Thursday, August 27, 2009

Our little guy has been a bit stressed out and this is what we can do to help him

I was talking to my good friend Shannon, who just happens to be a wonderful teacher at the 1st grade level, with Exceptional Education credentials. I casually mentioned to her that Ethan had developed, what seemed to be a compulsive need to ask us about our daily schedule, ie: what we were doing now, and then, and so on and so forth and you get the picture. It was to the point that Katie was even becoming a bit unnerved by his constant "need to know" what our day was going to consist of. At one point, she not so nicely yelled at him, "Ethan, why do you need to know what we are doing all the time?!?" His need to know had gone from a cute quirk to a completely over the top behavior. After I told her all about this newest issue, she asked me if it started after preschool had ended and summer break began. I had to think back but I was fairly certain that it had. Actually, when I think about it, it may have been exacerbated by the crazy and uncertain schedule that we had over the summer, due to Marc's illness. Shannon also felt that the preschool program that Ethan is in for development and speech delayed children definitely makes use if these cues and that most schools do now as well.

She explained to me that it is an anxiety issue built around his loss of the structure that he had during his school day. He probably felt out of control and anxious about it. It seems that many children with such issues benefit from "visual cues" or "visual support" Shannon explained that when children have these cues available, then they are able to organize their thinking about the upcoming day and have much less stress about it. When they have questions, they can be redirected to the visual cue cards and over time the stress will diminish. Many children need this throughout the course of their education and obviously at home for the same reasons. After we spoke about it, I researched it a bit more and found this helpful piece to explain visual support and how it is implemented at the preschool level. There is even a way to visually cue a child to the fact that sometimes a strict schedule cannot be adhered to and that when events change unexpectedly that it will be just fine.

If you think about it, it really is like us adults having lists of the things that we need to get accomplished every day. If we did not have the lists then we may forget what we need to get done and seeing it there in black and white reduces are anxiety about what we need to get accomplished each day.

I hope that this info helps some of you that may be experiencing similar issues. Huge thanks to Shannon for cuing me on the cues ;-) I will be beginning the use of the cue strips immediately and will let you know how he does with it.

One more thing before I share the info, I have had lots of emails asking about Marc and his condition. I will give you a full update on my next post but he is fine. He will be having an in hospital test next week and then the heart surgery after that. I promise I will post more by the weekend. Hugs to all of you.

Here is the info:

Visual Support Tips in the Preschool Class
By:Sheila Demers

By observing children in many different preschools, I've noticed that the classes which utilize an abundance of visual supports for children have far more independent and secure students. Many children as well as adults perform much better with additional visual cues throughout the day. I know I need my various lists or palm pilot to remind me what I need to accomplish each day or each week. It helps me keep focused on the priorities of my life. There are so many distractions each day to tempt us away from what needs to be accomplished.

This is true of preschoolers as well as they negotiate through the preschool day. Just think of being four years old in a new class with loads of play areas and visual distractions. Not only do you have this sea of fun, you have lots of friends and adults within one room to play with. What a thrill! But then your teacher says, "It's time for circle", and you have to drop what you're doing, pick up and go and sit quietly on the carpet for twenty plus minutes while all the toys and activities are calling out to you to play with them. How do you survive the day??

By utilizing visual supports for the whole class, you assist students in planning and preparing themselves for a period of time. They begin to understand that even though it may be difficult to come to circle, that after circle they'll be able to visit centers, then have snack, then go out to play, etc. They'll learn to organize themselves and have less anxiety about their day. For those who may miss home, they'll be able to see that there's an end in sight after they complete several more activities. It also reduces the amount of repeating directions to children.

Visual support strips are especially helpful to preschool classes which include children with special needs. I suggest to parents to use these techniques at home to assist with bedtime and mealtime routines. Here's a few examples:

• Use a classroom visual strip for the morning's activities on a wall where students and teachers can easily refer to it. Each picture should be large enough to be seen from anyplace in the class. One class uses the following sequence for their preschool class: free play, circle, activity centers, snack, read book, recess, home. Teachers refer to the strip as each transition is about to occur.

• Individual student strip- Some children with high anxiety or limited language skills may benefit from an individual strip. They can have pictures posted on Velcro to remind them of the activities of the session. After each task/center is completed, they learn to remove the picture and place it in the all done envelope below their strip. A teacher assistant usually guides the child with this plan until the child can independently follow the strip with the cue "Sam, check your chart."

• Individual task strips are utilized in certain activities such as fine motor center. For some students to envision completing a fine motor project is overwhelming and may elicit a meltdown. By following the task strip of paint pumpkin, cut out eyes, nose and mouth, and paste parts on pumpkin; the child can complete the project with a minimal amount of assistance.

• Visual strips can also be placed in areas where a routine needs to be followed such as sequence to wash hands or use bathroom.

• A zigger zagger icon (thunderbolt) is introduced to the children as some unexpected event that may change the expected routine of the day or activity. Maybe outdoor recess needs to be canceled due to an unexpected thunderstorm. Children need to learn that changes may occur that were not planned for and it's OK.

Additional Visual Strategies

1. A list of classroom rules which may use pictures may assist the students.

2. Labels with words or pictures on center areas or bins of toys.

3. Classroom helper chart with a picture of each child and their assigned task for the week.

4. A choice board with a variety of activities (pictures) for students to choose when unable to verbally request one.

5. A song choice board where students can choose a song to sing from a group of songs which have been introduced over the course of several months.

6. Preschool staff may wear a flexible wristband with a variety of picture icons to reinforce what a child needs to do. Some children with delays may respond more appropriately to the picture than the verbal instruction. Teacher verbally states the direction once in combination with the picture and then presents the picture again to reinforce the instruction.

By incorporating visual supports in the preschool classroom, children learn to independently refer to pictures throughout the day to stay organized, reduce anxiety and prepare for the upcoming activities.

I feel very lucky to have so many wonderful sources of info and support in my network of friends. I hope that this info helps some of you that may be experiencing similar issues.


Sheila Demers, author, special education administrator, teacher and childcare trainer, is an expert in children with special needs and challenging behavior. With over twenty-five years experienced as an educator including special education teacher, preschool coordinator, guidance counselor and private placement specialist; she has provided training for children, families, and educators in their search to implement strategies and supports regarding specialized needs of children.

Sheila holds New Hampshire certifications as an Elementary Educator, Special Educator, Guidance Counselor and Special Education Admistrator. She also holds a New Hampshire credential as a childcare Mentor, Trainer and Faculty. As a Preschool Coordinator for the past twelve years, she has developed, implemented and supervised integrated preschool programs for children with and without disabilities. She is a sought after provider of consultation services to preschools and childcare centers. Through these services many children with special needs and behavior challenges have enjoyed successful preschool experiences. Personally committed to maximizing the potential of each child's abilities, she is actively involved in local and statewide committees to improve services to young children and their families.

For more information contact Sheila(at)

Monday, August 24, 2009

Another school year begins....don't let the audible sighs of relief distract you from reading this!

I adore my children but it is neither feasible or fair to get much work done when they are in our midst. Having a block of time each weekday when we can actually get work done is......well.....awesome!! Bring on the school year!!!

The first day went well for all of our children; the two "little's" that live with us and the one "big" that does not. Let me start by saying that Justin's exact phone text to me today was "It's gonna be crazy" When I asked for a clarification of "good crazy" or "not so good" crazy, I was told "good crazy" and the gist of the conversation that transpired later was that his "A" game was going to be needed to get through this internship. I think that was a given ;-)

Katie and Ethan had good days as well, although probably a tad less stressful than Mr J's! Making new friends and getting to know a new teacher for Katie Starr were probably the most important goals that were met today, as it should be. Katie's teacher told me that she was quiet for all of 10 minutes after I brought her to school, in what looked to most like a semi catatonic state. Then she morphed back into her normal ebullient self. Ethan, on the other hand, bounded onto the bus like summer had never happened and then never skipped a beat the entire today. He has such an amazing personality; it really never ceases to amaze me. The low point of the day was when his school bus was about an hour late coming home. I was becoming unglued to say the least but just as I was on the phone waiting for the county bus control to track the errant bus down, up it pulled "manned" or should I say "womaned" by Rose and Ruby, who apologized profusely and told me that they had problems with their route. They were so sweet that I could not be too upset; especially since the little man was just fine and no worse for wear. His mama, on the other hand, has about 10 more grays under her *ahem* natural red hair.(wink)

One more development before I bid you adieu for today....I decided to see how Katie would do without a nap after school. Ethan sleeps at school and he requires huge amounts of sleep and has no problem settling down for bed. On the other hand, Katie will nap really well but then cannot fall asleep lately and just tosses and turns for hours. The nap experiment turned out well today. She was fine all day and then I put them to bed at 8:00 PM and they were both asleep within minutes of hitting their it!!

Here are a few photos to mark the day of the Dynamic Duo on their first day of Pre K!

Our mischief heading off to his first day back to school

another cute shot at the door

Here's Katie Starr


Together for one last shot before their day begins!

This pic was taken at school and one of the mom's sent it to cute!

Katie and her teacher hit it off!

Now how could I be upset with these two sweet women :)

Do you think she missed her brother?

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Big year ahead for our big guy

The school year has rolled around once again and this is a particularly important one; not nearly as much for the Dynamic Duo, as for my big guy, Justin. Justin is starting his third and final year of law school tomorrow and begins his internship or clinic as they call it. He will be working in a law firm in the area of his interest; Environmental Law.

I am so proud of Justin. He has worked so hard and now he is in the home stretch, about to embark on his life's work. I have always stressed to him that he must choose a vocation in life that fulfills him and he is passionate about. I believe that he has followed that advice and chosen an area of law that will do just that for him and in the grand scheme of things will benefit many, including future generations.

Justin, as make us so proud and even more importantly sweetheart, you should be truly proud of yourself.

We love you,

Mom, Dad and the DD

Monday, August 17, 2009

We just don't know.....

These are the words that are uttered far too often about our two youngest children. There are just so many questions that cannot and may never be answered. It is so hard for us to have to say these words when asked questions about the DD's early months and and even years in Ethan's case, that we were not yet united with them. There are even times, like today, when it really can be an issue not to know their history.

Today we took the DD to the Pediatric Ophthalmologist to check on Katie's patching progress and to have Ethan's eyes checked by a specialist for the first time.

The good news is that Katie has progressed in her left eye (the one with the poorest vision) to 20/40 corrected. The Doctor tells us that this may prove to be the best that we can get the correction to or we may be able to squeak her up to 20/20. He left it up to us to give it 8 more weeks before we wean her from the patch and to give it the best shot possible. The reason that he left it to us is that he knows, just as we do, that patching a young child is not easy on the child at all. She struggles with it daily. She is a trooper and really only complains when I first put it on her each day but it totally changes her personality to a much more withdrawn state. There really was no other decision to make though. We have to give it more time and give her the best chance possible at even better vision before the weaning begins. I really hope that it pays off for her, but at least if it does not, then we have given her the best chance at better corrected (with her glasses on) vision.

Now, this is the part of the story where the lack of history is not only detrimental but always saddens us. When our wonderful doctor was examining Ethan today, he found that on the very edge of Ethan's retina was a problem that could have resulted either from a premature birth or as I hypothesized to him, oxygen issues from his heart problems, which he agreed would cause the same problem. I really should not say problem because right now this irregularity on the retina is not causing any sight issues and since we have caught it early enough it should never cause problems. He told us that the worse case scenario was having to have a laser procedure to remedy the issue. He has referred us to a retinal specialist to determine the severity of the problem.

All in all, nothing really earth shattering....I just wish, with all of my heart, that we would never have to say those words again. No mother or father should ever have to say that they just don't know something about their own child.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Some cute pictures while we wait....

I don't have a concrete update on Marc's heart surgery yet. We thought we had a good plan that was taking us to New York City at the end of September but that does not look like the best option at this point. I may have more answers by the end of the week but in the meantime I wanted to take a bit of a break from the stress of our present situation to share some cute pics that I took today while the DD were playing outside. Today was their last day of camp and they are back to school the week after next. They have had a lovely summer and we sheltered them as best as we could from our stress. I hope that we have done a good enough job with that.

Enjoy the pictures and I promise to be back soon with some more news

Here you can see the DD has spotted something.... a teeny, tiny frog! Then my sweet children picked flowers for me and Mr. E presented me with a tiny one.