The Power of Authority

When someone you love is sick, the doctor is the one with the perceived power to cure. When someone you love is struggling in school, the teacher is the one with the perceived power to make a difference.

Whether it is the emergency room staff or the IEP team, the ones ‘in charge’ have the power to access, to diagnose, to report and to offer suggestions for moving forward. This leaves the subject and their family in a vulnerable place. Trust is placed in the hands of the professionals. It is an awesome responsibility.

As an child development specialist and as a lay person I have been on both sides of this type of scenario and my recent trip to the vet emergency clinic in the middle of the night reminded me of how it feels to be the ‘parent.’

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Creating Trauma Sensitive Classrooms and Schools

We highly encourage anyone going into the field of education to become familiar with the Adverse Childhood Experience Study. Known as ACE, this research was conducted by the American health maintenance organization Kaiser Permanente and the Center for Disease Control and Prevention.

The participants were chosen in the mid-nineties and have been followed up as they matured. The study is frequently cited as a landmark in research and has demonstrated a direct association of adverse childhood experiences with physical and emotional health issues in later life.

Ten types of childhood trauma were identified: 

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Supporting Parents of Highly Sensitive Children

One of the greatest challenges of parenting a Highly Sensitive child is to soothe our own angst and worry. A concern that is often voiced by these parents is not feeling confident in dealing with the daily challenges that confront kids who seem to feel everything in ‘overdrive.’

Supporting these families begins with a two-step approach.  The first is to help parents become more conscious of their own emotions so they can approach solutions from a place of calm and trust. An adult who is dis-regulated cannot authentically help a child in need. Yikes! This means we actually have to work on ourselves. Most parents (and teachers) would rather give advice than look at our own ‘stuff!’ 

The second is for adults to gain the skills that actually help a highly sensitive child feel safe in a world that often becomes ‘too much.’ While building this competency is not hard, it takes willingness and patience because it is a process— like learning how to become a fine artist. It can be tricky and messy…  and worth every imperfect moment!

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The Benefits and Detriments of Labels

When children display behaviors that limit their ability to keep up in typical American classrooms they are often recommended for special testing. In a desire to figure out what holds them back from successfully completing tasks and appropriately handling emotions we have developed a litany of labels. The labels that have been created to describe these challenges can be both beneficial and detrimental depending on how they are used.

This is a call to be more conscious in the way we label and describe children. When labels are used with compassion and wisdom they can be used to create an individualized plan of cooperation between home and school, enabling a child to thrive in their unique way. Unfortunately they often create fear and distrust. When used with intellectual reasoning alone, the soul and psyche of the children may be forgotten and while the youngsters receive extra cognitive attention their inner worlds are left unattended. Many of these kids struggle not only with their original challenge but secondary layers of self-doubt and shame as well. We must always consider the whole child, not just the isolated ‘disability.’

Labels are a starting point, merely an entry into a portal of a complex inner world. As we offer tools to increase skills we want to be sure a child does not identify his sense of self by his deficit. It is vital to remind parents and teachers not to use the ‘special need’ as the overriding way we see and talk about these kids.

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Do You Parent/Teach According to Harvard’s Standards?

The Dean of the Harvard Graduate School of Education suggested to the class of 2016 that there are 5 essential questions you should regularly ask yourself. He noted that if you get into the habit of asking these questions you have a greater chance of being successful and happy.

He was posing these suggestions to people who have spent time at Harvard preparing to transform education in ways both large and small. I absolutely agreed with everything he said and I want to take it a step further. You see, he told these graduates that there is no higher calling than the field of education. There is a higher calling and that is being an educator who also bridges the gap for parents.

When we, as educators, forget that our students are not just learners of a subject, but beings destined for their own unique greatness we become trapped in a tunnel of teaching ‘to a test,’ to a ‘field,’ to a curriculum.  We can be the models who remind parents that the present moment is as important as achieving a future goal.

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Sensory Processing Sensitivity, Sensory Processing Disorder or Both?

Picture it. A four-year-old is all dolled up in a in a lacy dress and matching gloves, holding a basket of flowers and ready to sprinkle petals as her aunt prepares to walk down the aisle. As her turn approaches the little one begins to whine, “I don’t want to go.”  She pulls off the itchy gloves and the tears start to flow… A tantrum is underway as she shrieks, “Take the dress off me! It’s too scratchy!!! No I don’t want to throw the flowers and you can’t make me!!!”


Let’s break down some of the reasons this child may be having such a BIG reaction… she may have Sensory Processing Sensitivity (SPS) or Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD). There is the possibility that she has both SPS and SPD (SPSD.) In addition, she may be acting in response to family stress, the lack of preparation for the event or a sudden overwhelming anxiety caused by a combination of the above factors.  

Highly Sensitive Children (HSC) and Highly Sensitive People (HSP) ‘have’ Sensory Processing Sensitivity. This term speaks to a trait that 15-20% of the population experience, whereby a heavy volume of sensory information bombards their nervous system, often causing over-stimulation. When this happens to a child they can become dis-regulated and need help processing their thoughts, emotions and behavior.

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Distractibility- Another Perspective

I had one of my ‘aha’ moments in physical therapy a few days ago and I’ve been thinking about this whole notion of ‘distractibility’ ever since.

I’m a pretty intelligent adult, with many academic credentials and yet I watched myself acting like a grade-school student who really didn’t care much for the lesson my teacher was so kindly trying to explain to me.

You see, my therapist has been working on an issue I’ve been having with my shoulder and she was concerned with the lack of progress. After my treatment, she invited me into another room and took out a moveable model of the shoulder. She started to patiently explain all the detailed parts, how the muscles, tissues, etc. fit together and how they affect each other. I realized that my mind wasn’t keeping up with the scientific explanation because I started to think about what I was going to eat for lunch. I knew her lips were moving but my mind was elsewhere.

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The Highly Sensitive Dog

One of my new years resolutions was to walk more.  Since I live in a warm climate I could not use the excuse of cold weather to stay huddled inside. So there I was, one recent brisk winter morning, wearing my wide brimmed hat and sunscreen, all set to carry out my resolution.

As I rounded a corner I heard the soulful wailing of a dog. It wasn’t a usual bark; it sounded like it was coming from deep inside the animal’s soul. The depth of the crying sounded an alarm in my own heart and I found myself thinking that anyone who hurt an animal to that extent should be reported to authorities.

I felt like a detective, paying close attention as I passed each house, but I couldn’t identify the direction from which I heard the almost continuously wailing.

As I turned down a walking path I noticed a couple way in front of me with three German Shepherds. Within a few moments I heard the soulful crying again and saw that the man and woman had brought the animals over to a grassy knoll. The man kneeled next to the dog that was in despair.

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The Pause to Check System

The idea for this blog article came to me at a recent holiday party when I over-heard a conversation between two moms discussing how they were going to handle going to Christmas at their in-law’s houses. One mom lamented that the house is traditionally filled with bowls of sweets and decorated with breakables and treasured holiday-themed trinkets that her young son can’t help but touch. “He loves his grandparents,” she sighed, “but he doesn’t want to go to their house because he is scolded so frequently.”

This interchange brought up a memory of when my nephew was about a year old and he came to my house for the first time. Since I work with young children I knew that it was up to me to create an environment where he would feel happy, safe to explore and want to come back.

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The Gift of Trust

The holiday season is in full swing and this is the time of the year I find myself cringing as I observe parents in ‘high gear’ as they unintentionally put stress on themselves and the rest of their family. While the authentic desire to create some kind of magical holiday celebration is usually the impetus to the endless chaos of shopping, baking, cooking and decorating, many families wind up enduring stressed out days leading up to the big event.

Just yesterday, as I walked out of the supermarket to my car I watched a parent screaming at her two children to stop whining and asking for things. The three of them looked miserable as they passed the bell ringer who was cheerfully wishing them a “Merry Christmas!”

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