Motivation problems—we’ve all been there. Did you order take out for dinner when you already had a meal planned for the evening? Check! And then you ditched that much-needed exercise class because you just weren’t feeling it? Double-check! To top it off, you had to stay up late to finish that project you had plenty of time to work on earlier in the day. Yep—everyone can pinpoint a time (or several) in their lives when they felt sluggish or couldn’t get started on a task. As adults, then, we can relate to our learners who feel a similar lack of motivation. The difference is that adults have the experience and capacity to acknowledge when they need intrinsic (internal) or extrinsic (external) support to help them launch when they feel unmotivated. Learners, particularly neurodivergent learners, see a lack of motivation as something that is wrong with them, which causes a cascade of negative emotions about their self-worth and capabilities. Therefore it is imperative that we discover the cause of a learner’s inability to motivate, then help find strategies for initiating and maintaining their motivation. Let’s explore what motivation is and how we can spark motivation in our learners to help them kick-start and remain on their path to potential.

What is Motivation? 

Verywellmind.com defines motivation as, “…the process that initiates, guides, and maintains goal-oriented behaviors. It is what causes you to act, whether it is getting a glass of water to reduce thirst or reading a book to gain knowledge. Motivation involves the biological, emotional, social, and cognitive forces that activate behavior. In everyday usage, the term “motivation” is frequently used to describe why a person does something. It is the driving force behind human actions.” After re-reading that definition a few times, it’s clear how complex motivation truly is. If a learner struggles with social-emotional health, executive functioning or learning in general, you can imagine how challenging it is for them to find the motivation deep inside, sumon their courage, and push through hardships (both perceived and real). It’s been proven many times over that we typically reference an experience when we felt successful (or a time we witnessed someone else achieving success) to inspire us to work hard and rise above adversity. That feeling of success is a driving force for future task activation as it helps learners see themselves as capable of success. The combination of a learner not personally experiencing this level of success with a biological, social, emotional or cognitive deficit of any kind makes for a perfect storm of negative reinforcement. They immediately lose their ability to pump themselves up to try, try again.

For more on goal-oriented behaviors, see Goal Setting for Learners – at Home and at School.

We typically reference an experience when we felt successful (or a time we witnessed someone else achieving success) to inspire us to work hard and rise above adversity.

Igniting Motivation 

With a better understanding of motivation, you can see how important it is to find out why a learner feels the way that they do so that you can counteract these feelings. Motivation is personal. A learner’s ecosystem must dig deeper into a variety of approaches to kindle the motivation needed to thrive in a learning environment and beyond. For example, sometimes a goal is too large and may seem out of reach; chunking, or breaking it down, into successive approximations (baby steps), can help facilitate progress to the larger goal. On occasion, goals are unrealistic and it helps to step back and reevaluate them. The learner may not be engaged, perhaps because they don’t find meaning or see the purpose in the task. Working with a peer, group, or trained professional can provide a different environment that is more appealing to them. They could also just be flat-out bored. Try sprinkling their interests into the task in a way that helps them better relate to the goal, recall these interests when asked to target the same (or similar) goal in the future. Help them envision their success one step at a time, while validating their anxiety and fatigue. Help them understand that everyone experiences a lack of motivation, but that this challenge can be overcome with the correct strategies and support in place.

How to Motivate Learners
1. Start with one step at a time.
2. Keep the goals small and attainable, use the SMART acronym when developing goals.
3. Incorporate interests to make tasks more engaging, meaningful and inspiring.
4. Initiate coaching and instructional support when/if needed.

Sustaining Motivation

With proper goals established in a measured, intentional way, next comes the challenge to maintain motivation through the duration of a task. When we focus on one individual, micro goal at a time, we help equip learners with a new mindset by showing them how rewarding reaching a goal can be. By incorporating their interests, making tasks fun, and creating realistic goals within reach, we not only help a learner get started, but we also encourage them to complete their work. Additionally, verbalizing positive praise, reinforcing the importance of self-affirmations, and commending their effort with internal or external incentives can gently nudge learners towards achieving their goals, small or large. 


If a learner follows these steps and does not succeed, tapping into Carol Dweck’s Growth Mindset (as explained further in our blog, “Mindset Matters”) can reap invaluable benefits. Most people will not naturally find the motivation needed to propel through a task, and subsequently endure the many pains a formidable task can create. Developing a plan that involves explicit coaching from their support system (the learner’s ecosystem) is key to not only initiating, but sustaining motivation. There are many stories (personal orations and story books) that simulate how mistakes are learning opportunities and are meant to teach us how to approach a situation differently in the future. Training our learners to see challenges as obstacles to overcome, and as opportunities to reach their potential, helps them sustain motivation to work through the goal.

How to Sustain Motivation in Learners
1. Start by praising your learner for what they do well and model the use of self-affirmations.
2. Treat every mistake as a learning opportunity.
3. Validate hardships as obstacles and help learners feel successful by overcoming them.
4. Incorporate layers of support using your learner’s ecosystem.

Conclusion

Motivation is only one piece of the puzzle in unlocking a neurodivergent learner’s overall independence and confidence. Without motivation, learners can feel inadequate, incapable, and insufficient. There is nothing “wrong” with unmotivated individuals; they are either being asked to execute a task that is not manageable, is too boring, or is too lofty. They likely haven’t found a strategy or system that works best to help them initiate, persevere, and sustain their motivation.

Originally published on LinkedIn on January 11, 2022.

As highly effective vaccines rolled out across the U.S. in January of 2021, the year ahead was optimistically labeled as a “return to normal.” Several variants and surges later, the year was anything but normal.

While some schools did return to the classroom, many adopted a hybrid schedule. The stop-and-go nature of these Covid-19 surges created a disruptive whiplash for students, parents, and educators—preventing them from getting into a rhythm and hindering learning. Meanwhile, schools became the epicenter of political polarization on issues around masking and vaccination. 

Thankfully, the digital platforms and eLearning tools leveraged by educators and students were once again able to help salvage a disruptive academic year. We continued to see that eLearning, when used effectively, can sometimes lead to better results than in-person learning. One study found that, on average, students can retain 25% to 60% more information when learning online.

But we cannot rest on our laurels in 2022. There are still many challenges our society faces when it comes to education. Success for learners and educators in the new year hinges on whether schools and society can continue to capitalize on technology and evolve it to meet the new needs of learners as we emerge from the ongoing global pandemic—while improving conditions for educators.

Teachers on the Brink: What It Means for Schools, Students, and Society

At the beginning of the pandemic, there were many articles about the impact Covid-19 was having on teachers. Teachers were rightfully getting media attention about how much more difficult their job had gotten: they were now teaching in their homes and apartments, often tending to their own children who were now learning remotely—in addition to their students. Meanwhile, their students were dealing with an entirely unprecedented situation, making their job as educators exponentially more difficult. 

Unfortunately, the spotlight on the heroic efforts of our teachers has dimmed in 2022. But the problem has not: a National Education Association survey of 2,690 members, released in June 2021, found that 32 percent of educators said the pandemic led them to plan to leave the profession earlier than anticipated. The state of Florida alone saw 9,000 staff shortages in the past year, up 67 percent. Among teachers 55 and older (a cohort that includes some of the most experienced educators) 34% said they considered leaving or retiring because of COVID-19. And those who are not ready to retire may still view being unemployed as being more preferable than being a teacher given the current circumstances. 

The situation is as unmistakable as it is dire—schools will close due to a lack of teachers. At first this will be a day here or there. Then entire weeks or semesters may be cancelled. In fact, it is already happening: in Michigan, eight schools across the state either moved entirely online or even entirely cancelled classes or semesters due to staff shortages

“We just didn’t have the human resources to be able to test the kids, teach the kids, meet their needs,” reported Bob Cassiday, a superintendent at one of the impacted Michigan districts. 

A future where learning in person in a physical classroom environment—at least part of the time—is desirable for our learners for a number of reasons. But unless we do more to incentivize teachers to join or stay in the profession, some districts may never recover from what is being called “the Great Resignation.”

The Unbundling of Education

Due to the changes in our school system, parents—many of whom are working at home and have a front row seat to their kid’s education—have become more involved in the learning process. A range of parents have taken it upon themselves to offset some of the impact of the pandemic on their learners. 

As a result, innovative technology and eLearning solutions have risen up to meet the market demand. At Learnfully, we see it paralleling the unbundling of television and streaming services. Several decades ago, there were a few broadcasting stations that dictated what and when we consumed television programming. This gradually ‘unbundled,’ leading to on-demand services like Netflix, and eventually HBO Max, Hulu, Disney+, and the ecosystem we all know so well today. Consumers now have the power to decide when and what they watch.

Now we’re seeing a similar trend in education, one that is only accelerating in 2022. We’re moving away from a one-size-fits all education, and new offerings fill certain niches and specific learning needs. Content is available on-demand in many instances, allowing learners and their parents to self-drive their curriculum. This shift has also empowered educators, especially those with specific expertise that is untapped or underleveraged in their school environment. Now on their own schedule, they can instruct learners who need their services across the country—or even around the world—creating a win-win for the learner and educator alike. At Learnfully, providing this type of empowerment and educational access speaks precisely to our mission. 

Parents are getting more involved, often even taking control of their kids’ education. This increased involvement is leading to innovation in personalized learning. The result of this changing dynamic is a more consumer-friendly, widely accessible set of learning solutions—just like we now have with streaming services. 


2022: The Year of EF Awareness

Awareness of mental health issues has gained widespread attention as the pandemic has progressed. This has helped pave the way for greater public recognition and awareness of neurodiversity needs. With this greater focus comes a better understanding of the impact that things like social-emotional well-being, the differences in individual learning abilities, and preferred learning style has in academics. 

One of the most critical issues that has gained prominence for parents is Executive Functioning (EF). Due to the disruptions of routine, many parents and educators have seen students struggle during the pandemic to perform daily tasks related to EF—like time management, prioritization, organization, effective listening, emotional regulation, planning for future events, and more. 

This trend is expected to continue in the year ahead. Many schools are starting to include EF training, such as our EF Simulation, and coursework in their classrooms. Some states may take the step to implement mandatory Pre-K, which has been shown to help develop EF abilities. In addition, parents will continue to seek out solutions that can help their children overcome EF challenges (in and out of school settings). We’ve seen a notable increase in EF conversations and interest from both parents and educators. 


Conclusion

With our rapidly evolving educational environment—thanks to emerging technologies, a heightened awareness of neurodiversity, and the teacher crisis—we find ourselves forced to reevaluate our priorities. If anything good can be said about the pandemic, it is that we are rethinking everything: how we treat teachers, how we educate learners, and how we prioritize neurodiversity. And while there are many issues we must address, I’m hopeful that this revaluation period will lead to innovation and improvement in the year(s) ahead. 

One of the most commonly unnoticed and, thus, undiagnosed diagnoses is Dysgraphia, a diagnosis involving the impairment (physically and cognitively) with written expression. Here we explore the definition of this diagnosis, the symptoms one can look out for, and how it is treated. 

So what exactly is Dysgraphia? 

A recent study conducted by The National Center for Biotechnology Information stated the prevalence of dysgraphia is, “between 10% and 30% of children experience difficulty in writing.”  According to the Learning Disabilities Association of America, “Dysgraphia is a learning disability which involves impaired ability to produce legible and automatic letter writing and often numeral writing, the latter of which may interfere with math. Dysgraphia is rooted in difficulty with storing and automatically retrieving letters and numerals.” Like several other learning differences, dysgraphia can stand alone or can go hand in hand with one or more learning disabilities. Common morbidity presents itself in learners who are diagnosed with ADHD, dyslexia, dyscalculia and executive dysfunction, just to name a few. 

What symptoms are paired with Dysgraphia? 

One of the first signs that a learner is struggling with writing is noticeable in their actions. They might refuse to write their name on a worksheet, crumple their papers up or even avoid writing tasks by creating excuses (frequent bathroom breaks, anyone?) In essence, learners with dysgraphia have unclear, irregular, or inconsistent handwriting, often with different slants, shapes, a mix of uppercase and lowercase letters, as well as a combination of cursive and print styles. They also tend to write or copy things slowly.

Caregivers or educators may notice symptoms when a child first begins writing assignments in school. Some key signs of dysgraphia to watch for include:

  • Cramped or improper grip, which may lead to a sore hand/fingers
  • Difficulty spacing things out on paper or within margins (poor spatial planning)
  • Varying shades of writing (i.e. darker letters or small tears in their paper due to tight grips/force when writing)
  • Frequent erasing and/or scratching out
  • Difficulty organizing their written work 
  • Inconsistency in letter and word formation and spacing
  • Poor spelling, including unfinished words or missing words or letters
  • Unusual wrist, body, or paper position while writing

What methods are used to treat Dysgraphia? 

“Writing is a skill, not a talent, and this difference is very important because a skill can be improved by practice.”

Robert Stacy McCain, American Journalist 

Oftentimes, a combination of personalized Occupational Therapy and Educational Therapy strategies are needed for learners to strengthen the underlying cognitive and motor skills that correlate closely to writing with independence. Occupational Therapists, for example, can address the fine and gross motor skills that are responsible for serving as a foundation for formation, spacing and endurance, while Educational Therapists can provide systematic support to the organization, planning, thought process and the like that goes into fluent written expression. In all honesty, writing and the layers of complexity that it involves may never be easy for dysgraphic learners, but, with the guidance and help of certain specialists, learners can apply differentiated techniques that work best for them so that they are not limited by their challenges. 

Understood has created a fantastic list of methods one can use in order to develop dysgraphic learners’ writing skills as well in their blog, 8 Expert Tips on Helping Your Child with Dysgraphia. Assistive technology is also one of the most widely accepted accommodations for learners who struggle with the symptoms of dysgraphia. Potential solutions include, but are not limited to: 

  • Utilize pencil grips and hand strengthening toys (such as stress balls) to encourage a healthy, proper grip. 
  • Provide extra time to take notes and copy material. 
  • Give the learner access to peer or teacher notes to remove the variable of notetaking altogether. 
  • Allow the learner to use an audio recorder or a laptop in class. 
  • Provide paper with larger spaced, different-colored or raised lines to help form letters in the right space. 
  • Allow the use of graph paper (or lined paper to be used sideways) to help line up math problems.
  • Encourage learners to type and utilize keyboarding when possible/appropriate. 

It is better to catch writing challenges early in order to alleviate unnecessary struggles.  If you notice your learner struggling with any of the aspects within the writing process, please do not hesitate to reach out to your support ecosystem (educators, Learnfully Specialists, OTs, other caregivers, etc.) because they very well could qualify for a dysgraphia diagnosis or at least get access to techniques that will make their writing lives easier. Silencing one’s voice by not allowing them to communicate in written form can be detrimental to their self-esteem and their ability to express themselves in general. So, please join our mission to empower neurodiversity and seek support if your learner is facing written expression hardships. 

It is not our differences that divide us. It is our inability to recognize, accept, and celebrate those differences.

Audre Lorde

At Learnfully, it’s woven into our mission to celebrate neurodiversity. That is why October is particularly special to us.

This month, we celebrate LD Awareness Month, ADHD Awareness Month, Dyslexia Awareness Month, Dyspraxia Week, and Developmental Language Disorder Awareness Day on 15 Oct.

These celebrations are always important, but this October it’s critical to shine a light on the neurodiverse communities. The Covid-19 pandemic has upended so many parts of all of our lives. But its impact has been especially challenging for the neurodiverse community and their families, many who rely heavily on well-established routines to build consistency both in and outside of the classroom. Some were forced to go without therapies or meeting with caregivers or educators, to avoid spreading this terrible disease. All these factors compound and impacted the neurodiverse community disproportionately. 

A recent survey of autism caregivers and parents underline these challenges. 64% of caregivers said that the changes brought by the pandemic “severely or moderately impacted” their child’s autism symptoms, behaviors or other related challenges. Meanwhile, three-quarters of parents also suffered: saying they felt extreme or moderate stress because of the disruptions to their lives.

That’s why we’re celebrating throughout this month by trying to share as many resources, insights, and stories as possible to build community, connection, and support. We’ll be hosting events and webinars, publishing a blog series highlighting the neurodiverse, and providing tips to parents and family members who face the challenges of neurodiversity. 

We hope you follow along. You can find us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, YouTube and on our Blog. And we want to hear from you: feel free to use the hashtag #LearnfullyLDAwarenessMonth to share your stories, tips, and insights with us this month.

Find out how Learnfully supports kids with learning differences here.

We understand how intimidating and/or stressful any meeting concerning your child can be. Here, we hope to reduce your angst by providing a brief overview of what to expect in a 504 Plan Meeting specifically and welcome any and all questions that you may still have following the reading of this article.

What is a 504 Meeting? 

Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (commonly referred to as Section 504) is a federal law designed to protect the rights of individuals with disabilities in programs and activities that receive federal financial assistance. Those programs include public school districts, institutions of higher education, and other state and local education agencies. To qualify under Section 504, a student must have a disability and that disability must limit a major life function. The Americans with Disabilities Act Amendments of 2008 (ADA) broadened the definition of disability in the ADA as well as in Section 504. The 504 Plan is a plan developed to ensure that a child who has a disability identified under the law and is attending an elementary or secondary educational institution receives accommodations that will ensure their academic success and access to the learning environment. 

Each 504 Meeting includes the following participants: 

  • Caregivers
  • Administrator/Principal 
  • Teacher(s) 
  • The learner (dependent on age/maturity)  

Each member of the 504 Meeting Committee typically provides insight into the learner’s strengths, areas of need, and accommodations (present or future) throughout. 

How is it different from a SST? IEP? 

We realize how confusing all of the acronyms can be, so fear not – we are here to help!  

The SST, Student Study Team, is usually less formal than a 504 or IEP meeting and does involve documentation, but the information discussed is not upheld by the law. So, teachers will delineate recommendations and an action plan within this meeting and will follow through as best they can without repercussions if they are unable to reach a level of compliance. A 504, on the other hand, is a legal document that delineates accommodations and modifications upheld by the law. 

The IEP, Individualized Education Program, involves the IDEA (The Individuals With Disabilities Education Act).  We will dive deeper into IEP’s next week but generally speaking, the IDEA is less involved in 504s than they are in IEPs.  Because of this–and the overarching purpose of 504 meetings–the school does not require measurable growth or specific goals with 504s like it does with IEPs.

How do I best prepare for a 504 as a caregiver? 

Prior to the meeting, it is important to do your homework! Prepare a list for the following aspects of your learner’s profile: relevant background information, strengths/interests, areas of challenge, potential solutions for said challenges. If your learner is old enough and/or self-aware, it’s always a good idea to ask them the same questions that you will need to report to during the 504 Meeting.  You know how to speak with your child best, of course, just be sure to stress that the purpose of the meeting is to best support their learning needs by providing strategies to help them access their full potential. Your learner should be part of the process one way or another. Sometimes, learners are asked to join the meeting and, therefore, would need to have a discussion with you prior to the meeting anyways. Feel free to review understood.org’s tips about 504s Meetings or having a productive meeting as well!

What happens during and after the 504 Meeting? 

During the meeting, bring your notes, work samples, and writing utensils or your device to add to your previously delineated thoughts. Try to maintain a positive outlook before, throughout and after the meeting. Educators typically have your learner’s best interest at heart and want to see he/she/they succeed. Sometimes that means your child needs a little support to realize and reach their goals which is why we adults need to come together to make it happen! 

At the conclusion of the team meeting, the facilitator will ask you to sign the notes that they took during the meeting (in person or electronically if you met virtually) and provide you with a copy. Within the notes, they will list the areas that you prepared, relevant accommodations/modifications that they will have tried or will put into place and the next steps which could include a follow-up meeting after a specific number of weeks. Please be sure to read over the team’s takeaways prior to signing the form itself since it is a legal document. Ultimately, all the present parties will also sign the document to substantiate agreement and accountability. 

We wish you all of the best in your learner’s 504 Plan Meeting and know that, with the right understanding, preparation, mindset and follow through, your learner will see and feel more successful in their personal learning trajectory and within their school environment!

According to a University of Wisconsin study, parents of children with learning differences have stress levels comparable to combat veterans. 

Between the hours of therapy appointments, unpredictable behaviors, demanding jobs, and uncertain future, the stress compounds and takes a mental toll. Most parents focus on the child’s well being at the expense of their own. Sound familiar? Then this blog is for you!

We spoke to Jackie Chang, a Marriage & Family Therapist, who’s worked with families,  adults, adolescents, and children affected by Autism, ADHD, Anxiety, Depressive Disorders, and adjustment problems. 

According to Jackie, self-care for a parent is just as important as the focus on the child(ren). Parents who don’t practice self-care end up experiencing burnout and compromising their own health.  This leads to depression, anxiety, and physical ailments over time. It’s important to feel your best.

So how does a parent know if they’re not taking care of themselves?

  • Decreased tolerance levels for tantrums
  • Being more reactive, for example yelling at kids more than usual.
  • The feeling of going from 0-60 very quickly
  • Changes in sleeping patterns, more or less than usual
  • Changes in diet. Over or under eating.
  • Losing interest in things you used to enjoy

People need to be mindful of how stress affects them. It’s important to compare and contrast behaviors. If you sense that your current behavior has red-flags, compared to when you were at your best, then it’s time to pump the brakes, check-in with yourself, and re-evaluate what’s different. 

“I don’t need help!”

Parents, especially moms, feel the need to do it all and do it all ourselves. Admitting that you need help is not an easy step, but taking that step is key to your well-being. Parents have to be open to asking, and receiving, helps from each other, family, friends and not feel the need to do this all by themselves. 

“Isn’t it normal to go through up and downs, especially since I’m just learning about the diagnosis?”

While it is completely natural to have mood swings in the early stages of your child’s diagnosis it never hurts to seek out help.  If these feelings are persistent and affecting other parts of your life,  that’s a sign you may need to see a therapist.  

“I’m having a hard time wrapping my head around the diagnosis. Everything seems very uncertain and that’s not great!”

A lot of parents get stuck on the label and tend to focus on the “deficit” and the negatives rather than their child’s strengths. Multiple IEP and parent meetings only seem to reinforce these thoughts since they mostly revolve around “what your child can’t do”.

In order to have a more balanced mindset, do your research. Understand what the diagnostic criterias are and be open minded about it. Reach out to other families or organizations that have a parent resource (eg. parents helping parents), monthly groups, autism speaks has resources. Meeting other parents going through the same experience will make it worth your while.

“My schedule is crazy, where do I even begin?”

Working parents and stay at home parents should use different tactics for get self-care.

Working parents lack of time and are constantly on the go. 

  • The feeling is that there aren’t enough hours or gaps to insert anything. Jackie’s recommendation is to schedule self-care and keep the commitment.
  • Take turns with your partner, or ask family members for help, so you can get some help with your self-care routine.

Stay-at-home parents often dedicate every single minute of their day to their child and end up isolating themselves and not prioritizing their needs. 

  • They can extend their self care by with being with others. Seek other stay-at-home parents and join a group. Get other people to participate so you keep one another accountable. It’s a moment for you to be with other adults and engage in adult activities, because the monotony of routine can lead to depression. One way to do this is joining an app called Meetup. 

“What advice do you have for couples parenting kid(s) on the spectrum?”

An ASD diagnosis adds stress to a marriage because it’s typically one parent dedicates themselves (the stressed out one) and the other person is the “side person.” While both parents need to divide the work, sometimes this is not possible because one parent may have to work. Coming together to delegate which parent will take on each task is very important, relieving stress on both parties when tasks are divided.

Take the time to be a couple and not just parents. 

Enjoy activities together and don’t be embarrassed to ask friends and family for help, or hire a babysitter and carve out that alone time to enjoy each other. Remember that before you were parents, you were a couple. It is still important to cultivate that relationship and show each other much-deserved attention.

“I’d like to get help, but can’t seem to find the right therapist for myself!”

The right therapist can be crucial for one’s well being. Do your research on the types of therapy available and find a therapist who will be a good fit for you. If you can’t make it into the therapist office,  certain providers may also offer online therapy. Psychology today is an excellent resource to help one find therapists in your area. 

“What should I expect from therapy?”

Once you and your therapist agree on a schedule, it’s important to open up and process what you’re thinking and feeling. Once you’re in the office, it’s important to feel safe and comfortable so you can have an open exchange on any topic that feels like it is inhibiting you. 

A common misconception is that people think that therapy is a quick fix and things will get better in a few weeks. In reality, therapy is a process. 

Parents usually feel worse before they get better. It’s important to not give up and push through the rough patch, as this is usually when parents give up because it gets too intense. In reality, this is a sign of progress and it’s critical for parents to push through this as it teaches you about yourself and gives you tools to handle your new life.

“General advice for parents raising kid(s) on the spectrum”

The most successful parents are the ones who were inclusive of their friends and family. The ones who were more comfortable revealing their diagnosis and open to educating those around them end up receiving more help and see more progress in their children. This is because everyone pulls together as a community, and simple things like friends encouraging the child to maintain eye contact while having a conversation leads to more opportunities to practice their skills in different environments with different people. 

Conclusion

We understand that it’s easier said than done. It’s a known fact the first few steps are often the hardest, and it’s been also proven that parents who stay with the course are more successful with their families and themselves! Parenting is hard and self-care is not selfish. 

About Jackie: 

Jackie is a licensed Marriage & Family Therapist, MA LMFT, who has had over 10 years of experience with adults, adolescents, and children with behavioral and emotional problems. Areas of specialty are autism, ADHD, anxiety, depressive disorders, and adjustment problems.

She believes that it’s already stressful to be a parent and it’s helpful to have someone guide you through the process so they can get a little more help in understanding the diagnosis and the process.

We encourage you to reach out to her via her website!

No more screen time! We’ve all heard this; honestly, many of us have even said this. But, like everything, virtual platforms are not all the same. In fact, the use of screen time in therapeutic settings had already been gaining traction long before Covid had us all locked in our homes clutching our toilet paper with our children. We were even moving toward accepting an online platform as a suitable alternative to the sensory nightmare of the overpacked, modern day brick and mortar school. But to be clear, digital learning intervention is not the ill-fated attempts made by teachers untrained to take on thirty- plus students online for six hours a day overnight. There’s quite a bit more to it than that, especially for our neurodiverse learners.

At one time, we assumed students came to the classroom with certain commonalities and anything outside this perceived norm was considered a neurodiverse outlier. Though we commonly regard this neurodiversity as being the autism spectrum, it can indicate a myriad of differences. We were all simply looking for the sometimes elusive norm that isn’t all it is cracked up to be- all you left-handers raise your hand. It wasn’t until a shift in focus, the recognizing (dare we say embracing?) of differences as being human, rather than a set of negative characteristics to avoid or modify that we finally started moving in the right direction.

So, what is neurodiversity or neuro-atypical, other than seemingly scary terms being tossed around in parent meetings across the nation, often without the benefit of what this will mean for the learner and their families? Can I get an Amen?!  In actuality, neurodiverse simply reflects the wide range of brain function typically found in our population with respect to how we learn, how we regulate mood, how we stay focused when the topic holds no interest and how we interact with others. Sometimes we excel, sometimes we do not. Bottom line: we are all different and, more importantly, that’s okay.  

Filtering sensory information can be impaired in more than one way, making traditional environments challenging because this impairment may heighten the awareness of another. For instance, smells coming through the vents from other rooms, backpacks, room deodorizers and cleaners can quickly take hold of the senses like perfume wafting in an elevator. Difficulty moving the body in open spaces coupled with hyper pain receptors can make navigating crowded classrooms difficult, even painful. Poor time management can breed the feeling of constantly being rushed or being penalized for rushing to accomplish a task within poorly perceived limitations. Though not an exhaustive list, it is easy to see why behavior issues creep up in our sensory children without the proper tools to navigate these environments successfully.    

Through expanding our understanding of strengths and not just perceived weaknesses of this population, engineers have developed tools with integrated assistive technologies (i.e. lowered visibility, leveled timers, sound muting, time limits, performance boards) that can structure the learning environment with far more precision than the classroom. And, by measuring the connection between the sensory and the cognitive, we can begin to equip educators with the ability to consider how their students process sensory information on a conscious level enough to be able to learn, think, and reason. Now remove a child once set to unrealistic norms, sensory systems clogged by a classroom filled with bright overhead lights, noisy, chattering children, vibrantly colored artwork shifted by the strong overhead fans and focus learning the way their brain works, building confidence and stamina with instruction designed specifically for them. It isn’t hard to consider how they, or any child, could be consciously aware for six hours a day without becoming overwhelmed or how having their needs now met could mean all the difference.

Covid-19 forced learners to access instruction online, providing researchers the unprecedented opportunities to assess educational best practices in an organic, world-wide sampling. What we’ve learned through this process will result in better sensory-cognitive interactions with specialists and virtual interfaces. And, by addressing sensory differences in support of neurodiverse populations, we can leverage individualized instruction and advancement in education technology to meet children where they are at developmentally.

On a recent consultation, a parent confided in me that an occupational therapist had recently recommended that her child with ASD continue working with her for an additional 6-9 months. The global goals had all been met, but there were some new education-based goals that the therapist thought could use some attention. This confused my parent as Kindergarten was to start in only three months, and all the other therapies were either fading out or had already been discontinued. The idea that her child might need more therapy in order to succeed in Kindergarten made her feel nervous and guilty. This also felt urgent as though if she did not fulfill these extra months for her daughter, she might not succeed in Kindergarten. In fact, she may even get singled out. All the intervention, all the hard work over the past three years could come out empty should her child not be able to keep up with the work. This is what played out in my parent’s head. Sound familiar?

It is so easy to grow accustomed to the child’s intervention. It starts out so intensive in several areas, often occupational therapy, speech therapy, and behavior therapy. There may be preschool or special day class, social/playgroup, physical therapy, and others. Much of the day is spent driving the child to and from one therapy to another. Then rushing home just in time to make it to in-home behavior therapy. 

But most of the time, the goal is for the child to become independent and highly functional to be fully included in a general classroom and make friends, play on the playground, participate in the science fair and the school play, and so much more. That is, the goal is to do less therapy and do more life with other kids and with fewer adults. 

Transitioning into life with ASD is scary, especially for the parent of the child with ASD. There are more “what if’s” than you can count. But one of the first steps of stepping into life is stepping out of therapy. This means that if many or most of your child’s therapists are discharging her because she has met all of her goals, this is GOOD! It is time for the next step. One of the next steps will be for her to try out all of her new skills with her peers at school. But this also means that the safety of the “driving to the therapies” is over. And it’s time for her to move a step away from your complete protection. This is also good. There is no other place for her to learn how to apply all of those skills but in the safety of that little classroom, and, no offense, but without you there. And without the speech therapist there, and without the behavior therapist there, and so on.

So, back to my parent…she did the best thing she could think of. She trusted herself as the mother of her child. She knew her child better than all of the therapists combined. She gradually decreased OT over three months outside of school hours and set up two playdates per week for her daughter. She knows that this is just another stage. There will be yet another which will require her and her family to weigh and measure things. But she is always willing to listen and collaborate intently with her team of professionals and trust herself to make the best decision for her child and her family. And guess what? Her daughter did beautifully in her Kindergarten class. She loved her teacher. She made friends. She had required just as much assistance as any other peer in her class. She thrived!

About the Author

Andrea has been working with neurodiverse children both as a behavior therapist and an educator for 25 years. Her work has been conducted in small groups and on a one-on-one basis. Early on, Andrea received a Master’s in Counseling Psychology with a specialization in Early Intervention. As her practice developed, Andrea went on to pursue a multi-subject credential. She also received training in BartonⓇ, Orton GillinghamⓇ, and Making Math RealⓇ.  She is very excited to be a part of the Learnfully team.