other people. And when your child looks back at you and sees you smile, they will be more assured and calmer. 2. Go out. Put yourself out there. No one is going to come to your door and making you leave your bed, house or den. That might mean going to a coffee shop, a painting night, joining a book club or any other fun event. The point is, to get yourself out there and connect with others. 3. Take an exercise class. It’ll have a dual effect of pumping your endorphins and making you feel better and meeting people who are also happy. You will be involved in a group activity that gives you a common goal, and a common topic to talk about and do together. 4. Find your “like”. Join a support group. There are other parents out there who have children similar to yours and they will have a wealth of understanding for you and your child. It’s tough now, it feels unfair, unjustified, not right, but your child will grow up. While you’re on your journey of raising your child, put yourself out there and you will find people who understand that your child’s behavior is not your own, they will see that you’re doing your very best and they will be a blessing to you and your child just like you will be a blessing to them.

How to Choose a Summer Camp for Your Child

In our minds, summer is usually the time to break loose. Our kids get excited about having no more rules, no more books, riding around the neighborhood with their friends. However, let’s take the time to imagine if summer wasn’t that carefree. Our kids know the rules in school, they know where to sit, who to talk to and how to play. Yet, in the summer those rules don’t apply. It’s as though they are thrust into a world they aren’t yet ready for. They have a bundle of energy, they want to play but they don’t know how. For a child encountering these feelings, summer can be really stressful for them. Enter summer camp! It provides a structured environment that is wholly centered on fun. Like school, it clearly defines how to have fun, when to have fun and with whom. The right camp provides a structured, active environment that can help your child blossom and learn to have fun with their friends, whether they have ADHD or not. Now that we’ve established camp can be a lifesaver for you and your child, here are some tips on choosing the right summer camp for your little one(s). 1. Ask. The most important thing you can do is, ask your child. They go to school and try to listen/follow the rules all year long. This is the time to listen and find out what activities they enjoy? Do they want to meet new people or go to camp with familiar faces? If they are involved in the process of choosing a camp, they are more likely to enjoy their summer. Ask their teachers and school staff as well. They know your child and have a different opinion on how they interact with others at school. Remember to keep this information in mind when you are choosing a summer program. 2. Staff. There are a few important things you want to look for in a camp. The smaller the camper the counselor ratio, the more supervision there will be. Imagine everyone is off playing basketball and your child doesn’t want to. A small camper to counselor ratio will allow someone to take a walk with your child, cool them off, and maybe even tutor them on the game while sitting on the sidelines. This approach is wonderful because it doesn’t stress out the rest of the group or embarrass your child. This experience really happened with my son and it was the best solution possible!
You also want to know the age of the counselors and their training. You might choose to pay more for a camp where every counselor is a teacher, as opposed to a teenager but you know they have more patience and training to work with your particular child. You also want to know how many nurses are on staff. This is important if your child is going to be receiving medication. It’s reassuring to know that someone is on staff that can either administer the medicine or keep a trained eye on your child to make sure no adverse reactions occur in the hot sun while they are running around. 3. Activities. In this day and age, many kids want to spend the summer glued to an electronic device. Don’t let them. The more physical activities they are involved in, the better and happier they will be. This is true of all children, but especially those with ADHD. There’s something to be said about being outside, running around in the fresh air. There are tons of studies that say that one of the most effective treatments for ADHD. Outdoor exercise is highly beneficial, so look for a camp that provides outside activities, shade and access to water and hydration. On the flip side, you want to know that if it rains the fun doesn’t stop. A good camp will have an organized rainy day plan. 4. Types of Camp. There are camps that specialize in working with children who have been diagnosed with ADHD, learning disabilities, or Tourette’s Syndrome etc. These may be a great option for you. However, don’t rule out the local programs either. They may be just what your child needs. Remember, each camp is different, and each child is different. It may take some investigating, but there is a program out there to help your child have the best summer of their lives.

Ask Dr. Deena

Licensed clinical and school psychologist Dr. Deena Abbe has over a decade of experience successfully diagnosing, treating, and helping children and families live with ADHD/ADD, Autism, Depression, Anxiety, OCD, ODD, feeding concerns, and more. She has a thriving practice and is well-known for her sound and comprehensive mental health work. Dr. Abbe is a member of the New York State Psychological Association, Suffolk County Psychological Association, Association for Behavior and Cognitive Therapy, and American Psychological Association. For the next month leading up to National Children’s Mental Health Awareness Week, beginning on Sunday, May 3rd till Saturday May 9th, 2015, Dr. Abbe will be opening her social media pages for you to ask any mental health questions regarding children and youth. You can ask her your questions on Facebook, Twitter, the Long Island Child Psych website or via email. At the end of the month, Dr. Deena will choose a question and answer it in a vlog and post it on her social media sites during National Children’s Mental Health Awareness Week. Ask Dr. Deena your questions through any of these channels: Facebook: Long Island Child Psych
Twitter: Dr. Deena Abbe Twitter Page (Tweet questions: @DrDeenaAbbe and hashtag #AskDrDeena, or send Dr. Deena a direct message)
Website: Long Island Child Psych website
Email: deena@longislandchildpsych.com Dr. Deena wants to help your family be its best.

Mommy/Daddy Guilt

There are so many things we want to pass along to our kids: love of music, love of sports, good work ethics, beautiful curls or blue eyes. Sometimes, our genetics adds little “bonuses” with our gifts, like ADHD. Or Celiac. Or any number of other genetic blips. It’s hard to parent a child in general, but adding the guilt on top of that makes it even more gut wrenching. I remember feeling terribly guilty that my son had ADHD. It’s because my husband has difficulty starting a project without being asked many times. It’s because I was bouncy and combative as a child. Maybe if we didn’t have so many kids. Maybe if we didn’t send him to school so early, or to camp. Maybe if I didn’t work. If I did ‘x’ differently, maybe then he’d be able to listen, and sit, and keep his hands to himself. I’m here to tell you that almost everyone feels some level of guilt. It’s normal to second guess yourself and your choices. But don’t let that overwhelm you or your ability to parent. It’s not anyone’s “fault”. It is what it is. It’s also important to know if you are consumed with guilt, or any sort of overwhelming emotion for that matter, you can’t parent effectively. Let’s play devils advocate. Let’s imagine, for example, that it is totally your fault. As in, you hand-picked these genetics to give to your child. You can get upset that you shouldn’t have done that and that you made a mistake. You want to wish it away but you can’t. Your child has green eyes and that’s it. However, if your child has diabetes or autism, your job changes; it gets more interesting.
How do you teach your children not to rail against their nature, but to embrace their strengths, their idiosyncrasies? It’s a tough job but you start with the fact that everyone has something that they come up against in life. It’s not that they have this, but how they handle it that makes them the person that they are. Who they are isn’t bad; each little negative has a flip side, a positive. Our job as parents is to find the positive and help them shine, even if our children can’t figure out how to do it for themselves yet. Feeling guilty comes with being a parent. You don’t want to hurt or disappoint your child, but no, they can’t have the $300 toy car. They will cry about it and you might feel bad. What makes you a good parent is the ability to know what is within your control, and what isn’t. The genes that are passed along to your child are not within your control, but how you love and live with your child is. That is what makes all the difference.

When People Make Comments About Your Kid

I remember the first time someone said they didn’t want their son playing with mine. They were both about 5 years old, and the mom said my son was “just too rough.” She didn’t want her son getting hurt. This was someone I considered a friend. The kids played well together often, I had thought. So when mom said this, I was absolutely taken aback. I spent the next few days just listening; watching how other parents and kids interacted with my son. I know he had issues, but I wondered how others dealt with him. To be honest, when kids are that young, parents aren’t often cruel. There is usually an expectation of “Oh, he’s a five-year-old boy”. However, when they get older society expects children to grow up and sometimes our kids don’t get that memo. They may not mature as quickly as their peers or act as other kids expect them to and then the hurtful words come. In addition to that, there are the sly glances and the avoidance. How you handle that as a parent effects how your children will handle these social games as well. Here are some tips that I hope will help you handle these difficult situations with aplomb. 1. Don’t worry so much about what other people think. This is true in general, but especially when it comes to your child. You are the expert on your child. Other people are merely consultants. This will also help you to be less hurt and upset by what they say. 2. Smile. A lot. It’s a great habit to get into. When you are angry, or upset at someone else, just smile at them. They get confused and don’t know what to do with that. And it keeps the tension of the moment off of you and yours. Imagine if that’s a skill your child could emulate? It’s such a great gift you can give to them! 3. Hug your Child. They are loved, and they need to know that. We may think they don’t hear the comments or see the glances, but they do. They need to know that you, their rock, their support, still loves them unconditionally. 4. If you must reply, be calm. See number 2. Yelling and getting emotional just makes everything a tangled mess. When you are calm and in control, you can control the situation. Whether you are stopping someone else from disciplining your child, or you are correcting a misperception, it should only be done when you can take a calm breath and maintain that mood. If you yell and scream, you lower yourself to their level. And now there are many children fighting, even ones that are really big and should know better. 5. If all else fails, walk away. That old adage is true: if you have nothing nice to say, don’t say anything. Some people aren’t happy and some people think pointing out other peoples flaws make them look better. You don’t have to be part of that. Leave. You and your child deserve better. Everyone is going through something, it’s just that sometimes those “things” are more obvious. Remember that you love your child, regardless of what other feel and that is what’s really important.

My top 3 resources if you have kids with ADD/ADHD

Having kids is tough. Having a child with ADHD can be especially challenging, but it doesn’t need to be. As parents we need to remember that we are not alone. There are lots of resources in our own communities to help us. We teach our kids that there’s nothing wrong with asking for help when you need it; well it’s time to take our own advice and take advantage of the resources available. 1. Find a local mental health professional. Preferably someone who works with kids if you can find it, but if not, that ok too. Keep in mind; if you are ok, your kids are ok. They look to you to gauge their moods; to see if a situation is worthy of stress. Speaking to a professional and learning how to cope with your stress shows your kids how to handle their stress. If that person happens to specialize in working with children who have ADHD, that’s even better. 2. Community Centers can be a family friendly resource. Parenting groups, swim classes, babysitting, Mommy/Daddy and me programs etc. These classes are often available at a community center or place of worship within the community. There are therapists or counselors available in these centers who can help you and your child unwind and have a good time together. You’ll meet parents who are going through the same thing you are, who understand who your child is and where you are coming from. Chances are, the two of you are like-minded, because you are both there! It’s nice to enter a room and know that you are not alone. 3. Find a Park or an outdoor space and go. Running around and playing are wonderful places for you and your child to meet other people. Not to mention the exercise will help your child eat, sleep, and socialize better. Most of the parks are free of charge or a nominal fee, so you don’t have to worry about spending tons of money. Parks are places of beauty and nature that allow you and your child to literally run around and practice all the skills you work on at home and in therapy, so go out and enjoy! Different communities may have more specific resources. Utilize them and remember that you are not alone.

5 Ideas to Help Parents of Kids with ADD/ADHD Stay Positive

Welcome to the New Year!! With a new year comes new opportunities to help our kids. Remember when your kids were young and people would say, “Happy parent, happy baby?” Same is true now. No matter the age of your child, the happier and calmer you are, the happier and calmer your child will be. It’s not easy but it’s worth it. When you, as a parent are calmer and happier, your child will be less easy to rile, quick(er) to calm down, and will seek to emulate your relaxed and cheerful mood. With that in mind, here are 5 helpful tips to help you stay calm and happy. 1. Remember that this too shall pass. You might crave sleeping in later or the freedom to go out for a leisurely meal and walk, but when your kids are out of the house and you’re on your own, you will miss the noise and chaos. Keep that in mind when you start to feel your shoulders inching towards your ears. 2. You love your child. As frustrating, annoying and maddening as his or her behavior is, it’s not who THEY are. Sometimes we need to take a moment or two out of our day to remember that. Pull out their pictures and look at these candid moments when your kids are happy and smiling, and go over a few of their wonderful qualities in your mind. Remember you love THEM, madly and completely. Be grateful that they are yours and that they are as wonderful as they are. The more you practice gratitude, the easier it will be to remember these important points. 3. Practice Meditation. Even a few minutes a day can help you easily clear your mind and focus on what’s important. I understand how hard it is to find two, let alone ten minutes to stop and think. Maybe you have to take a moment and do it when you first wake up, or just before you go to sleep. It doesn’t matter when, but taking those few minutes to just breathe and clear your mind will help immeasurably. 4. Practice Mindfulness. Be in the moment. Smile when your kids are running around playing super heroes. Maybe someone will cry out in a moment, but for right now, they are laughing and playing together and that’s one of the best parts of being a kid. 5. Do something together. Pick a LEGO project, or color a picture together. Don’t stress about whether it comes out “right”. The goal isn’t for it to look professional; the goal is to spend quality time with your child. So whatever the activity is, make sure it’s something that is enjoyable and something they want to do, not something that targets their weakness. Take the time to do this and the outcome will be wonderful, because you are doing it together. Enjoy the New Year, and take the time to enjoy your child. They are only young once, and time flies by way too quickly.
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