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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.

Mental Health Blog Day – May 20th

Today is Mental Health Blog Day and I remember when my son was first officially diagnosed with ADHD, he was about 6 years old. Kindergarten. Hmm…. How to explain to him, “Yeah! You were diagnosed with a neurological disorder that makes you move, and fidget, and call out, and have some social issues with your peers!” No matter how smart he was, that wouldn’t go over well. So I started thinking; in life, everyone has something. Some people are good at sports, but not a reading. Some people have difficulty letting go of their blankie. Sometimes, people’s strengths and weaknesses don’t have a name: they are just a group of behaviors, while sometimes if we’re lucky, those groups of behaviors have a label. That’s good; in many cases that means that there are many other people who also have those behaviors and we may know how to help. Many times, when we give something a label or a name, it means that it’s real. It validates the experience. So that’s what I did for my son. What’s good about this approach is that it normalizes the experience for kids. It also gives parents much needed perspective. ADHD isn’t a bad thing. It’s just a thing…and everyone has to deal with something. Feel free to read more of my blog posts here: Long Island Child Psych Blog. Remember, don’t be ashamed of your story; it will inspire others. It’s time to think outside of the stigma. Today is the day: #mhblogday

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.

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.
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