‘But You’re Too Smart to Have ADHD ‘

“You’re smart, and do well in school. You don’t have ADHD”.

If I had a penny for every time I heard that I would be rich (well maybe not rich because I’m in college, but I would be able to pay for my tuition).

ADHD isn’t always the kid who interrupts the teacher, gets up in the middle of class, and is failing school. Attention-deficit/hyperactive disorder can manifest itself differently in different people.

I’m the inattentive type (which often goes undiagnosed for longer). I have always assumed I had ADHD, but I was only diagnosed and put on medication four months ago. I am a junior at a four-year university, and I am majoring in nursing. Yes, I am in college. Yes, nursing is a hard major. Yes, I get good grades. Yes, I do have ADHD. What people don’t see when they only look at my grades is the amount of work I put in to get those grades.

When they ask me how I did on the test and I tell they I got an A and they respond “see, you didn’t fail, you don’t have ADHD…” When they see me with my hundreds of flashcards and tell me “see, you study, there is no way you have ADHD…” They don’t see how long it takes me to make those flashcards (and how many breaks I take while making them. They don’t know I have to make the flashcards because once they are done I can walk around and study, eliminating my problem of not being able to sit still).

When they see me sitting in lecture looking at the teacher and assume I’m paying attention, there is a lot they don’t see. They don’t see me struggling and failing to stay focused for that two-hour lecture. They don’t see me recording the lecture and then having to re-listen to the parts I didn’t catch in class because I was counting the ceiling tiles, or listening to the student in the back of the class clicking his pen. They don’t see me playing with silly putty to keep my hands busy in an attempt to focus on what the teacher is saying.

When they see me sitting at the library for hours and assume I’m “studying,” there is a lot they don’t see. They don’t see that when I am re-listening to the lecture I have to take breaks every 10 minutes and walk around because I can’t sit still for that long and I have to get up. They don’t see me rewinding the lecture because all of the sudden I realize I have just zoned out for 10 minutes and have no idea what I just listened to. They don’t see that I’m at the library for five hours on a Saturday when it’s a beautiful day outside because yes, it will take me five hours to read 40 pages because most of those five hours will be spent distracted by the students walking past me, the girl in the room behind me tapping her foot, the light above me that flickers every five minutes, the flushing of the toilet.

When they see how I have color-coded my binders and my agenda so every class has a specific color associated with it, they assume I am the perfect student. When they see my organized room with a specific place for everything I own they assume I’m a neat freak and have my life together. What they don’t see is what would happen without this system (and even most of the time with this system). They don’t see me realizing at 1 a.m. I have an assignment due tomorrow. They don’t see me showing up to class with the wrong binder. They don’t see me searching my room in a panic for 20 minutes because I lost an important piece of paper. They don’t see me in tears because I lost my ID for the fourth time this year (and we have only been in school for a month). They don’t see me frantically searching for my car keys because I forgot I have an interview in 20 minutes (but luckily I set a reminder on my phone), but my keys are not in their designed spot in my room.

When they see me taking notes in a meeting and tell me, “you don’t need to take notes. Why are you such a goody two shoes?” they don’t know that yes, I do have to take notes. I have to take notes because I won’t remember anything that was said in the meeting. They don’t see that my “notes” are pages full of doodles because when I doodle it’s easier for me to pay attention to what the speaker is saying.

When they tell me I’m lazy or tell me to just focus they don’t see how much it hurts. They don’t see that I am already beating myself up on the inside. They don’t see me frustrated and crying for losing everything all the time. They don’t see me yelling at my brain to just read the darn page and stop listening to the girl tapping her shoe. They don’t see me wishing I could just be like everyone else who can go out on a Saturday because they finished their homework already.

When they read this article and tell me, “well you had enough attention and focus to write this article… you don’t have ADHD,” they don’t see that I’m doing this instead of my homework because I hyper focused on this and my brain won’t let me keep reading my textbook until I finish this article.

So yes, I am in college. Yes, I get good grades. Yes, I am a nursing major. And yes, I have ADHD.



‘I Thought I Was Stupid’: The Hidden Struggle for Women with ADHD

Women with ADHD have to deal with symptoms that range from disorganization to OCD-like rituals—as well as the fear of being found out. The Better Together Festival—where attendees are encouraged to doodle in notebooks or walk around during presentations—aims to ease some of that pressure.

a bumpy shuttle ride to the Better Together Festival grounds, I sat next to Courtney, a woman I instinctively cast as “having it together.” With wide eyes, an exuberant laugh, and the sort of blonde hair I’d bargain with God for, at 27 she seemed to be everything I wasn’t: a poised, upbeat woman who doesn’t cry on the toilet. Two minutes of conversation revealed a more complicated reality. Courtney was diagnosed with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder in middle school, anxiety and depression in high school, and ADHD just five months prior to the festival. Now, she wonders if the childhood OCD was a misdiagnosis, as she’s learning that many of her rituals stem from the chaos of navigating ADHD.

“If I’d had a diagnosis in college, if I had known, college would have been 100 times different. I failed a class my first semester, and it completely shattered my self-esteem,” Courtney said. “I thought I was stupid. I couldn’t figure out this material. I would read the same page over and over again and not retain anything. It felt like there was a missing piece. People told me, ‘You need to study harder!’ But there was no one who studied harder than I did.”

That’s why it’s so difficult for millions of girls and women to receive accurate ADHD diagnoses, if any; not only can ADHD can look like depression, OCD, and anxiety disorders (and vice versa), but psychiatrists, parents, and educators are less likely to suspect that a well-behaved girl—let alone a high-achieving woman—could be struggling with a condition associated with boys who maintain gym-class-dodgeball levels of hyperactivity at all times.

The Better Together Festival, a daylong celebration of women with ADD that took place near Ann Arbor, Michigan, in the middle of May, was conceived by psychologistMichelle Frank, and Sari Solden, a psychotherapist who pioneered and popularized the idea that adult women like Courtney, me, and thousands of others could, in fact, have something in common with hyperactive boys. While there were speakers—life coaches and ADHD professionals and therapists and former recording artists (including Solden’s husband, Dean)—the affair was avowedly anti-conference. The “ADD-friendly pep rally,” as Solden deemed it, was designed around the specific fears women had voiced about coming, like not knowing anyone or having to sit still for ten hours.

We had journeyed from all over the world, most of us alone and many of us terrified, to a charming, albeit muddy mill house to commune with others like us. Despite the day’s persistent grayness, the grounds were outfitted with summery private nooks—lawn chairs with pillows, hammocks, a breezy tent with crafts—for women to retreat if they became overwhelmed. There was a display of paintings, collages, and jewelry women had made to commemorate the day and their disorder. There were lawn games. The schedule was punctuated with hangout sessions instead of breakout sessions, as well as activities like yoga, improv dance, and arts and crafts.

People told me, ‘You need to study harder!’ But there was no one who studied harder than I did.

Solden stood on the main wooden stage, addressing a crowd of 100-something women, aged 20 to 70, and a handful of men, all seated at round, white tables in a large heated tent. Solden, who has a smooth brown bob and wears expertly applied makeup, smiles when she speaks and manages to exude a warm, encouraging energy even when she’s talking about the “wounds women carry with them.”

Settling in at a table of women I’d met that morning, I took a moment to appreciate that an objectively terrifying premise—being emotionally vulnerable with strangers in a rural location—had become almost instantly cathartic. Not working double-time to hide my ADHD felt like one giant exhale, like relaxing in a hot tub after a long day of cleaning the cereal out of my bed frame. I wasn’t questioned for picking at my cuticles or scribbling in my notebook during a long presentation. (Scribble notebooks were strategically included in the welcome bags.) When I told my table that I couldn’t really see because I’d just lost my second pair of glasses in two weeks, I was met with solemn nods of understanding.

“My kids have to sit through church extra long because I bring them there so early,” a woman at my table told me. ADHD women often have one thing they’re experts at controlling, whether it’s time management or pencil organization, helping them maintain a semblance of structure in their otherwise chaotic lives. Her thing is time; she gets places early. I grabbed her hand. “That’s my thing, too! It’s truly uncool.”

Regina Carey doing a demonstration at the Better Together Festival. Photo by Howard Morris/Maciejka (Em) Gorzelnik. Courtesy of Morris Creative Services LLC

There were many big health revelations in the early 90s. Aspirin can helpward off heart attacks. Trans fats are a thing, and bad. There was also the lesser-known discovery that adults, in addition to hyperactive boys, could have ADHD. Several revelations followed in quick succession: You can continue to have difficulties even if you lost your hyperactivity. You never even had to have hyperactivity to have ADD. When Solden, who was then working with individuals, couples, and groups with “invisible disabilities” at a counseling agency, got her hands on the bookYou Mean I’m Not Lazy, Stupid or Crazy?!, written by Peggy Ramundo and Kate Kelly in 1993, she started putting the pieces together.

“Many of my clients were saying stuff about disorganization, but the women were also much more ashamed about it,” Solden told me. “We started looking at the gender differences—not even so much in how they manifested, but how women felt about them, due to these culturally idealized roles. We had a feminist kind of perspective. It was really about what happens to women when they can’t meet those expectations.”

Expectations include, but are not limited to, remembering to make dinner, keeping track of the kids’ homework, removing wet laundry from the machine before a week (or more) passes. Many women felt crushed when they couldn’t perform these seemingly basic tasks, surrounding them in a cumbersome, unshakeable fog of shame. But because the idea that women could have ADHD wasn’t mainstream, they had no framework to understand why they couldn’t sit still during their kid’s five-minute talent show set.

Despite increasing awareness that women can have the disorder, the shame part has stuck around. Solden still encounters clients who are paralyzed by the embarrassment of not meeting these “deeply embedded expectations” of how a woman should be.

OK, you’re distracted, but it is a pretty color, so enjoy that.

“At the end of the day, if you’re just dealing with ADD, that’s great,” Solden said. “But most women—because they weren’t diagnosed as children, because they didn’t have hyperactivity or were smart—grew up absorbing a lot of wounds and shame. These women are often twice exceptional. They have incredible strengths and are really smart and creative, but they have these struggles that nobody understands, including them.”

Terry Matlen, a clinical social worker and psychotherapist who was diagnosed with ADHD in her 50s, told me that this sense of hopelessness and regret can linger, especially for women diagnosed much later in life.

“Many women I work with talk about the sorrow that they feel,” Matlen told me. “The sadness of the lost years, knowing what was lost. The most bothersome thing for me is getting emails all the time from women all over the world, saying: They say I have depression. They say I have anxiety. I’m not getting any better.

In 1995 Solden wrote Women with Attention Deficit Disorder, a work largely acknowledged within “the tribe” of adult ADD professionals as pioneering for recognizing the centrality of gender role expectations on a woman’s self-esteem. Many women came to the festival because of that book; many of them recognized themselves in the “slob” or “space cadet” identities that Solden attempts to dismantle, piece by piece, in her work.

When Matlen began researching adult ADHD in the 1990s, she recognized her own idiosyncratic behavior in those pages.

“I have two college degrees—why can I do that, but I can’t figure out how to get to a grocery store?” Matlen said. “Stuff that seems so easy, like remembering to get my kids’ papers back to school, I couldn’t do. People don’t always get me.”

In 2013, a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study found that 6.4 million children between the ages of 4 and 17 had received an ADHD diagnosis at some point in their lives, up 16 percent since 2007. This is, understandably, terrifying, and has colored the coverage of ADHD in the media, where the current line is that kids (read: boys) are being over-diagnosed and over-medicated. Early clinical studies in the 1970s focused on hyperactive white boys, which shaped the diagnostic criteria we still use today, making it very difficult for girls—let alone women—to get diagnosed if they don’t behave like hyperactive white boys. So as the serious conversation surrounding misdiagnoses and stimulant abuse dominates the public perception of ADHD, there’s an estimated four million girls and women who are not receiving the treatment they desperately need because no one realizes they have the disorder. (A 2009 study from the University of Queensland found that girls displaying ADHD symptoms are less likely to be referred for mental health services than boys.) Even those who manage to get diagnoses can’t always escape the embarrassment of having a condition that doesn’t look the way people expect it to. You always have to explain yourself. Or, if that’s too exhausting, hide.

Photo by the author

ADHD symptoms can appear later in girls than they do in boys, which challenges the common perception that the disorder is a kid thing. The symptoms are also different—think less running around a classroom throwing Cheez-Its and more having a nervous breakdown because you lost your passport somewhere in your laundry basket, which is really just a trash bag at the bottom of your closet. A 2005 study published in theJournal of Clinical Psychology notes that girls’ ADHD symptoms are “less overt” than the disruptive behaviors typically seen among males, which further blocks girls and women from getting diagnoses. The lack of treatment is the scariest part; according to the American Psychological Association, girls with ADHD are two to three times more likely to attempt suicide or injure themselves as young adults than girls who do not have ADHD.

In her keynote speech at the Better Together Festival, Dr. Ellen Littman, who wroteUnderstanding Girls with ADHD in 1999, recalled once hearing men refer to girls as “ADD wannabes” at a conference.

“Rather than allow the point to be dismissed, I argued vociferously,” Littman said. “For any of you old enough to remember the ‘Point/Counterpoint’ skit on Saturday Night Live, we were one step away from ‘Jane, you ignorant slut.'”

In a hangout session called “Powerful Ways to Be Present,” a life coach named Regina Carey was demonstrating how to use your body to derail destructive thoughts. A woman lay on a hammock behind her, nodding, and other women stood or sat in lawn chairs around the tent—some coloring on pieces of paper, some drinking beer, some standing up and sitting down on loop. Carey, who has a face so kind and expressive you’d join her cult if she had one, wore a black sweater covered in a collage of text: “Even if you are emotionally distracted, do you find that there are times when your power of concentration is laser-beam intense?” “Are you usually eager to try something new?” “My room may be a mess. But it’s an organized mess. I know where everything is.” “ADHD.”

Women with ADHD tend to berate themselves internally, and constantly. As most are diagnosed years after their symptoms first manifest, they’ve grown accustomed to blaming themselves for their inability to “get it together” and do the things that most mothers, daughters, and humans can do. Remember appointments. Arrive at their jobs on time. Have jobs. Meet deadlines. Not lose the milk you could have sworn you just bought. It’s common to end up fixating on these perceived failures. Carey told us to comment on our breathing—neutrally—whenever we find ourselves slipping into dark rumination spirals. “Now I’m inhaling. Now I’m exhaling. My breath is shallow, huh.”

I have two college degrees—why can I do that, but I can’t figure out how to get to a grocery store?

After the session, I ventured to buy a glass of red wine because someone I cared about wasn’t texting me back. When I arrived at the bar, I couldn’t feel the hard trace of credit card in my back pocket, so I squatted down on the ground and removed the contents of my backpack. I found the loose card three minutes later, wedged in the pages of my planner.

Anyone who knows me knows this look well: hunched, flinging objects, muttering.

“I’m a mess!” I said, instinctively, to a woman who asked me if I needed help. “I really should get a wallet.” This line usually kills. In the real world, the idea of not having a wallet to store your credit card, cash, and ID is so wacky as to be laughable.

“It’s OK,” she said, getting down on her knees to help me put my camera, old apple, headphones, cell phone, receipts, receipt-wrapped gum, and pen caps back into my backpack. “You’re OK here.”

Photo by Howard Morris/Maciejka (Em) Gorzelnik. Courtesy of Morris Creative Services LLC

Sari Solden speaking at the Better Together Festival. Photo by Howard Morris/Maciejka (Em) Gorzelnik. Courtesy of Morris Creative Services LLC

Anne Marie Nantais was diagnosed with ADHD five years ago, when she was 40. She loved her job as an elementary school teacher—and was good at it. Teaching had kept her hyper-focused for 19 years, but she was finding it more and more difficult to perform the basic tasks the job required. “Dealing with undiagnosed ADHD and the increasing demands of paperwork and being a part of a high-performing teaching team was taking its toll,” she said.

At the festival, Nantais, now a full-time life coach, read what Solden calls a “turning-point story”—the moment when her perspective on her ADHD shifted—on stage. Her eventual diagnosis wasn’t the turning point, as it is for some—Nantais continued to feel ashamed as she tried to hide her diagnosis from her neurotypical coworkers. Women diagnosed later in life can experience burnout from the exhaustion of concealing their symptoms, a phenomenon known as a “mask of competency”—the extraordinary lengths ADHD women go to conform. “They may be rigidly hypervigilant about controlling their behavior, investing extraordinary amounts of energy in the goal of maintaining a seamlessly ‘appropriate’ façade,” Dr. Littman wrote in a 2012 essay. “This may prove effective in the short-run, but it comes at a heavy price: as they pursue the perfectionistic demands they deem necessary, they are constantly burdened by anxiety and exhaustion. Struggling to do what appears effortless for other women, they feel like impostors, fearing discovery at any moment.”

Nantais found that medication alleviated some of her symptoms, but none of the shame.

“Because I lacked education and information about ADHD, I still had deeply held beliefs about the JUSTS,” she said in her presentation. “If I ‘just’ tried harder, was ‘just’ better at managing my time, or if I could ‘just’ get a handle on organization, I could fix my ADHD.”

A major discovery for many women is that they aren’t stupid or bad. Rather than laboring to maintain a “mask of competency,” Nantais allowed herself to shape her environment around her ADHD brain.

“Reframe the lens,” Littman said in her keynote speech at the festival. “Create one that’s more realistic. You have the ability to look at the same reality, but have options.”

Photo by Howard Morris/Maciejka (Em) Gorzelnik. Courtesy of Morris Creative Services LLC

Sarah, a 26-year-old part-time yoga instructor who works full-time at a corporate sales job, is an expert re-framer. Diagnosed her sophomore year of high school, which is early (and lucky) compared to many women at the festival, who were grappling with the sorrow of “lost years,” Sarah has been on everything—Ritalin, Vivance, Concerta, anti-depressants. Now, she takes nothing. For many women, myself included, medication is at once a game-changer and source of shame, as the national discussion surrounding stimulant usage zeroes in on abuse, addiction, finals cramming, college partying, weight-loss scheming, and professional maneuvering. (There are very few impassioned op-eds about Adderall improving the quality of some people’s lives.) At the Better Together Festival, being prescription-free is neither a victory nor a loss, but is, unequivocally, stigma-free.

In the art tent, Sarah told me that she’s recognized some things will always come a bit more challenging to her, “especially in a corporate setting.” With my left hand I put cake into my mouth and with my right, I clawed at dried icing on my jeans. The philosophy behind yoga —largely Buddhist—has helped her with the reframing, she said.

“It takes such an observational stance on everything you experience; you watch it happen,” she said. “‘Oh, I’m distracted by this pretty color, even though I should be focusing on this report that the boss needs by the end of the day.’ OK, you’re distracted, but it is a pretty color, so enjoy that. You have to believe in the power that other people are able to adapt.”

I wanted to say: I promise I’m listening, but there’s icing all over my pants. Classic me!Maria “A Mess” Yagoda! Laugh track. But I stayed quiet and continued feeding myself cake. I focused on her words.

“Maybe I’m not the perfect corporate person—I’m okay with pushing boundaries,” she said. She explained that there are hard deadlines and soft deadlines, and she had to learn figure out which is which. I write “soft deadlines” in my notebook. I circled it three times. “‘I know you want it by this time, but I need this space to get what you need done.’ If that doesn’t work, [the task] needs to be reassigned.”

While the arc of the moral universe may bend towards adaptability, Sarah’s experience isn’t necessarily the norm quite yet. A woman told me that one of her clients recently got frustrated with her for always being a few minutes late. “I had to tell her, this is not about you, it’s about me,” she said. When I lost the company credit card, my credit card, company keys, and my keys—all within the span of two weeks— at a job a few years ago, my boss did not understand and was frustrated. I, too, did not understand and was frustrated; it’s the sort of thing that’s hard to adapt to. Now, I work triple-time to hide these quirks of executive functioning that, more often than not, make me feel stupid.

But here, at the festival, “stupid” was just an adverb I paired with “beautiful” to describe the deep-fried cheese curds I’d eaten the night before.

I took my last bite of cake. I left the icing on my pants.




A Letter to Parents of Children With Special Needs, From a Pediatric Nurse

I’ve worked in pediatric nursing for more than a decade. This work has changed me more than anything else I have experienced in my life. My patients and their families have taught me more than I could have ever taught them. I am so grateful for this extraordinary life.

For most of my career, I have worked with children with special needs. During my shifts, I have given G-tube feedings, administered medications, held children while they seized, suctioned airways to ensure a child could continue to breathe, moved their limbs so they didn’t stiffen, coordinated all of the child’s therapies and all of the many other tasks needed simply to keep the child alive and comfortable for another day. At the end of my shift, I am always dripping with sweat and exhausted — ready to go home. I give a report to the you, the parents, at the end of my shift, and even though you may have already worked a full day at your own job or worked beside me with your child, you do not get to rest. You are the parent of a child who needs round-the-clock care, and there is not rest for you. I have seen your tired eyes and weary bodies day after day, and yet, you never give up on your child. 

In my career, I have sat beside parents while a doctor gave them the news that no parent should hear — that their child is not long for this world. I have held mothers while they wailed the most horrific, animalistic sound of grief after their child took their final breaths. I have placed a morgue tag around the toe of tiny bodies. I have waited until my shift is over to run to my car and desperately cry into my steering wheel with grief for my patient and their families.

 But, even though I was grieved, I got to go home to my own healthy children — you had to live the remainder of your life with empty arms. 

The parents I have worked with have often shrugged away my compliments at their strength and tireless work to benefit their children. They have reminded me that they did not ask for this life, but that they love their children enough to keep fighting. 

You may not have asked for this life, but you have taken it on with such grace and persistence, even in the face of steep odds. Your incredible strength inspires me in every area of my life.  

I have worked with children when new medications, therapies and treatments did not work, or worse, were detrimental to the child’s health. I have seen you agonize when doctors give you choices and you aren’t sure which to choose for your child. I have seen you search the internet with sleep-deprived eyes to find every bit of information you could before making your choice. You often know more about your child’s condition than any doctor or nurse ever could. I have held you while you wept when the choice you made did not turn out the way we had all hoped it would even though you were never, ever at fault for any treatment that failed. 

I may have administered the medication or treatment, but you were the one who held the emotional burden of the choice and lost sleep praying over the outcome. No matter how many people are involved in your child’s care, I know you carry the heavy, heavy weight and desperate wanting for your child’s health and well-being. I know this weight is carried 24 hours per day on your already weary shoulders, but you carry it with such grace that many do not notice. 

The very first family of a child with special needs I worked with told me to never take away their hope. That has become a mantra of sorts in my life — to “never give up hope” in my personal life and my work as a nurse. I have watched children walk, talk and achieve many things the doctors deemed impossible. I have seen children live for many years beyond what many specialists said was possible. I have seen children beat odds in extraordinary ways that is nothing short of a miracle. I know your child could not have achieved these miraculous things without you, their dedicated parents. 

The children I have worked with are some of the most extraordinary children on the planet. They inspire me beyond words. Over and over and over again these children — your children — have reminded me what a true miracle is. I am so thankful for them. Just as much so, I am thankful for you– the parents of these children. Many of you are so humble that you may shrug off my words, but I wish to say them anyway. 

You are amazing, strong, compassionate, incredible people. Your children would not have made it this far without you. You are the backbone of your child’s life. I see how absolutely, back-breakingly exhausted you are and how weary you are with the constant, unyielding stress of this life. I can only imagine how hard your life can be. I see you. You are not invisible in your struggle, although it must often feel that way. You are my heroes — cape-less but no less amazing. There are no words that can truly tell you how extraordinary I think you are.  

I know an open letter on the internet from a stranger is a cold thank you for you warriors. I know. It is simply too hard to continue to stand aside and not tell each and every one of you how amazing you are, and I have no other way to do so. I know how invisible and lonely you must feel at times. I want you to know that I see you. Many see you. We are inspired by you, each and every day. You make this world a better place, not only for your child but for all of us. You thank us, your nurses, at the end of every shift, and I wonder if we should be the ones thanking you — for giving us the extraordinary gift of getting to know your amazing children and their phenomenal parents. Thank you, from the very bottom of my grateful heart.

All my love,

Nurse Mandi


11 Things Not to Say When You’re Talking to Someone About Their Mental Illness

Image result for 11 Things Not to Say When You’re Talking to Someone About Their Mental IllnessIt’s often hard to know how our words can affect someone because we only stand in our own shoes. To help with this, I’ve compiled a list of things you shouldn’t say when you’re talking to someone about their mental illness. The items on this list come straight from the suggestions of real people living with mental illness.

1. “You’re being dramatic.”

I’m being dramatic? Seriously?

Mental illness is not equivalent to breaking a shoe and screaming about it for days. It is a real condition. It can manifest into panic attacks that mimic heart attacks, or when someone is triggered their entire body might break out into hives. Getting out of bed in the morning can seem like the worst thing that could possibly happen.

So you’re correct about one thing. Mental illness is completely dramatic for the person who has it. However, it is in no way, shape or form a person being dramatic.

2. “Try ignoring it.”

Oh wow! Great advice! I didn’t try ignoring it! I mean, I’ve tried psychologists, psychiatrists, medication and lifestyle changes. But hey, maybe I could try ignoring it! Thanks for the peachy suggestion.

Most people with a mental illness have likely tried ignoring it. It creates way more problems than good. As you saw with number one, it’s something that shouldn’t and simply can’t be ignored. It’s so important to take some time to focus on it and heal. Ignoring it doesn’t work.

3. “Try just living with it.”

Yeah, you know I tried that and then I literally wanted to kill myself. So I think I’ll keep doing it my way.

4. “Maybe you could trigger yourself more so you can practice handling it.”

Oh, I didn’t realize you were a qualified practicing psychologist! Do I have to pay you for this session or is it on the house?

5. “Well, at least you don’t have to deal with (insert bad thing here).”

Do you like when people minimize the things in your life? No. So don’t minimize mine. Everyone has their struggles. No need to compare.

6. “Why are you trying to make your whole life a saga?”

To suggest (or straight out say) someone is intentionally putting themselves in this situation is straight up ridiculous. It is demoralizing to hear a person tell you that you enjoy the drama surrounding mental illness. The symptoms people with mental illness face are not a saga like “Twilight.” They are a nightmare you need to learn to reduce the power of. Don’t suggest I create this life for myself as if I’m trying to write a good story. If I wanted a story, then I would make myself a princess.

7. “But you seem so normal/ you look healthy? Are you sure?”

Again, your MD comes from which university? Thanks for telling me you think based on whatever limited knowledge you have of my physical appearance or personality that I’m totally fine. I really appreciate it. I’ll just call up the pharmacy and tell them I won’t be needing that prescription refilled being that I’m totally cured!

Mental illness manifests differently in every single person. Don’t presume you know what it looks like in everyone, even if you’ve seen what it looks like in some people.

8. Avoid any insensitive remarks that generalize, stereotype or are based on stigma.

Examples of this would be:

It’s giving me such post-traumatic stress disorder!

Oh my gosh, I’m so depressed!

That girl looks totally anorexic.

You sound “schizo.”

I wanted to kill myself it was so boring.

Yeah, that test gave me a panic attack.

When someone is actually living with or knows someone with PTSD, depression, anorexia,schizophrenia, suicidal thoughts, an anxiety disorder or any other mental illness, hearing their diagnosis used to define things they are clearly not can crush their world. When you take mental illnesses lightly, you prove just how ill-equipped the world is to treat them like people. It’s crushing. You make them feel “crazy.” Which brings us to…

9. “So, you’re ‘crazy?’” (with a smile).

Yeah, that joke isn’t funny. Just don’t.

10. “If you have an eating disorder, then you should be really skinny right?”

That isn’t how eating disorders work.

11. “Sometimes, when I’m sad, I (insert coping method here).”

I’m not sad. My boyfriend did not just break up with me. I did not just fail a test. I cannot eat a bunch of ice cream or go pet a puppy and call it a day.

With an illness like depression or bipolar disorder, a person isn’t always “sad” because something unfortunate has happened to them. People can have depressive episodes for seemingly no reason other than their mental illness. Sometimes people can fall into long-term episodes, lasting days, months or even years. Thanks for the advice, but I don’t need to “go for a jog.”

Now, instead of ending and leaving you with a whole list of things you definitely can’t say, here are a couple of things you could try to say instead:

  1. I trust you.
  2. I support you.
  3. I’m here for you whenever you decide you need me.
  4. I value you in my life.
  5. I know I could never fully understand, but I’m always here to listen.

People with mental illness need to know they have you as a rock. They need to know you will always trust, support and value them. They don’t need to know you think they’re just “being dramatic.” The truth is, you might never understand. In fact, you probably won’t but that’s OK. You don’t need to. You just need to be there.



When a School for People With Dyslexia Rejected Me for Being ‘Too Dyslexic’

Before I was school age, Mom would read to my older brother and me before bedtime. It was my favorite part of the day. I would imagine the images on the pages, moving to her words. If there were no pictures in the books, I would create my own images and have them move in the ceiling. They were my private movies.

When I started to learn the alphabet in school, I couldn’t understand what I was seeing. As everyone was learning how to spell their names, I could barely read mine. It was humiliating. I can’t remember how many times I cried in class, trying to learn to read.

To deal with my struggle, I taught myself braille and Egyptian hieroglyphics. I thought I could get away with this so I wouldn’t have to learn how to read. But I couldn’t. I had to learn how to read. With the helpful advice from a family friend, I was tested and diagnosed with severe dyslexia and auto processing difficulties. It was great to finally have a label, but now, how to work with it?

My time at school was split between special education and regular classes. But it wasn’t enough. I was still behind my grade reading level. To help myself, I would try to read the dictionary. It built up my vocabulary, but I couldn’t remember how to spell, nor put the words in a sentence.

Justina Bonilla in grade school

Finally, after years of struggling, Mom found a private school that focused on language learning disabilities. From what information Mom gathered, the school’s goal was to help students from kindergarten to eighth grade by using a multi-sensory approach to teach dyslexic students how to read, spell and write. We though we found my educational salvation.

After I applied, I was allowed to attend it for one week for testing. From the moment class started, I was constantly being pulled out for testing. When I’d get back to class, a subject would be getting finished up. It was grueling trying to keep up with the class work and do the constant testing.

On the Friday of my brain-frying week, I got my results. I would not be accepted because I was “too low functioning.” How can a person be rejected by a school for dyslexics for be too dyslexic? Where is the logic? How can you proclaim you help those who struggle when you reject those who need you the most?   

I felt like the dumbest person in town. At 10 years old, I wanted to give up on school. What would be the point in continuing? I truly believed I was beyond help. It was the lowest point of my academic life. This belief of intellectual inadequacy, though disproven, still haunts me.

Defeated and humiliated, I reluctantly went back to public school. My parents fought harder to get the accommodations I needed. I spent the rest of my grade school years struggling between regular and special education, and at times, homeschooling. Thanks to the help of tutors, I was able to academically survive.

Despite getting A and B grades in my class, I still felt inferior to my high school classmates. They were able to read at grade level while I was still at a fifth/sixth-grade level.

But I graduated high school with a 3.0-grade average. Today, I’m in college, perusing my AA in sociology, with a minor in media and film studies, and working a career in writing. I have the imagination to write, but it still takes me a long time to process the words.  According to my last reading test, I’m at a reading level of sixth/seventh grade. The average reading level of American adults is seventh/eighth grade.

Recently, I drove past that school. Surprisingly, its school sign said it now helps students with autism spectrum disorder. Considering how wide the autism spectrum is, I thought, “Finally things have changed.” But, this enthusiasm was cut short, when I learned the school rejected one of my brother’s friends — for being “too autistic.” It’s sad to see history repeat itself.




Let’s Take A Look At That Autism-Ultrasound Link

Perhaps you’ve seen headlines or even bothered to read past them in the recent reports linking autism severity and ultrasounds. As always with anything that’sbeen linked to autism, it’s best to look closely at the study itself to answer nagging questions like, “Oh my God, I had an ultrasound during pregnancy and what about autism severity?!” So below, a few possibly clarifying and potentially edifying observations.

The authors report finding a mathematical link between having a diagnostic ultrasound in the first trimester of pregnancy and increased severity of some autism symptoms in the resulting offspring, especially among children who are born with specific genetic differences that are associated with autism risk.

Ultrasounds have not been shown to cause autism

First, this is a mathematical link. This paper, by Sarah Jane Webb and colleagues and published in Autism Research, does not show that ultrasounds cause autism.

This paper’s findings relate only to first-trimester diagnostic ultrasounds

Second, these results are about diagnostic ultrasound in the first trimester. Women having these typically present to health care because of ominous or odd symptoms. The current indications for having a first-trimester diagnostic ultrasound include suspected ectopic pregnancy, pelvic pain, suspected multiple gestation, assessment for fetal anomalies and vaginal bleeding. Diagnostic ultrasounds in the first trimester are not routine. They mean someone thinks there’s a problem with the pregnancy or the dating of the pregnancy is unclear.

Dating a pregnancy using ultrasound is most accurate earlier in gestation and can prevent later problems, including unnecessary interventions that are based on incorrect dating.

Standard clinical practice, according to current information from the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, is a second trimester ultrasound done at 16 to 20 weeks, which also happens to be the time when ultrasound can detect fetal sex. In this autism-ultrasound study, the authors do not report associations of their endpoints with second- or third-trimester ultrasounds.

Previous, rigorous studies have found no link between autism and ultrasound

Numerous studies—including some with an optimal randomized design—have found no link between ultrasound in any trimester and a host of outcomes, from heart disease to neurological differences.

In the introduction to their paper, Webb and colleagues describe two such studies:

Stoch et al. … did not find a relation between child ASD diagnosis and randomized prenatal exposure to a single second trimester ultrasound versus multiple second and third trimester scans (at 18, 24, 34, 38 weeks); nor to levels of adult autism traits in a primarily “neurotypical” population. Grether et al. … analyzed antenatal ultrasound exposure (primarily 2ndtrimester exposure) as a risk factor for ASD using medical data from Kaiser Permanente of Northern California Health Care System; there was no difference in number of exposures during the entire gestation or by trimester in 393 controls and 362 autism cases. Critical to the triple hit hypothesis and not addressed by previous reports, ultrasound as an exogenous stressor would have the most significant impact during the 1sttrimester and only in those with specific genetic risk factors.

In Grether et al., more than 25% of their population had first-trimester scans.

The “triple-hit hypothesis” is that three factors—environment, genetics and timing—interact as the determinants of autism. Given that those factors determine just about everything in development and that autism is a developmental condition with a large genetic component, that’s not exactly a groundbreaking idea. After all, no gene (or DNA sequence) is an island.

But that “triple hit” reference is the opening the authors needed for their current study rationale: Sure, ultrasounds haven’t been linked generally to autism, but what about ultrasounds (hit 1) at just the wrong time (hit 2) in pregnancies involving embryos/fetuses that have some genetic (hit 3) sensitivity or susceptibility?

According to this hypothesis, one might expect to see outcomes build as each candidate “hit” is added in. Let’s see how that works out.

Ultrasound is linked to a a less severe outcome on one measure

Let’s start by turning to the paper itself. The authors discuss much of the below, either offering rationales or acknowledging them as limitations.

The paper contains three main-text tables, each one reflecting the results of separate analyses. Table 1 takes the population as a whole (668 with no first-trimester ultrasound; 1,081 with a first-trimester ultrasound). Webb and co-authors looked at how first-trimester ultrasound relates to the results of nine evaluations, three each for (1) adaptive/cognitive, (2) social affective and (3) repetitive behaviors. Among each of the three measures for each of these three categories, some are parent reported and some clinician derived.

For adaptive/cognitive behaviors (eg, IQ measures), the authors found no significant link between autism and first-trimester ultrasound with scores on any of the three measurement instruments. For social affective behaviors, only a clinician-reported measure was linked to first-trimester ultrasound, which was associated with better scores for this outcome. The other two instrument scores showed no significant link.

Finally, for repetitive behaviors, again, only one measure—this one parent reported—was significantly linked to first-trimester ultrasound. The other two were not.

The paper findings are internally inconsistent

So for the first two hits—timing (first trimester) and ultrasound—the results are underwhelming and not internally consistent for direction (better social affective score, worse repetitive behavior score), parent vs clinician report or category of symptom.

Table 2 adds in a “hit” in the form of genetic variations that have been linked to autism. These variations are different numbers of sequence repeats at specific areas on a chromosome, known known as copy number variations or CNVs. Having more or fewer of these repeats in some cases has been associated with increased autism risk, although not everyone with these changes is autistic and by no stretch do all autistic people carry one or more of these CNVs. In this study, about 7-8% of the population carried relevant CNVs.

Here again, the authors looked at the same three categories, using the same set of measurement tools as before, but they compared only those autistic children who carried the CNVs and whose mothers didn’t (49 children) or did (84 children) have a first-trimester ultrasound.

In this case, Webb and colleagues got a single significant hit among the nine comparisons: a significantly lower nonverbal IQ among the children whose mothers had the ultrasounds. Nonverbal IQ was not among the significant differences highlighted in the Table 1 analysis. But when you cut your population down by 92% and add in a variable for the comparison, all kinds of things can happen.

Finally, their Table 3 adds in another “hit:” being male. Here, they looked only at autistic boys who carried the CNVs and whose mothers did (73 boys) or didn’t (38 boys) have first-trimester ultrasounds.

The authors report two significant results. One is a significantly different nonverbal IQ, lower in association with ultrasound. Given that 111 of 133 (83.5%) of their population for Table 2 were boys, one would expect some similar results between tables 2 and 3, so that’s no surprise.

With the added “hit” of being male, though, the nonverbal IQ values went up in both the ultrasound and no-ultrasound groups compared to scores for CNV boys and girls together. That doesn’t suggest that maleness increased the “dose response.”

The other significant result is for clinician-reported repetitive behaviors, with higher scores in association with ultrasound. But it’s not with the same scale that showed significance for the overall population, which was parent-reported.

Overall, the authors found different associations across the three analyses that don’t seem to suggest a pattern or a dose-response effect of going from ultrasound only (Table 1), to ultrasound plus CNVs (Table 2) to ultrasound+CNV+male (Table 3). Not even the same scales, categories or type of observer showed a pattern or a dose response of “hits.”

Ultrasound history is based on recall

The data about first-trimester ultrasounds come from women recalling when and why they had ultrasounds at a time when their children are four to 18-years-old. The first trimester also spans a time when critical windows for environmental influences can be extremely precise, as in the thalidomide example below. Both the recall and the breadth of change in the first trimester mean that this factor has a lot of squishiness to it.

The children included in this analysis had a wide variety of genetic syndromes, not just autism

Finally, here’s where those specific genetic differences linked to autism come in. If you have the patience to look at the supplementary data tables for this study, you’ll find information about those CNVs that are treated in these analyses as a uniform factor.

They are anything but uniform. For example, 11 girls with CNVs had a first-trimester ultrasound and 11 girls with CNVs did not. Between these two groups, only two girls have a CNV in common. The rest are distributed across several chromosomes, with a mix of duplications and deletions.

There were 111 boys with CNVs in the analysis, 38 without first-trimester ultrasound and 73 with one. Their CNV type and distribution are quite heterogeneous and involve sizes that can range across three orders of magnitude. The authors compared relative proportions of duplications and deletions and average CNV sizes in their groups and found no significant differences, but that seems largely immaterial against the greater question of how powerfully each individual variant influences relevant traits.

Treating them as a single factor assumes that duplications and deletions across almost all chromosomes and of any size have the same “hit” in the context of autism and are simply interchangeable. Biologically, that’s not tenable. And many of these CNVs are associated with rare but known syndromes, each with a specific group of traits that range from craniofacial manifestations to intellectual disability.

This variability suggests that the gene variants that underlie these syndromes have widely different effects (and possibly confer widely different susceptibilities to environmental influences). Autism is just one of many possible but not inevitable manifestations of these broader conditions.

These different CNVs with their different effects surely influenced results for each of the measurement tools used for this analysis. Indeed, something has to explain why the significant (and even nonsignificant) outcomes varied so much, even directionally, from table to table. A uniform factor like an ultrasound “hit” in the first trimester wouldn’t be the explanation for these internally inconsistent results, but variability in effects of these CNVs certainly could be.

So are first-trimester diagnostic ultrasounds a risk factor for autism or autism severity?

Despite what the headlines say, it’s not obvious from these results that ultrasounds are a risk factor for increased autism symptom severity. One analysis shows an association with reduced severity, there’s an absence of a dose response or increasing effect with each additional “hit,” and the many different CNVs are treated as interchangeable factors when they are not.


Why these Core Muscle Exercises Help Prevent Learning Challenges in the Classroom

When I talk with parents for the first time, they often have questions about why their child can’t read, comprehend, remember math facts, follow instructions and why they aren’t excelling in the classroom. They know something is missing, but they can’t put their finger on what. I often have moms and dads tell me, “I know my child is smart, but I just don’t know why they aren’t reaching their potential.”

Why these Core Muscle Exercises Help Prevent Learning Challenges in the Classroom | ilslearningcorner.com

As I begin asking questions, I try to first focus on the educational aspects of reading, writing and spelling, but as the conversation continues, I then veer off in a different direction, asking questions that seem unrelated to learning. I ask parents if their child has sensitivity to light, texture or sound; if they fidget in their chair or if they ask “huh?” or “what?” when the teacher asks them to work on an assignment. We talk about how athletic the child is and if they can skip, bounce, run and cross the monkey bars. We also ask about the child’s birth and if they crawled as a baby and reached all of theirdevelopmental milestones.

Many parents often find it curious when I ask these types of questions and are even more surprised when they come to our center and see all the bouncy balls, balance beams, hula-hoops and jump ropes. As I see the wheels turning in their head, I’m sure they often think, “How is this going to help my child to read, write and listen to their teacher?”

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Unfortunately, in today’s world, there is a lot more pressure on our children to excel at higher academic levels than what their brain and body is prepared for in the classroom. Children are now expected at younger ages to be experts at subjects and topics that even just 10 years ago wasn’t required. Many schools have even limited recess or have removed recess altogether from their curriculum and kids are now expected to sit still in their chairs, listen to the teacher and learn at a faster pace.

Play-based Movement

Now why is this a bad thing? “We just want our students to be better prepared,” most educators would say. The problem is, we are beginning to see more learning challenges like Sensory Processing Disorders (SPD), ADHD, Autism, Dysgraphia and Dyslexia because we are taking away play-based movement from our classrooms. I’m now seeing more and more children with poor posture, deprived vestibular systems (balance and coordination), sensory overload and above all, almost no core muscle. Sitting inactivates these muscles and makes them weaker or or leads to developmental delays. Many researchers are now finding that children in mainstream schools have immature motor skills, which is directly related to educational achievement.

Poor Core Muscle

While many exercises can be used to help your child’s brain and body work together, as you may have already read in our “Crossing the Midline” article, we also want to make sure our children build strong core muscles in their neck, tummy, legs, eyes, arms and fingers. Each body part plays a key role in triggering the brain for higher learning concepts. For example, I hear parents tell me that their child struggles with copying information from the chalkboard to their paper, only to find that their child has poor muscle strength in their neck and shoulders and they struggle with hand-eye coordination activities. They can barely do a sit-up or collapse when I ask them to lie on their back and lift their head to look at their toes.

Another problem I am often asked about is why their child can’t attend and focus in the classroom. Usually they are clumsy, they run into walls or furniture, they fidget in their chairs, lean over their desks, and they can’t process what their teacher is saying because they are focused on other distractions in the classroom. These can all be issues related to their vestibular system, which is their balance and coordination. When we see these issues, we know the child isn’t getting the movement they need to help improve their inner ear and core muscle. To perform well in an educational environment, kids need to strengthen their motor skills and core muscle to manipulate a writing instrument, control their eye movement to track words on a page, and calm their bodies so they can attend and focus on the instructions the teacher is giving.

Another problem I am now seeing is that many of these children who struggle with poor core muscle and learning challenges often like video games. While there are many video games that are educational and great for kids, too much sitting causes the muscles to become weak.

These children are at risk of under-achieving in school, not because they aren’t bright, but because they don’t have the physical skills and core muscle strength needed to support their intelligence in the classroom. Plain and simply, their motor skills are under-developed.

Another issue we see with children who have poor core muscle strength that affects learning is retained primitive reflexes that stem from birth, which could cause toe walking or children sitting in the W-position or bed wetting, but we will discuss it in greater detail with more exercises in later articles.

Miracle Grow for the Brain

In a recent Washington Post article, there is a school where teachers and educators are getting their students moving in the classroom with play-based activities to build their core muscle while working their brains.

I couldn’t have put it better when one of the teachers said, “There is another neurotransmitter that is directly connected to muscle movement in the body. That’s like taking miracle grow and putting it on the brain. And what we need to do as teachers is plant the seed in that well cultivated brain. And, that well cultivated brain comes about by movement and exercise.”

Core Muscle Activities

Now that we know how important core muscle strength is and how it is connected to learning in the classroom, what can we do to test for poor muscle strength and what exercises will help improve our child’s core for higher learning?

How to Test

Testing for core muscle strength isn’t too difficult. Here are some easy ways to check:

  • Can your child move their head from side to side and up and down without moving their whole body?
  • Can your child hold their breath for a long time or is it too difficult?
  • Do they grip their pencil correctly?
  • Do they have poor handwriting?
  • If they are standing still when you slightly push them, do they remain standing or do they fall over?
  • Can they throw a ball or kick a ball?
  • Do they spend too much time playing video games causing hyperfocus?
  • Do they use both legs and arms in sports, or do they only use one side of their body?

Strengthening the Core

Now that we have completed some quick checks to test your child’s core muscle, let’s talk about some fun and easy ways to strengthen your child’s core. All exercises should be completed at least 10 times for 20 minutes a day.


You are probably all familiar with the superman, but it is a great activity for helping your child build the muscles in their neck, tummy, arms and legs. Have your child begin on their stomach. Count to three and then have them engage their tummy muscles and bring their legs, arms, and head off the ground just like Superman. Have them hold this position for as long as they can (10 to 20 seconds) before coming back to the ground.

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Wrong way or what to watch for

If your child cannot bring both their legs and arms off the ground because their core muscle strength is not yet ready, first have them lift their arms and head only while leaving their legs on the ground. When they are ready, add the legs. If your child wobbles or if they can’t physically lift their head, position yourself on your knees in front of your child and help keep them still or hold their head straight until they develop the muscles to complete the exercise on their own.

Knee Crosses

This is a great activity to not only help your child build core muscle, but to also help them cross the midline (to see why this is important, click here). Have your child begin in a plank position with their arms extended and legs straight. Then have your child bring their right knee to their chest and cross it over their body to the left side. When they have crossed over the body, have your child bring their leg back to the plank position. Switch sides and have your child complete the exercise for the left leg.

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Wrong way or what to watch for

Some kids tend to do this exercise too quickly and rush through it. Help your child use slow and controlled movements. This will strengthen the core and help them properly cross over the midline. If they cannot cross their body and tend to do same arm to same leg, help them cross their knee to the other side. If they fall over, you may need to help steady their bodies.

Leg and Arm Reach

This exercise may be a bit tricky for kids so you may need to help them. First, have your child begin on their hands and knees. Then have your child extend their left arm straight in front of them and lift their right leg straight behind them and hold for about 10 seconds. Remember to use opposite arm with opposite leg. After 10 seconds, have them return to their hands and knees and then lift their right arm and left leg.

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Wrong way or what to watch for

This is another exercise where your child may wobble or lose their balance. You may need to start them out with arms only or legs only and then add them both together as they build their core muscle. You may also notice your child using the same arm with the same leg. This doesn’t engage their core as well so you will want to ensure they are using opposite leg with opposite arm.


Now these aren’t just your normal every-day crunches. You will be watching for a few other things. Have your child lie on their back and place their hands behind their head. As they lift their head to do a normal crunch, have them look at the ceiling and engage their tummy muscles. You want to help them hold their head still and also have them hold their breath for about 10 seconds. Release after 10 seconds and go back to the ground. The reason for holding their breath is to engage their core even more and it also helps with speech, language, anxiety and attention issues.

Why these Core Muscle Exercises Help Prevent Learning Challenges in the Classroom | ilslearningcorner.com

Wrong way or what to watch for

If your child’s neck muscles are physically not strong enough to lift their head, you may have to lift it for them at first, but eventually you want them to do it on their own. Make sure if you lift their head that they are still engaging their tummy muscles. You may also see your child want to lift their legs or feet off the ground. Make sure they are firmly planted.

Air Kicks

This is by far my favorite exercise and one of the best for core muscle. You will need a medium-sized ball for this activity. It may be difficult for the kids at first, so you will probably have to help them. Have your child lie on their back, but prop themselves up on their elbows (children must be on their elbows, not laying flat on the floor). Have them bring their legs to their chest in the ready position. You will be standing in front of them with the ball. When they are ready, throw the ball toward their feet. They must kick the ball back to you with both feet. When they have the hang of it, complete this exercise at a faster pace.

Why these Core Muscle Exercises Help Prevent Learning Challenges in the Classroom | ilslearningcorner.com

Wrong way or what to watch for

You’d be surprised at how many kids can’t do this exercise. They may have a tendency to come up off their elbows or lie on the floor, but make sure they stay in that ready position. Some children will want to kick the ball with only one foot, usually with their dominant leg. We want to ensure they are kicking the ball with both feet at the exact same time. Your child may also have a tendency to kick the ball behind you or to the side. This is a sign of proprioception issues that we will discuss in later articles. Help your child kick the ball straight back to you, instead of to the side or behind you.

Why these Core Muscle Exercises Help Prevent Learning Challenges in the Classroom | ilslearningcorner.com

These are just a few exercises that can help your child build their core muscle, but there are many others. As a reminder, keeping your child involved in sports, gymnastics, swimming lessons and other fun activities all help their balance, coordination and muscle strength.




Is It Normal That Your Preschooler Has An Imaginary Friend ?


The magic years

The preschool teacher was new and she’d never seen anything like it before. One of her students, a 3-year-old boy, desperately wanted to be a dog. He rarely dropped his doggy persona. When she asked him a question, he replied with a bark. Concerned, she told his mother that she suspected he might have autism, and recommended he be evaluated for early intervention. The worried mother took him to see his pediatrician, Laurel Schultz.

There was nothing wrong with the boy, says Shultz. “Ages 2 to 6 are called ‘The Magic Years’ for a reason. It’s all about fantasy and imagination, and we should do everything we can to encourage it, because it’s such an important part of child development.”Princesses, super heroes animals, monsters — they’re all good. “Even if kids are dressing up as cops and robbers and using Legos to make guns — I’d much rather see that kind of creative play than to see kids sitting in front of the TV,” says Schultz.

Imaginary friends can be helpful in real life

When a child first starts talking (and “listening”) regularly to their imaginary pal, some parents worry. But if your preschooler has an imaginary friend or two, Schultz says just think of it as another expression of your young child’s rich imagination. “It might be a different story if the child were 8 years old and still talking to imaginary friends, but in preschool, I say the more the merrier!”

Parent educator Nancy Gnass says parents frequently voice their concern about imaginary friends. “Parents worry,” she says, “because it’s not what adults do. But adults also don’t have the same imagination children do.”

Gnass remembers panicking when she first heard about her daughter’s imaginary friend, Paco. “She was barely 2 and talking about her friend Paco all the time,” Gnass says. Gnass consulted the doctor, who lauded her daughter’s creation, calling it “totally great” and saying her daughter showed “signs of advanced cognitive thinking.”

Since then, Gnass has learned there are many upsides to imaginary friends. They help children build relationships, process information, and replicate an adult’s world. “If they are feeling powerless, they can use an imaginary friend to feel powerful.”

Henrike Moll, who studies cognitive development in young children at University of Southern California, says imaginary friends aren’t as common as we might think – and we should treasure them while they last. “Kids will grow out of their imaginary friends, just like they are going to grow out of [their belief in] the Easter Bunny or Santa Claus,” Moll says.

Embracing an imaginary pal doesn’t mean your child’s out of touch with reality, adds Moll. “By age 3 or 4, most little ones are pretty good at telling the world of reality apart from pretend.” For example, she says, “She can probably tell the difference between her posse of imaginary friends and her real ones.”

Developmental power of imaginary play

Whether or not your child has a regular imaginary pal, he most likely conjures up imaginary playmates and scenarios every day. This sort of imaginary play has many benefits for physical, social, language, and brain development. When your child picks up an imaginary ladybug, or leaps from couch to couch because the floor is hot lava — he’s building motor skills.

He’s also building crucial communication and language skills. “When you’re dealing with imaginary characters and imaginary things,” says Gnass, “while you’re staring at a blank open hand, your child is saying, ‘Look Mommy, I’m giving you chocolate cake, it has sprinkles all over the top.’ Because neither of you can actually see it, your child must use language to set up the scenario and describe what she imagined.”

Bottom line? Encourage your little one to get lost in a world of mud pies, fake friends, and hot lava floors. He’s only got a few years to revel in these magic years of make believe.



Life lessons from parenting a child with ODD / ADHD behavior

Image result for Life lessons from parenting a child with ODD / ADHD  behavior
My son’s out-of-control, unpredictable behavior caused my husband and me to re-examine how we dish out discipline.

“DON’T TOUCH ME, YOU STUPID HEAD!” my 4-year-old son shrieked as I reached for him. We were about halfway through the service at a church we were visiting for the first time, and Wyatt was lying in the middle of the center aisle. “I HATE YOU!” he continued as he scrambled across the floor to get away, with me in hot pursuit. “YOU’RE THE WORST MOMMY IN THE WHOLE WORLD! I WISH YOU WEREN’T MY MOMMY!” he screamed as I caught him and proceeded to carry him up the aisle to the back of the church, nearly dropping him in the process.

Suddenly, a flying arm caught me across the face. He slapped me. I have no idea whether the faces that watched us were sympathetic or judgmental, because I was too humiliated to look up. All I knew was that I had made the mistake of trying to get my son to sit down, and this was the result.

I wish I could say that was the first — or the last — time that I’ve had to deal with one of Wyatt’s very public meltdowns, but that would be an outright lie. In fact, five years later we’re still dealing with the meltdowns, although we’re getting better at anticipating and managing them.

What is ODD?

Over the last five or six years Wyatt has been diagnosed with various behavioral and neurodevelopmental disorders — everything from ADHD to ODD (oppositional defiant disorder). The diagnoses continue to change as he’s grows into new stages of development. While the names have changed, what hasn’t changed is the need for my husband and I to adjust and prepare for Wyatt’s encounters with new situations.

I have to admit that this parenting thing has been a lot harder than I anticipated. When I say a lot harder, I mean ridiculously so.

My husband and I had both been brought up in happy homes filled with love and laughter. Our parents had been strict but fair, and we had both been taught from a very young age to respect our elders. Our older siblings were raising their children using the same approach, and they didn’t seem to be running into any major problems. Unlike us.

Something as simple as not liking what I had made for supper could set Wyatt off, transforming him in seconds from my sweet little boy with the shy smile and twinkling eyes to an out-of-control terror who I barely recognized. It wasn’t uncommon for me to cry myself to sleep at night, physically and emotionally exhausted from dealing with a meltdown so violent that I needed to physically restrain him so that he couldn’t hurt himself, or me.

I would sit on the floor with Wyatt between my legs, my arms strategically wrapped around him so he couldn’t bite me or scratch me, one leg over his so he couldn’t kick me, the other leg braced against something so that he couldn’t knock me over as he struggled to get away. I’d talk quietly to him the entire time, telling him that he was safe and loved as he screamed how much he hated me and how he wished I weren’t his mother.

Eventually his rage would pass, and he’d go limp in my arms. His screams would turn to sobs that shook his tiny body, and his struggles to get away would turn to struggles to get closer. I’d sit there and rock him, smoothing his hair and kissing his forehead, reassuring him that I loved him and that everything was going to be OK, all the while holding back the tears of hopelessness and helplessness that threatened to overwhelm me.

Parenting techniques that didn’t work

Don’t get me wrong. I never figured being a parent would be easy, and I fully anticipated that there would be times when I would want to tear my hair out (can you say “teenage years”?), but nothing prepared me for a child who didn’t play by the rules. Even as a toddler, the traditional parenting strategies didn’t work.

If other people were having success with the same parenting strategies we were using then, I concluded, the problem had to reside with us. We had to be doing something wrong. So I read article after article after article on parenting and discipline in an attempt to figure out what we were doing wrong. But everything I read said the same thing: if we used the techniques properly and were consistent and loving in their application, our son would learn what was expected of him.

What I have come to realize is that parenting articles are all written from the standpoint that the prescribed techniques will eventually work. Because of this, they don’t tell you when to give up and move on to something else, so certainly not what that something else would look like. So how longdo you keep distracting and redirecting a toddler from the same thing before you give up? Hours? Days? Weeks? Months?

When Wyatt was just learning to walk, he became fascinated by an antique cabinet with glass doors that we had in our living room, where he spent the most time. He paid no attention to the books and CDs that filled the cabinet, only to the pretty doors that made a fun sound when he banged on them. At first we patiently told him “no” and redirected his attention to a favorite toy or book, but he would head straight back to the cabinet the first chance he got. As the days passed we became sterner with our “no,” moving from patient to scolding. Still nothing changed.

“Slap his hand!” our parents told us when we asked for their advice. Scared that he would break the glass and get seriously hurt, we started accompanying our “no” with a light slap on the hand, just hard enough to startle him, but that didn’t deter him either. We placed a cedar chest in front of the cabinet so that he couldn’t get to the doors, but it didn’t stop him from trying. After a few weeks we gave up and moved the cabinet into one of the bedrooms, but we had to remember to keep the door to the room closed or he would be right back at it. Once the cabinet was gone, Wyatt moved on to pulling all the books out of a little bookcase in the hall, and the bookcase soon joined the cabinet in the bedroom.

When Wyatt got a little older we started removing privileges, but he didn’t care. I remember one particular incident, when he was about 3 years old. I was vacuuming not too far from where he was watching TV when he came over and dumped a bunch of toys on the floor in front of me. I scolded him and told him to pick the toys up. He stood there silent, not moving. I told him that he needed to pick them up or he would lose the TV until he did. Without saying a word he walked over to the TV, turned it off, and then went to his room, closing his door behind him.

I stood there for a few minutes, trying to figure out how to respond to the fact that my 3-year-old had just removed all control of the situation from my hands. I left the toys where they were, figuring Wyatt would come back out in a few minutes and ask to watch TV. I anticipated an angry response and mentally braced myself. Except, the anger never came. Instead, when Wyatt reappeared about an hour later, he casually wandered over to the toys, picked them all up, and then proceeded to turn on the TV. As much as I wanted to get mad at him, I couldn’t. I had established the consequence — you lose the TV until you pick up your toys — and that’s what he had done. Being bested by a 3-year-old didn’t exactly build my confidence in my parenting abilities.

We certainly didn’t have any more luck with timeout, which is a little more involved than removing privileges — but still not rocket science. According to the experts, follow the formula and you’re good to go. Have a designated timeout spot? Check. Limit time to one minute for each year of the child’s age? Check. Ensure child understands what is expected of him and the consequences for not cooperating? Check. Return child to designated spot if he moves, and reset timer? Check. I would reset the timer until the sweat was pouring off my face. I returned my 4-year-old to his timeout spot for the 10th, 20th, and 30th time.

We tried just as many positive reinforcement strategies to encourage good behavior. I spent hours creating charts and a small fortune on stickers and rewards. We looked for any opportunity to praise him for doing something well, and we rewarded his behavior with stickers. But nothing worked for more than a day or two, not even a sleepover at Grandma’s, a movie with Mommy, or a bike ride with Daddy.

When desperation leads to re-examination

When Wyatt started kindergarten, we were desperate. Nothing we tried worked, and the school’s experience mirrored our own. Smart, sweet, and wickedly funny, everyone wanted to be Wyatt’s friend. Kids ran to greet him as soon as he walked into school in the morning. Teachers and staff members ruffled his hair as they passed him in the hall and went out of their way to share stories with me about something funny he had done or said to them.

At the same time, his behavior was so problematic that he spent more time out of class than in it. One minute he’d be playing nicely with a friend, the next minute his friend was crying because Wyatt had hit him. He adored his teacher but often flat-out refused to do anything he said. His lack of respect for authority knew no limits, to the point that one day he stood on the principal’s desk and refused to get down. He was so wildly hyper and unpredictable that the school had to send an extra staff member on class trips just to keep an eye on him. If no one was available, he couldn’t go.

I switched from reading parenting articles to parenting books. I consumed Mary Sheedy Kurcinka’sRaising Your Spirited Child: A Guide for Parents Whose Child Is More Intense, Sensitive, Perceptive, Persistent and Energetic and then quickly moved on to Ross Greene’s The Explosive Child: A New Approach for Understanding and Parenting Easily Frustrated, Chronically Inflexible Children. Both books were instrumental in prompting us to re-examine our views on parenting and discipline. But Greene said something that really struck home.

Ross Greene who is a well-respected child psychologist has a theory that “kids do well if they can.” This theory made us totally rethink Wyatt’s misbehavior. According to Green, most children want to be good and to please the adults in their lives. After all, being in trouble all the time is no fun.

We knew that Wyatt understood the difference between acceptable and unacceptable behavior. He could tell you what was expected of him in any given situation and seemed to have every intention of doing exactly that, but for whatever reason he often ended up doing the opposite. In the throes of a meltdown, his defiance and aggression overshadowed his true nature, which was all sweetness and light. Once his anger was gone, however, he was genuinely heartbroken at the things he’d done and said in the heat of the moment. We realized that for him, it wasn’t a matter of “won’t” but of “can’t.”

Some of our reactions were essentially punishing him for not being able to do something that he lacked the skills to do. This caused him to respond to situations in the same way a child much younger than him would because that was the level where his skills stopped developing. It’s like handing a book to a child who has never been taught to read and then punishing her for not being able to read the book. Just like some kids need help with reading or math, Wyatt needed help. We’ve learned that Wyatt needs to be taught how to deal with situations that upset him and cause him to act out.

New discipline strategy from the experts

So we tried a new way of disciplining our son. It meant changing how we as parents react to Wyatt’s behavior. This nontraditional style of parenting doesn’t come naturally to most people, and it didn’t come naturally to us. It required us to abandon the age-old notion that children who misbehave need to be “punished” — with timeout and consequences — in order for them to learn. My husband and I made a conscious decision to shift our focus from disciplining Wyatt for his behavior to figuring out what was causing it.

Because he was still so young and was rarely able to explain what was upsetting him, we worked closely with his school to identify what kinds of situations seemed to trigger his behavior and what skills he was missing to be able to manage those situations and the intense feelings they created in him.

We discovered, for example, that Wyatt became frustrated extremely easily. If the situation wasn’t resolved immediately, his frustration would fester until it erupted in anger, sometimes hours later. Wyatt didn’t hit a friend seemingly out of the blue because he was mean; he hit because he didn’t know how to deal with his escalated frustration in a productive way.

With this new knowledge in hand, our goal became to help Wyatt develop the skills he needed to respond appropriately in any given situation. In the interim we moved from trying to control his behavior with rewards and consequences to trying to reduce the likelihood of unwanted behavior by evaluating every situation for its potential to cause problems for him.

That’s not to say that Wyatt is free to do whatever he likes without fear of repercussions until then. Believe me, this approach is no get-out-of-jail-free card. If, for example, he at his little brother and calls him names, he needs to apologize to him. If he throws things all around the living room, the mess stays there until he’s calm enough to clean it up. While Wyatt doesn’t get in trouble for these things, he still has to take responsibility for his actions and make amends for anything he has said or done.

We had a veritable laundry list of things we needed to consider, everything from Christmas dinner at my parents’ house to school trips. We asked ourselves: had he been there before? Would the activity be structured or unstructured? How many people would there be?

We could be counted on to arrive late, leave early, or call with our regrets at the last minute because Wyatt was having a bad day, and we often turned down invitations that we felt would be too much for him to handle. The word spontaneity ceased to exist in our vocabulary.

Nontraditional, not lazy

The nontraditional style of parenting made us look to others like lazy or negligent parents who couldn’t be bothered to discipline our child. That wasn’t much of a change, though, since many people already assumed we were ineffectual parents. We dealt with the inevitable comments from friends and family members who didn’t understand our response to Wyatt’s behavior, especially in the beginning.

Grandparents informed us that they had no problems with him when he was with them, so he must be able to control himself. His aunts and uncles said things like “So, tell me again why you’re not punishing him right now?” And elderly relatives watched disapprovingly as we comforted Wyatt after an incident instead of punishing him.

A few weeks ago, on the way to a doctor’s appointment, Wyatt started yelling, screaming, calling me names, and throwing things around the van. Because we were on the highway, it was difficult for me to pull over. I tried to calm him, but the closer we got to our destination, the more upset he got. When he threw a shoe and hit the back of my headrest, I yelled at him to stop before he caused an accident. My calming words hadn’t been able to reach him, but my yell managed to jolt him out of his meltdown. “Mommy,” he began to sob from the back of the van, “I need you. I need you, Mommy!”

As luck would have it, there was a rest stop ahead where I could pull off the highway. I climbed in beside him and held him until he stopped crying. Once he was calm enough, I started to ask him questions to see if I could figure out what had set him off. What initially appeared to be frustration at not being able to play with a friend turned out to be anxiety about the doctor’s appointment. Together we came up with a plan that addressed his worries, and suddenly the crisis was over. By the time I pulled back out onto the highway, he was laughing and telling me a joke.

While Wyatt’s behavior has improved over the years, he still has a long way to go. Truth be told, the biggest change has been in our relationship with him.

Under the old approach, we constantly raged at Wyatt and punished him for his behavior. As a result, he turned into a sad little boy who felt he could never do anything right and who had no one on his side. His laughter and his smiles became increasingly rare. That’s no longer the case. Gradually he stopped worrying about us getting mad at him and instead began to see us as a safe place to go for help when he starts to spiral out of control.

If I’ve learned anything from our struggles over the years it’s that being a parent is just as much about learning lessons as it is about teaching them. Looking back at how far we’ve come as a family, I’m pretty sure we’re not failing; I think we’re going to pass this test.



How One Word Plays a Valuable Role in My Life as a Person With ADHD

man sitting at deskAs a person with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), one of my major stressors can be the frustration, and sometimes guilt, of procrastination and the feeling I’m never accomplishing enough. It takes very little to knock me off course sometimes, and the freewheeling, relaxed, socially abundant atmosphere of summer, while wonderful, doesn’t help.

There’s always someone doing something somewhere that sounds so much better than the work project that’s due on Monday or that errand you promised your spouse you’d take care of for the kids over the weekend. In short, there are plenty of “squirrels” to steal your focus.

For someone with ADHD, the word “routine” can conjure up a series of repetitive, logistical tasks and seemingly “mundane” obligations that are about as exciting as watching a new cable channel called “Haircut TV.”

That’s not to say they aren’t important. In fact, they’re often vital, and I sometimes regard those who can manage them with an almost mystical reverence. But for me, they can be painful. So in this context, I use the word “routine” simply as an unbiased descriptor — an adjective.

But while these “routine” tasks often assume the persona of my sworn nemesis, I’ve also come to realize over the years that the word “routine,” in an alternate context, has come to play an extremely valuable role in the management of my ADHD life. “Routine” as a noun — a word that refers to the regularity of activities that can help bring order and stability to an otherwise chaotic mind.

For someone living with ADHD, adding a certain amount of routine (in noun form) to their life can be a very effective coping strategy. It can help provide external cues that make it easier to transition between tasks. 

When faced with a task that needs to be accomplish regularly (but always seems to get put off due to its mundane nature), you can build a “routine” around it. Creating a ritual of sorts can trigger your brain to know when its time to start shifting your focus towards that activity. In other words, establishing a routine as an external prompt can, in some cases, help build “muscle memory” of the brain.

Let’s face it: A lapsed routine during the summer can be fine. It’s expected. It’s the time of year when we get to slow down and enjoy some of the rewards of our hard work. The trick for many individuals with ADHD is to take advantage of the downtime without allowing it to consume you.

But there’s no denying that for me — and for many who deal with the challenge of ADHD — there is a certain amount of comfort and safety in knowing that when September roles around and the kids head back to school, everything can get back to its normal routine.

So although it may be wise to recognize and appreciate the difference between “routine” as both an adjective and a noun, the truth is that while we may never desire one to be more than a casual acquaintance that we learn to accept and tolerate out of necessity, the other can become one of your best friends.

Source: themighty.com