“When we can imagine someone else’s experiences or feelings as different than our own, and understand that they are no less important- we learn to sympathize and empathize.”

-Michelle Garcia Winner

In this month’s Educator Spotlight, we celebrate and honor Michelle Garcia Winner as she has brought so much joy and empathy into our lives as educators, learners, parents and the like. The Social Thinking® and ZONES of Regulation® practices are top tier, our learners’ lives would certainly not be the same without the programs that she has created to improve their lives in the short and long term. According to socialthinking.com, “Michelle Garcia Winner, MA, CCC-SLP specializes in the treatment of individuals with social learning challenges and is the founder and CEO of Social Thinking®, a company dedicated to helping individuals from four through adulthood develop their social competencies to meet their personal social goals.” Winner has made strides in building several social-emotional learning curriculums and, thus, drastically impacting learners’ lives for good. Here, we will provide an overview for the core methodologies Winner and her team have developed to give insight into the efficacy and need for social thinking strategies in and out of the classroom.

Zones of Regulation

ZOR®  is a cognitive-based, self-regulatory framework for students with challenges in sensory processing and integration. Through building self-awareness of the student’s internal state, this methodology helps them better navigate social situations and foster better relationships by breaking down complex social norms into smaller, more understandable parts.  Using the latest research, Zones encourages students to utilize a variety of tools and strategies that explore mindfulness, movement, sensory integration, wellness and more to create a systematic approach to teaching skills in executive functioning, social-emotional learning, perspective taking, social problem solving and self-regulation. A byproduct of the Zones approach is better school and work performance while continuing to honor the student as a unique individual with talents of their own.  

You are a Social Detective®

You are a Social Detective®  is an illustrated and engaging curriculum written to support teachers and parents in their efforts to help learners (with and without diagnoses) experience social cues and learn how to take perspective while doing so. As an ideal introduction to social thinking, You are a Social Detective® empowers elementary-aged children (and beyond) to discover dynamic tools to explore relatable vocabulary that allows them to apply their understanding in a streamlined fashion. The program is available in both book and app form, so its versatility allows the audience to access its invaluable resources from wherever they are needed!

Superflex®

In conjunction with other materials, Superflex®  has proven to be one of the most entertaining methods to teach learners social awareness and self-regulation. According to her website, “Superflex® provides a fun forum in which they can explore their challenges and identify ways to modify their thoughts and behavior in different settings. Depicting behaviors as cartoon characters (a.k.a. the Unthinkables) helps students learn about their own behavior in a non-threatening way.” 

There is no denying the immense impact Winner’s Social Thinking curriculum on learners near and far.  The diversity of resources for learners of all ages and needs is impressive to say the least. As an organization of parents and educators, we are so very grateful for her ongoing development and research. 

For more information, please visit socialthinking.com or view Winner’s overview of Social Thinking here!

The journey for all neurodiverse families is different/unique but by sharing ours, we hope to help others know they are not alone.

Hello parents! A little something about me … I have two boys, my oldest got diagnosed with ASD (autism spectrum disorder) 6 years ago and my younger boy got diagnosed with ADHD about 3 years ago. My husband and I are working parents and have learnt a ton and grown together. We can truly say that we wouldn’t change a thing about our family but it’s not always easy! Here’s a few things we wish we knew when we started our journey as neurodiverse parents.

1. A learning difference diagnosis is NOT the end of the world.

My husband and I were definitely worried upon learning about the diagnosis, which was compounded by the long waitlists for remediation resources. We were anxious about not doing enough and/or the right thing. As time went on and the therapy started taking effect, we felt lighter as we started seeing the light at the end of the tunnel. We quickly realized that a label was just that, just a meaningless label. We have delightful kids who have a hard time adjusting to society’s norms and it’s our job to guide them through it.

2. Be patient with your kids and more importantly with yourself.

Māori for autism is ‘Takiwātanga’, which translates to my/his/her own time and space. Parents are often hard on themselves and blame themselves if things aren’t going as “expected”. It’s important to be patient, be consistent, and live life one day at a time. 

3. The internet can be a scary place!

Most parents often feel alone and take it on themselves to scour the internet in search of answers. Some of us can get lost and spiral into a web of negative & impertinent information that can make things worse. Instead, use the internet to look for groups of parents, specialists, etc., and find resources that can get you a professional opinion. Every child, neurotypical and neurodiverse, is unique. Just because your child has the same diagnosis as another child, it doesn’t mean that the same solution works!

4. It’s easy to obsess over the challenges and forget to nurture the child’s strengths

As parents, a majority of our conversations are often about what the child can’t do. Take a step back and take the time to understand and nurture their strengths as well! If you can, make the time to enroll your child in activities they enjoy.

5. Be honest and kind to yourself!

Everyone has good days and bad days!, and telling myself that I can do everything only made things worse for me and my family. A system that has been highly effective is writing everything down, prioritizing it, and being realistic about what I can and cannot accomplish. More importantly, you HAVE to be ok with the items that you could not accomplish!

6. Do not lose your sense of self!

This is the hardest one that parents struggle with. However, it’s imperative to have a sense of self by having your own hobbies or your own space to feel a sense of balance. Do not hesitate to ask a family member, friend, or babysitter for help! Use a barter system if needed.

7. Everyone needs help!

Thinking I could do everything and eat my emotions almost broke me. I learnt to swallow my pride and asked for help, even if it was “easier to do it myself”. I learnt to let other people help me, communicate clear expectations, and not expect the same results! Don’t hesitate to ask your friends and family for help if you need to. 

8. You do you!

Do what makes you and your family happy. Eliminate all toxic sources and do what works for you. If you need to take a day off from your routine or if you need to cut ties with a certain person who drains you, do it! My circle of family and friends is definitely a lot smaller, but they are extremely special and supportive! 

9. Advocate for your child and teach them to advocate for themselves!

It is highly important as parents to have realistic goals for our children. It’s easier to get school, teacher, and community support when you’re part of the solution. Explain the situation, understand their limitations, and offer solutions that are mutually beneficial. However, if the system doesn’t work, it’s time to find a new one that does.

10. Parenting a neurodiverse kid is rewarding and exhausting!

Remember that two steps forward and one step back is still one step forward. Take the time to celebrate everything you’ve accomplished as a family, no matter how small. Life is hard and it’s the small moments that are often the most meaningful.

Find out how Learnfully supports kids with learning differences here.

The nutrition that you build into your learners’ lives will set the course for life-long eating habits, thus making decisions about nutrition imperative.  Spending the time to establish and uphold proper eating patterns is just as important as exercise and sleep. Nutrition has a large impact on a learner’s energy levels, ability to focus/engage, and development in cognition and emotional regulation. So, let’s dive in the top ten steps to instilling nutritious habits in your learners. 

Here are 10 Steps to Childhood Nutrition:

Make it fun!

Encourage your child to help you plan meals and snacks for the week as well as to help you cook, bake or prepare! You can search ideas online or in magazines/books together during family time, then shop as a family (or team!) when the time comes. Associating positivity to nutrition will help build habits and increase the likelihood that your child will continue in your footsteps.

Education is key.

Access resources such as Common Bytes and Childrens’ Health Fund to brainstorm ideas that can work in your household.

Shop the perimeter of the grocery store.

Most of the fresh fruits, vegetables, meats, cheeses, dairy, and seafood are found near the edges of the store, with packaged items tucked into the aisles.

Balance protein, fat, carbohydrates, fiber for good health.

The amount does differ depending on you and your learner’s body types.

Ranges, according to Mayo Clinic: 

Age/SexCaloriesProteinFruitsVeggiesGrains Dairy
5-8/girls1200-18003-5 oz1-1.5 cups1.5-2.5 cups4-6 oz2.5 cups
5-8/boys1200-20003-5.5 oz1-2 cups1.5-2.5 cups4-6 oz2.5 cups
9-13/girls1400-22004-6 oz1.5-2 cups1.5-3 cups5-7 oz3 cups
9-13/boys1600-26005-6.5 oz1.5-2 cups2-3.5 cups5-9 oz3 cups
14-18/girls1800-24005-6.5 oz1.5-2 cups2-3.5 cups6-8 oz3 cups
14-18/boys2000-32005.5-7 oz2-2.5 cups2.5-4 cups6-10 oz3 cups

Consistently read the ingredients.

Usually, the fewer ingredients a product has, the better. Experts say that the ingredients to avoid eating often are trans fats, excess added sugar or other sweeteners like corn syrup, artificial dyes, nitrates and nitrites found in preserved meats, artificial sweeteners, and other artificial preservatives.

Cut the sugary drinks.

Risk of childhood obesity increases 60% with each sugary beverage consumed daily. Enough said.

Embrace leftovers.

Leftovers are great, especially for busy families that don’t have time to cook every weeknight. Intentionally make twice as much as you need and freeze the other half to reheat in the following weeks.

Plan occasional treats.

Remaining loyal to eating sweets infrequently allows your learner to avoid sugar crashes, savor the moment and live guilt-free as they age.

Practice meal planning.

Marching to the grocery store with a list in hand and tasty meals in mind will make grocery trips efficient. 

Sometimes, the sneak attack is the way to go (at least, at first).

Smoothies and baked goods can create perfect opportunities to practice your sneakster skills by sprinkling rather tasteless nutritious elements into their meals. Once your learner develops a taste for and, therefore, enjoys the taste pallet party, you can start to clue your child into their ingredients.

For more information as to how you can develop healthy nutritious habits in your learners’ lives, check out www.nutrition.gov and www.healthychildren.org or speak with your pediatrician!

Caregiver-Teacher Conference season, albeit exciting, can create anxiety. As caregivers, we want to make sure our children are seen and heard for who they truly are and not necessarily for what they can do or produce. Spring conferences present the perfect opportunity to see your learner’s world from their teaching team’s lens to ensure that your goals and expectations are matching one another’s and that your learner is on a positive path to end the year with confidence and security. Here, we provide a few tips for how to make the most of your conferences now and in the future to ease any stress that you might experience throughout the process. 

Start with Why

As Simon Sinek so eloquently states. “Regardless of WHAT we do in our lives, our WHY—our driving purpose, cause or belief—never changes.” It is important, no matter what, to always start with thinking clearly about your purpose and intentions for the Caregiver-Teacher Conference. Typically, as caregivers, our why is that we want to secure our learners’ path to potential and help them feel confident and successful all the while.  Sometimes our why might also involve learning more about how our learners learn best so that we can support them at home. Whatever your why may be, once it is clear, you might need to sprinkle in self-reminders along the way to maintain clarity and your priorities as the conversation unfolds. 

Establish Rapport

Start with an informal conversation to get to know more about your child’s teacher and to build a connection. For example, ask how their conferences have gone thus far or if they have plans for the weekend/over Spring Break!  Keep in mind the teacher’s perspective – you and the teacher both have your child’s best interests in mind, which will allow you both to keep him/her at the forefront of the discussion. Read your audience to gauge their receptivity to your communication, their interests and how you can balance both to make the most of your conversation. Always keep in mind, of course, that the caregiver-teacher relationship is a partnership with the ultimate goal of supporting your learner to reach his or her full potential. 

Prepare

In order to reduce potential anxiety and to feel equipped for the conversation itself, it is important to keep these quick tips in mind: 

  • Review assignments, grades and any progress reports.
  • Before the conference takes place, find an opportunity to sit with your learner as he/she does homework in each subject. 
  • Understand their strengths and thought process first-hand.
  • Chat with your learner to gauge their feelings about the school year so far. Casual settings may encourage more discussion than a formal sit-down.
  • Talk with other caregivers, past or present, from the same classroom about experiences.
  • Make a list of questions to ask and have your take prepared for discussion. Resources for creating a list of questions can be found:
  • Don’t forget to bring a notepad, pencil or pen, samples of your child’s work and any concerns so that you cannot just feel prepared, but also can reflect on the discussion points later.

Be Present

We are all busy juggling the multiplicity of responsibilities we have as caregivers, but it is imperative to put aside a brief window of time (approximately thirty minutes) to remain fully present throughout the conversation. Ways to self-check that you are staying engaged involve active listening (physically leaning in, for example) and communicating both verbally and nonverbally (i.e. smiles, nods, etc.) throughout the entire meeting. Personally, I like to take notes even if I feel secure with my ability to recall the takeaways so that I make extra sure that I am focused each and every minute during the conference. 

Follow Up

After the meeting, follow-up strategies to continue the conversation should be one of your first priorities. End the Caregiver-Teacher Conference by scheduling the next formal point of contact. If unsure, feel free to ask the teacher how he/she prefers to communicate (email, note, phone calls, etc.) and then follow up with a thank-you note of some kind. It is never too late to reconnect and follow up as questions arise, so please do not hesitate to re-engage in communicating with your learner’s team whenever you feel it is necessary to do so. Educators recognize that there might not be as many organic opportunities to connect during drop off/pick up/events during the pandemic, so reaching out electronically is completely understandable. 

At the end of the day, try to keep these principles from the Harvard Family Research Project in mind for productive and effective communication in every Caregiver-Teacher Conference:

  • Best intentions assumed
  • Emphasis on learning
  • Home/school collaboration
  • Examples and evidence
  • Active listening
  • Respect for all
  • Dedication to follow-up

Having worked across many industries (for companies of many sizes—from early-stage startups with only a few employees, to large companies with employees in the hundreds of thousands), I’ve come to appreciate companies that anchor business practices around a set of core values. I don’t mean just listing them on their website or plastering them across a wall in the breakroom, but truly weaving them into the fabric of the business and all of its functions—from hiring, to product development, to strategy discussions, and all the way to the customer. When my co-founder, Suchi Deshpande, and I set out on our mission to bring tech-enabled services to neurodivergent learners, we asserted our core beliefs from the beginning, to make sure our business was aligned with our values. We strive to live by them every day as Learnfully grows and evolves. 

As an innovator and leader in the neurodivergent space, I feel it’s important to set and follow core values because it helps us center our focus on what matters most—impacting positive change for kids with learning differences. We are not a technical solution looking for a problem—we are parents who know that there needs to be a better way to help the one in five learners out there with natural brain variations achieve more in their formative academic and social lives. By making ourselves accountable to our values we’re helping provide better outcomes for learners, as well as better outcomes for our business As a diverse set of parents, educators, technologists, entrepreneurs, and marketers (and more as our business and community grows), we are all working together to cultivate a lifelong passion to learn and excel.

We’re proud of our company’s mission and the core values we endeavor daily to uphold, and would like to share them with you. 

Growth

We believe in continuous improvement.  With an open mind and a growth mindset, we are always finding ways to improve and succeed.  We embrace strength-based learning and transparency, so that we put learners on a path to achieve their potential.

Possibilities

We embrace the immensity of educational possibilities and know that every learner is unique. By assessing and curating the best approaches for each individual, we can recommend the best path forward.

Connections

We believe that connections—whether to parents, educators, coworkers, or community—are at the foundation of wellness and success. We establish and strengthen these relationships by recognising and celebrating the individuality of others.

Partnership

We provide the direction, support, and outcomes that parents & educators desire. We establish shared goals and achieve these outcomes together.

Community

Through shared knowledge, resources, skills, and support, we are creating a community that embraces personalized education and the exchange of related ideas.