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Parents as Advocates: Tackling Dyslexia

October is Learning Disabilities Awareness Month—31 days dedicated to building community awareness about learning disabilities in an effort to provide supports for all children. As important as awareness is, however, parents whose children suffer from dyslexia are plenty aware of the struggles their children face on a day-to-day basis. That is why another “A” word can be even more powerful for families—advocacy.

 

No one knows your child better than you do. Keep this in mind when advocating for your child’s needs. In parents’ efforts not to come across as a “helicopter parent,” they sometimes assume it is in their child’s best interest to follow the expert’s lead, avoid making waves, and be passively agreeable. They do not want to be the bulldog. These fears are common, but that doesn’t make them true.

 

You are your child’s greatest advocate, and here’s how to accomplish that:

 

  • Under the Individuals with Disabilities Act, our nation’s special education law, children and their parents or guardians are guaranteed certain protections and rights. Once identified as having a qualifying disability, schools are legally required to provide special education services to your child. Also under IDEA, the law provides parents with something called procedural safeguards, which are put in place so that parents are aware of and have a voice in every aspect of their child’s special education evaluation and IEP process. As part of the process, the school must provide you with documentation and explanation of your rights—STUDY UP ON THESE DOCUMENTS. It is commonplace for IEP meetings to move quickly, with a “sign here if you don’t have any questions” style of rapid wrap-up. It is your job to closely review these documents and to seek clarification before signing anything.
  • Another best practice for advocacy that goes hand in hand with knowing your child’s legal rights is to stay organized. Keep a binder of all necessary documentation regarding your child’s diagnosis and any other evaluative documents that you accumulate as you work through the process. Items such as test results, doctor’s notes and recommendations, educator’s observations, report cards, writing samples, and any data concerning your child’s academic skills should be kept for future reference. The binder keeps essential documents organized and acts as a paper trail of progress and correspondence among your child’s team.
  • It is also essential for parents to be fully prepared for special education meetings. Because of this, the binder’s benefits are two-fold: paper trail and parent playbook [or however you want to define the two benefits]. Of all members of your child’s academic team, you are the person that knows him best, so your seat at the table matters most. Advocating for your child means preparing questions ahead of time and speaking up if they aren’t answered clearly. Meetings tend to move quickly, so request an additional meeting if you haven’t gotten clear answers. Do not assume that the team will automatically clarify for you, so be prepared to ask follow-up questions if needed.
  • The binder is also a great resource for you to use for note taking during IEP or 504 meetings. Not only will you have your own notes to refer back to after the meeting, but the process of taking notes shows that you are actively listening and invested in your child’s special education services. When parents demonstrate this level of involvement and support, it’s the child who benefits.
  • Another helpful advocacy move is to email a summary of the main discussion points that you took away from the meeting afterwards. This keeps everyone on the same page regarding the decisions that were discussed and allows you to share your own perception of how the meeting went. If anything is unclear, your email will start that conversation and provide clarification. In that email, ask about a follow-up meeting so that dates can be arranged and any other necessary steps can be taken.
  • Speak to teachers about your expectations, your child’s expectations, and the school’s expectations. This will prevent any miscommunication and unfortunate surprises. When setting expectations for your child’s success, it is important to be honest, positive, and realistic about the growth that you’d like to see. It will be difficult, but as much as possible, remain unemotional and unbiased about the feedback that you get from your child’s teachers and other professionals—cool heads prevail.

Bicycle Safety for the Summer Months, Part I

School’s out for the summer, although it has felt like school has been out for much, much longer due to the Covid closings. Now the children have the complete freedom to enjoy the outdoors without the need for Zoom meetings, online check-ins, Google Classroom assignments, etc. Biking is a summertime favorite for many children and teens. And with more time on their hands, we are definitely seeing that more young bicyclists are enjoying time out in parks and racing through neighborhoods.

 

As fun and exhilarating as biking can be, it is the recreational activity that sends more children to the emergency room than any other sport or pastime. Because of these known dangers, it is important that kids are fully informed on bike safety and biking precautions before hitting the road. Below are important considerations for helmet use that will help children and teens remain safe during their biking adventures.

 

Helmets are a must

Medical research states that wearing a helmet reduces the risk of head injuries by 88%. Head injuries can happen anywhere, even if kids are going out for a quick trip up the sidewalk or around the driveway. Therefore, parents must consider this safety measure as non-negotiable—if kids are not wearing a helmet, they should not ride anywhere. Selecting a properly fitted helmet is just as important for biking safety. Follow the guidelines below to ensure that your child’s helmet fits properly:

  • The helmet should fit snugly to the child’s head. There should be little to no movement if the child shakes or turns his head. If the helmet rocks or slips forward, backward, or off to the side, it’s ill-fitting.
  • Choose the larger size if you find that your child is in between two sizes. However, before riding, place extra padding into the helmet so that the larger size fits snugly. Pads to match the model of the helmet are often available or may even come with the helmet. Follow the instructions for inserting the pads so that areas of the head are properly cushioned.
  • A helmet that is not buckled is relatively useless; during a fall, the helmet can easily fly off, rendering it ineffective. Be sure to remind your child that the helmet must always be buckled securely before riding. Instructions on sizing and securing the straps will be included with the helmet, but a proper rule of thumb is that the strap should look like the letter “V” under your child’s ear when properly buckled.
  • In the event of an accident, or if you see visible damage to any part of the helmet, it’s time to buy a new one. Even if the helmet looks fine after an accident, the foam or padding could be compromised by the impact. This means that it will not be fully effective in the event of another crash or spill.
  • Remember, even if your child isn’t the one steering the bike, he must wear a helmet when riding. Whether he’s the toddler in a carrier on the back or standing on pegs while his friend pedals, a head injury is just as possible.
  • This is not exactly a safety tip, but allowing your child to pick out her own helmet will help to ensure that she wears it. Some helmets come with stickers or other decor so that kids can personalize the helmet to their liking. Again, the helmet is only good to her when she’s wearing it.

Keeping it Campy at Home

A recent realization is coming down hard on many families right now as we move into the summer months—cancelled summer camps and other beloved outdoor activities. Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, many organizations have been forced to postpone or cancel their summer programs and events. Besides deposits, schedule changes, and other logistical obstacles, families are now left to improvise for children who have been left disappointed by these cancelled programs. Despite the fact that camps, at least in the traditional sense, won’t be happening this summer, families do not have to forego all of the activities and traditions. Below are ideas for bringing camp activities and traditions back with an at-home spin!

 

Ask for ideas

Before setting out to plan for summer camp at home, ask your kids about their favorite parts of camp. Which activities do they prefer? How do they typically spend the day? How much adult involvement do they expect? What props, supplies, or materials will they need for their activities? By asking these questions, parents can plan for activities that will truly engage children in a meaningful way. Answers to these questions will also help parents to get an idea of the vibe or type of camp that is most relevant. For instance, a soccer camp is going to be much different from a wilderness-style camp.

 

Provide a schedule

Creating structure will make the at-home camp experience feel more authentic. Since all camps, from sleepaway camps to sports-focused day camps, provide a level of structure and consistency, an outline of activities for the day or week will elevate the in-home camp experience. Parents can sketch out the week’s activities or a daily schedule on a white board or take it to the next step by printing a camp “brochure” for each camper.  Below is a sample idea for a daily camp schedule–with typical camp protocols included:

 

Time  Activity Dress
8:00-8:30

 

*Change into active wear after bfast & apply sunscreen

Breakfast in mess hall (kitchen) *Bunk must be made prior to meal Pajamas
9:00-10:30 Neighborhood scavenger hunt Sneakers; athletic clothes
10:30-11:30 Indoor/Outdoor game time

*Choice of frisbee, cornhole, boardgame, hopscotch/jump rope challenge

Sneakers; athletic clothes
11:30-12:30 Lunch in mess hall (kitchen)

*Must wash hands prior to meal; clean up dishes after meal

12:30-2:30

 

*Reapply sunscreen after quiet time

Quiet time activities

*Choice of craft, baking, screen time, reading, coloring, puzzle, movie

Comfy clothes
2:30-3:30 Water time

*Choice of water balloon toss, sprinkler time, slip n’ slide, pool or water table, squirt gun fight

Swimsuit; towel
3:30-4:00 Snack time Dry clothes
4:00-5:30 Backyard obstacle course Sneakers; athletic clothes
6:00-7:00 Family dinner in mess hall (kitchen) *Must wash hands prior to meal; rotating schedule of campers setting the table Apron for kitchen helper
7:00-7:30

*Apply bug spray

Stack firewood/gather kindling for campfire
7:30-9:00 Campfire s’mores; spooky stories; star gazing Sweatshirts (possibly)

 

Of course, activities and times will vary depending on camper preferences and family schedules, but this sample provides a simple outline for parents to structure their at-home camp. This will require a bit of preparation and planning, but once the plan is in place and materials are gathered, older children (7+ years) could ideally run the activities themselves.

Another option is to share the schedule with other families in the neighborhood so that each house can get in on the fun. This also allows parents to divvy up the work, kind of like a progressive dinner, but with camp activities. An important consideration if hosting for the neighborhood—TRIPLE CHECK with parents about any allergies, food restrictions, medications needed (epi-pen), or health concerns that might impact a camper’s participation in outdoor/physical activities.

Zoom Fatigue Part II

Thanks to quarantining and social distancing, we now have a new term to describe the effects of continuous online interaction. Zoom fatigue, as we discussed in part I of this series, is a very real condition, despite its silly name. With nearly 100% of teaching and learning now occurring primarily on online platforms, such as Zoom, the fatigue associated with these digital conferencing tools has become an important consideration for children, parents, and educators alike.

 

How to combat Zoom fatigue

  • If possible, limit Zoom meetings to 1-2 per day. If parents are finding that their children are attending Zoom meetings consistently throughout the day, it’s time to step in. As a guideline, teachers have been instructed to provide 1-2 hours of “live instruction,” aka Zoom meetings consisting of instructional content, per week. This means that I personally am “live teaching” for two, 30-minute sessions per week. If teachers follow this expectation, students will be spending more time with hands-on, experiential learning as suggested, and less time honed in on a screen or video chat.
  • Parents who notice that Zoom meetings are occurring back-to-back or for prolonged periods of time should reach out directly to teachers and copy administration if necessary.
  • Parents can also suggest that their child only spend as much time as necessary in the Zoom meeting to gain clarity, ask questions, and receive feedback.
  • Similarly, teachers should set the expectation that Zoom participation, while strongly encouraged, is not required for the entire session. This means that students should feel comfortable signing in and logging out as they please.
  • A good suggestion for teachers to make every so often during a Zoom meeting is to remind students that, if they don’t have any questions about the assignment or content being discussed, they shouldn’t feel as though they have to stay in the Zoom meeting. Keeping things fluid allows students to advocate for their needs, while ensuring that time on digital platforms is minimized when possible.
  • To spur engagement during Zoom instruction, teachers should suggest that students take free-flowing, unstructured notes while the teacher is reviewing material or answering questions. These notes, in the form of free writing, have several benefits:
    • Note-taking ensures that students are actively listening and grasping important concepts.
    • Note-taking also helps solidify important information into memory.
    • Students are able to hold themselves accountable with their notes; if the page is bare, they know that they weren’t paying attention.
    • Jotting down rough thoughts or questions during an instructional session allows students to keep track of questions that they want to ask or concepts that require more clarity.

Teachers and tutors can also encourage engagement by enlisting an old classroom technique—random calling. Just as we would in the classroom, teachers can reach out for student comments and responses throughout the session to keep students on their toes and to check for understanding. Teachers should be sure to provide wait time for student answers and then open the question up to the group if a student falls silent. The point of random calling is to get and hold students’ attention, not to embarrass anyone or put them on the spot with a tricky question.

Self-care for Children

There has been a great deal of talk about the importance of self-care. The COVID-19 pandemic has created a great deal of stress, worry, and unease for all of us. What we don’t hear enough about, however, is how crucial self-care can be for children’s well-being. During this time that adults need to preserve their own mental health and well-being, they must also tend to their children who require the same, if not more, self-care. Like general hygiene routines, children must be instructed on how to take care of themselves—this includes emotional care, too!

 

Youngsters may initially find it difficult to actually place their feelings into a category. This is especially true in the heat of the moment. Instead of clearly articulating their feelings, kids may just lash out, cry, or shut down. When this happens, parents typically scurry to diffuse the situation quickly—rightfully so—rather than attempting an in-depth conversation about recognizing feelings before they erupt. Yet there are proactive measures that can be taken. To ease future emotional moments, try the following:

 

  • Parents can help little ones recognize and verbalize their feelings by explaining the difference between a situation that might make one angry versus scared or upset.
  • Use scenarios that relate to your child’s age and interests and speak about these experiences hypothetically. Use the word “pretend” as your term to signify each scenario as strictly practice for identifying future feelings/emotions.
  • For children that have specific social needs, visuals are helpful when teaching and discussing abstract concepts such as frustration, loneliness, etc. Consider using cartoons or emojis to help children visualize and conceptualize scenarios with particular emotions and facial expressions.
  • Parents can also encourage kids to clarify the level of emotion that they are experiencing with a rating scale of some sort. For instance, a “1” would indicate a mild level of joy, anger, sorrow, etc., while a “5” would signify an extreme level of feelings.
  • As kids get older, parents can encourage more advanced forms of expression, such as journaling, drawing, painting, photography, meditating, etc.
  • For many kids, expressing and expelling pent up emotions comes with physical activities. When children are struggling with stress, frustration, anger, etc., parents can prompt activities such as jogging, roller blading, juggling a soccer ball, kickboxing, dancing, golf, and any other sport or physical activity to release energy, center one’s focus, and mediate aggression.

 

In addition to recognizing emotional triggers, part of self-care involves removal from situations that could be emotionally toxic. Like all social-emotional skills, this comes with practice. For children, it can be especially difficult to speak up and advocate for themselves when they need a break or a breather, but this can be greatly beneficial for mental health and well-being.

 

Therefore, in addition to recognizing one’s feelings, parents will want to encourage children to speak up when they are reaching the emotional threshold. Strategies could include:

 

  • Asking teachers or other adults for a “brain break” when frustration hits. This could be as simple as taking a short walk in the hallway or getting a sip of water to cool down.
  • Creating a hand signal or code word for children who are hesitant to voice their feelings. When kids say this word or give the specific signal, parents know then that he/she needs a moment to himself.
  • Explaining to children that everyone, no matter how social or friendly they are, needs a break from the crowd sometimes. Make them feel comfortable taking that time for themselves to calm down, collect their thoughts, or just be alone for a moment.
  • Similarly, in times of stress, children can find comfort in positive self-talk. But again, this is a learned practice—parents will want to model positive self-talk to demonstrate how it works. If a child is feeling anxious about a competition or test, practice soothing self-talk strategies to boost confidence and lower anxiety. Silent mantras such as, “You will do your best!” “You worked really hard for this!” “Everyone is already proud of your accomplishments!” go a long way when pepping children up.

Distance Learning with Multiple Children at Home

Distance learning is tedious enough. Between the emails, Zoom meetings, various portals teachers utilize, and workloads from each class, juggling at-home learning during this new “virtual school day” can be a tall order. Even more difficult, though, is this juggling act when there is more than one school-aged child in the home. How can parents possibly manage distance learning for two or more kids? Obviously, this is new territory for everyone. To ease the stress and confusion, we’ve compiled suggestions and strategies to assist families who are learning at home with multiple school-aged children.

 

Designated work areas

One major hurdle when it comes to remote teaching and learning is organization. It should come as no shock that organizing a learning space is paramount to ensuring continuity of learning now that the usual classroom routines and structures have been thrown out the window. Students need to have a designated quiet place to focus, read, correspond, and create. While this seems obvious, many families are struggling to get children to focus on their remote classwork simply because the environment is not conducive for concentration. While the kitchen counter or a child’s bedroom may have previously been the homework area of choice, times have certainly changed—we’re no longer talking about rushed homework tasks in between soccer practice and dinner time.

 

If teachers and parents expect children to sit and focus for an extended amount of time, they need to provide a comfortable space, free of distractions. When siblings are working in close proximity, distractions are bound to emerge. Therefore, it is important that each child has his or her own private work space, equipped with comfortable seating, a laptop or other device, necessary school materials, and some form of desk or surface on which to work. If space is an issue, parents should consider lap desks as an alternative to bulky furniture desks.

 

Headphones 

Headphones are a true lifesaver when it comes to remote learning. Since many teachers are utilizing Zoom calls and other video tools to conduct teaching and learning, students would benefit from noise-cancelling headphones that allow them to focus solely on the instruction. Headphones also spare other house members the headache of trying to block out the instructional videos and video chats.

 

Individual check-in times

Many parents are finding that, on top of their own jobs working from home, they have now suddenly become homeschool teachers of multiple grades levels and content areas—as if everyone doesn’t have enough to deal with right now! To avoid being stretched too thin, parents should consider designating certain time(s) of the day for each child to check-in, seek help, review work, etc. Limit this form of “parental assistance” to a half hour per child if possible. If parents find that a child needs more support, they should communicate with the school and specific teachers about classes and assignments that are becoming unmanageable. To stick to the 30-minute check-in period, children should be encouraged to jot down their necessary questions ahead of time and be prepared to articulate where and how they need assistance. Set a timer so that children know that they are “on the clock” for only a specific amount of time. Whatever questions or issues that they are still having after check-in time has expired should be directed to their teacher.

 

Coordinate brain breaks and snack times

With multiple kids in the house, coordination is key to productive distance learning. Depending on each child’s age and learning needs, siblings may need more or less time for movement, screen-free learning, “brain breaks,” etc. As much as possible, try to establish universal times throughout the day when children break from learning to keep motivation, focus, and energy levels up and running.

 

It is important to move, converse, socialize, play, and create throughout the day to interrupt the monotony of virtual learning; however, if one child is playing outside while the other is concentrating on school work, parents may want to rethink the learning schedule. Allowing simultaneous break times ensures that kids aren’t being distracted by siblings during work sessions. There is no jealousy or “unfairness” factor if siblings are getting a break at the same time. Be consistent with breaks as much as possible; use a timer if necessary to set limits for learning versus playing.

Building Resilience in Trying Times

The current Coronavirus pandemic is like nothing we have seen before. We as a society are essentially constructing the track as this train barrels along, which can be unnerving, to say the least. For families with children, the burden may fall even harder in the midst of this global crisis. One tinge of a silver lining, however, is the resilience that will come as a result of persevering through these difficult circumstances.

 

Instead of ruminating on the issues…

Try free writing for 10-15 minutes every day. This form of expression is proven to alleviate stress and anxiety, much like meditation. Expressive writing gives us the opportunity to sit with our thoughts and work through our emotions on paper. Additionally, this process encourages us to work through a difficult time by reclaiming some sense of power—writing allows us to feel a sense of control over how we choose to react in written form.

 

Expressive writing is also a platform for reflection. Through writing, we are able to take time to come to grips with the struggles around us and consider how we can enact change, even if it’s just change within our own attitude or outlook. Finally, expressive writing provides a record of trials and tribulations—later on, if another crisis arises, it provides a resource of strength for us to refer back to for guidance.

 

Instead of wallowing in despair or perseverating over what we’re missing…

Acknowledge the current circumstances and practice acceptance of what we cannot control. It is easy for children and teens to feel as though this health crisis is single handedly ruining many aspects of their lives—socially, emotionally, academically, romantically, psychologically, etc. They may feel as though life is on hold during this pandemic. However, resilience comes from confronting and overcoming hardships. Therefore, learning to accept the hardships or obstacles is the first step in building this level of grit and resilience. As the saying goes, “We must accept the things we cannot change and find courage to change whatever is within our control.”

 

Instead of focusing on the negative…

Help children build resilience by emphasizing gratitude. It is easy to become bogged down in trying times, especially when an unparalleled global crisis is occurring. However, by prioritizing the positive and examining all of the good happening around us, we begin to recognize our strength.

 

Are playdates out of the question? Yes. Is graduation up in the air? Yes. Is prom likely cancelled? Yes. But is your family taken care of? Do you have your immediate needs met? Are you healthy? Are there other people suffering more right now? YES. Resilience and gratitude tend to go hand in hand because, through this crisis, we will learn that we’re stronger than we thought, and we have this strength to be thankful for.

 

Instead of falling into a rut…

Use this difficult time as an opportunity to do things there was not time for in the past. Parents can help bolster a new sense of discovery for their children by encouraging new or abandoned hobbies. Learn a new language, help work on the car, explore which vegetables would thrive in the yard, write poetry, watch cooking competitions, pick up an old guitar, foster a pet. The list continues as far as we can imagine. It is up to parents to encourage new ways of learning, engaging, and experiencing the world during this time of great uncertainty. Resilience can be cultivated by keeping busy—but it is up to us to choose how we use this time.

 

Remote Learning: Making Use of Time at Home During School Closures, Part II

As discussed in part one, the COVID-19 pandemic is like nothing today’s younger generation has ever experienced. Mass school closures may initially seem like a cause for celebration for many students. Yet the fact is that this pandemic, now deemed a national emergency, will have lasting effects. This is especially true for school-aged children and teens, who will now be missing out on hours upon hours of instruction and learning. In addition to setting up routines at home to maintain some semblance of normalcy, families will want to get creative when it comes to in-home learning as well.

 

Foreign language study

Just because schools are closed, that doesn’t mean that students’ language acquisition should hault indefinitely. Apps like Duolingo allow students to brush up on their foreign language skills, or begin to learn a new language altogether. The app is free and easy to use due to intuitive, game-like format.

Parents can also help bolster foreign language acquisition by selecting age-appropriate foreign films or movies with subtitles for the family to watch together.

Want to ditch the screens? Plan a bilingual scavenger hunt around the house using post-it notes. Label household items incorrectly and challenge your kids to correctly place the post-its using their language skills. For instance, if el baño is posted on the basement door, kids would need to move it to the bathroom door before moving onto the next sticky note.

 

Social studies 

For obvious reasons, many spring field trips have had to be cancelled, leaving students disappointed. One possible solution to these cancellations is to try virtual tours of the museums, galleries, landmarks, etc. Of course, the experience will not be entirely the same, but the sense of learning through exploration is still there. In addition, many locations utilize interactive platforms for students to truly immerse themselves in the information. Engaging options include Guggenheim Museum, The MoMA, The Louvre, Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History, The NASA Space Center in Houston, a moon tour via Google Earth, and any number of zoo cams around the world.

 

Now is also a great time for indulging in some documentaries for additional explorative learning. Beyond the content itself, which will undoubtedly provide information, older children and teens can identify and discuss persuasive techniques and other specific documentary film tactics. It may be beneficial to discuss the subjectivity that often emerges within the genre and how that impacts us, the viewers.

 

Science at home

Simple science experiments help to pass the time while introducing kids to the many engaging aspects of science.

  • Add heavy cream to a jar, tightly seal, and shake vigorously (for a span of 10-30 minutes) until butter begins to form. Kids will be amazed to watch as the cream solidifies. They can also flavor their homemade butter with sea salt or a drizzle of honey!
  • Create your own invisible ink using lemon juice and a q-tip. Kids will be amazed to see their secret messages when they hold a paper up to a lightbulb or other heat source.
  • Take a blind taste test, but with a tricky twist! Ask your child to hold his or her nose while tasting the everyday items, such as peanut butter, honey, salsa, chocolate chips, yogurt, etc. They will be amazed at how difficult it is to identify some of their favorite foods when their sense of smell is impaired!

Remote Learning: Making Use of Time at Home During School Closures, Part I

State-wide school closures for an extended amount of time due to a worldwide pandemic is truly unprecedented. Families, school systems, and entire communities are now in a position like we have never known before. Aside from the logistics involving everything from last-minute childcare to methods for providing meals to local FARMS (free and reduced-price meals system) populations, many folks are left wondering about the academic ramifications of these indefinite school closures. Similar to “summer slide,” when students are known to experience academic regression while out of school for the summer months, these sudden weeks without instruction could undoubtedly pose academic issues for students. Some districts are utilizing online platforms to deliver content digitally to students at home, while others are rushing to provide supplemental course packets that students can complete at their own pace during the extended closure. Whatever the case, families will want to ensure that certain steps are taken so that learning continues, even when school is not in session.

Set up a routine

Many students (and teachers) view this sudden shutdown as an excuse to go into vacation mode. Tempting as that is, stopping everything to “hibernate” at home is ill-advised, even during this time when we have been instructed to practice “social distancing.” Being stuck at home should not necessarily mean that children and teens grow accustomed to day-long Netflix binging in pajamas on the couch. Parents should set the expectation early on that some of this time out of school is still going to be used for learning. Some suggestions include the following:

 

  • Maintain the expectation that certain times of the day should be “screen-free,” meaning no smartphones, video games, television, iPads, or computer use.
  • As an alternative to technology, encourage kids to try a different hobby, like reading, journaling, coloring, yoga, knitting, baking, gardening, etc. Teen and adult coloring books, Legos, paint-by-number and toy model kits are all solid options for quiet, screen-free entertainment. In addition to revving one’s creativity, these activities help to develop fine motor skills, dexterity, patience, focus, and attention to detail.
  • Suggest that children help out with meal time and/or the cleanup after dinner. Seeing as everyone’s schedule has likely opened up, with regard to school, sports, and extracurricular activities, now is a great time to set up a routine for family meal times.
  • Imbed some physical activity into everyone’s daily routines as well. Obviously, the gym and fitness classes are ill-advised due to suggestions to practice “social distancing.” However, families can take evening strolls around the neighborhood, walk the dog each morning, jump on the trampoline, mow the lawn, etc.
  • To stave off the eventual boredom, families will want to think about organizing evening routines and activities as well. Maybe try Monday movie nights, take-out Tuesday, speed walking Wednesday, etc. The key is to have something to look forward to each day, especially since many fun events for kids, like field trips, weekend excursions, birthday gatherings, sleepovers, and team sports have been cancelled.

Gender Distinctions on the Spectrum

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), boys are diagnosed with autism at a much higher rate than girls. In fact, for every four boys diagnosed, only one girl will be diagnosed. There are many theories as to why this is the case, but one claim that is agreed upon by experts is that girls’ symptoms tend to be much more subtle and are therefore disregarded or overlooked. Instead of seeing certain tendencies and behaviors as potential symptoms of autism, parents often consider these behaviors to be minor “quirks” which their daughter may outgrow. While every child is different and autism presents in a variety of ways regardless of gender, there are known commonalities that specifically present in girls on the autism spectrum.

For girls, autism symptoms tend to revolve more around communication and socialization, as opposed to boys, who often present with more obvious symptoms related to impulsivity and repetitive outbursts. Furthermore, typical gender norms indicate that girls are often more content to play by themselves or engage in sustained quiet time on their own, as opposed to boys who prefer camaraderie and peer play. That said, a boy who withdraws from peers and fails to meet standard social benchmarks would draw more attention than a girl with the same social impediments simply due to society’s expectations of gender norms. Again, this is why many experts believe that autism diagnoses in girls are delayed or sometimes overlooked completely.

Similarly, since girls tend to mature earlier than their male counterparts, their level of self-awareness and social cues tend to be further developed as well. Because of this, girls on the autism spectrum may be more inclined to study others’ behaviors and react accordingly, almost learning how to mask their social struggles by observing others. Meanwhile, boys may miss cues altogether and therefore receive a diagnosis earlier on.

An additional concern for girls with autism is the fact that they can be especially naive to the world around them. They may experience difficulties in social situations or misread social cues, which often leads to instances of bullying or harassment. This naïveté can make it difficult to discern another’s tone or intentions and can cause them to become even more isolated from their peer group. A girl on the autism spectrum may not realize that her interests are not shared by other girls, but will insist on driving the conversation or focus to her specific interest. Again, this can cause friction with peers since the child may not fully understand why others are rolling their eyes, ignoring her, or outright dismissing her.

Finally, girls with autism may experience specific “obsessions” just as boys do; however, with age, parents might notice that her interests do not evolve as would be expected. Often times, an obsession becomes more noticeable as the child gets older because the interest is markedly different from the typical girls her age. For instance, instead of developing an interest in nail polish or drawing, a girl with autism might obsess over toy horses or stickers even as she begins to go through puberty. These seemingly immature interests can also contribute to social issues at school, such as bullying or isolation by peers.