School meetings: How to make them easier

Ken Shyminskya former vice president of the Greater Toronto Chapter of the Tourette Syndrome Foundation of Canada, draws upon his personal experiences as a teacher and student with Tourette Syndrome to help children with TS and related disorders. He also has Tourette himself and is the founder of the website Neurologically Gifted.

School meetings are most often difficult for the parent but so important for your child.  Your child is special, requires special accommodations, your child’s behavior doesn’t follow the normal or expected behaviour or your child isn’t learning as well as he or she could.  Perhaps it’s not your first meeting or perhaps the strategies being implemented aren’t working.  Perhaps your child’s teacher or school administration isn’t understanding your child’s difficulties and differences or are unable to offer help.  In any case, it usually provides for a stressful time for the parent….trying to make things better for your child.

I have attended countless school meetings.  My son, having Tourette Syndrome, Attention Deficit Disorder, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder and Oppositional Defiance Disorder, provides an unending barrage of challenges for the adults who help to shape his life.  Some of these school meetings have gone well, some have been a complete disaster.  I have survived them, dreaded them and finally, I now feel blessed that the adults in my child’s school understand his differences, see his challenges and strengths, listen to him and help to guide him and teach him.

School Meetings  NeurologicallyGiftedIn the past, have been at school meetings because my child was suspended for behavior that was out of his control.  I have been to school meetings where I have been face to face with an adult who told my son he was faking and didn’t have Tourette Syndrome or coprolalia.  I have been to school meetings where I have been asked to keep my child home for all or part of school days.  I have been to school meetings where administration has asked my child’s psychiatrist how they can “turn a blind eye to his behaviour and just let him get away with it?”  It has been a very heartbreaking and difficult road.

I have not always been able to follow these tips that I will share, but I do know that even the really, really bad school meetings would have been a little better if I had been able to remember the following things:

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“Hi, My Name is Nathan … ” a video presentation worth watching

Ken Shyminskya former vice president of the Greater Toronto Chapter of the Tourette Syndrome Foundation of Canada, draws upon his personal experiences as a teacher and student with Tourette Syndrome to help children with TS and related disorders. He also has Tourette himself and is the founder of the website Neurologically Gifted.

“Hi, My Name is Nathan. I have Tourette Syndrome Plus” is a video presentation by our son, who is now 12 years old. Nathan talks about Tourette Syndrome, Attention Deficit Disorder and Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. He describes each disorder and how they challenge him everyday. He shares what people around him can expect from him as well as what they can do to help him.

Nathan was diagnosed with Tourette Syndrome Plus when he was 5 years old. Since then Nathan has been active in spreading awareness to promote the understanding of his disorder. Thank you to Nathan for this contribution to Tourette Syndrome awareness. He truly is a brave, strong and caring boy. Please share his message with everyone.

The Birthday Cake: Lessons from Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD)

Ken Shyminskya former vice president of the Greater Toronto Chapter of the Tourette Syndrome Foundation of Canada, draws upon his personal experiences as a teacher and student with Tourette Syndrome to help children with TS and related disorders. He also has Tourette himself and is the founder of the website Neurologically Gifted.

detourWhat we have learned from Oppositional Defiant Disorder

  • Oppositional Defiant Disorder responses are deeply entrenched by repetition.  To circumvent this roadblock, try going around or get off and take another route!  This is one of the general rules in our home.  We know that attempting to crash right through Nathan’s “NO”/Stop sign will cause injuries.  And, who wants to flatten their child?
  • Ignore the “No!”  The automatic “NO!” is exactly that – automatic.  It really doesn’t mean anything.  If we wait it out, the automatic “NO!” may subside, then disappear.
  • Give your child time between their automatic  “NO! and your reaction to it.  Nathan often responds with “NO!” and then physically follows through with a “Sure, OK!”  The pause before my reaction was the key to that realization.  Over time, the delay between his automatic “No” and “Sure, OK” became shorter.  Now he often says “No” while he complies with our requests.  It can be funny at times.

Do not enter

  • Pick your battles.  Listen to your child and respect their choices.  Sometimes, “NO!” is really a “NO!” (like the chocolate cake), and not just ODD, (like the “NO!” birthday cake stop sign).  Don’t make a “NO!” into a “You’ll do it because I said so!”
  • Teach your child about their Oppositional Defiant Disorder and what your observations are.  Self insight will help your child immensely to take power over their automatic ODD responses.  We talk about it all the time and encourage Nathan to fight back against his ODD tendencies.

Birthday Pie Lessons from Oppositional Defiant Disorder, ODD NeurologicallyGifted.comWe don’t really know when Nathan’s birthday cake stop sign got placed or cemented there but we all know it is there, sowe work around it.  This year Nate had a slice of pie.  I made cupcakes and we had two kinds of pie.  He picked lemon meringue.  Candles and everything!

Why is my child mean?

Ken Shyminskya former vice president of the Greater Toronto Chapter of the Tourette Syndrome Foundation of Canada, draws upon his personal experiences as a teacher and student with Tourette Syndrome to help children with TS and related disorders. He also has Tourette himself and is the founder of the website Neurologically Gifted.

There have been many parent posts online regarding the general and persistent negative behavior patterns of their children.  They describe their children as being “mean” on a regular basis.  It’s not uncommon to see this default behavior in children who have neurological challenges.

In my presentations, I call this the “Awfulizer Syndrome.”  To these children, everything is awful.  They always seem annoyed or angry.  They are routinely mean or insulting.  They often engage in name calling and typically communicate in an unkind or angry tone of voice.  Generally negative in most aspects of their daily life, they are most often disagreeable.

Without intervention and support, it is difficult to correct these behaviors.  From personal experience, as a person who has overcome this challenge and a parent who has dealt with it, I can tell you it takes a great deal of effort to overcome this neurological affect.

Step 1:  Identify your child’s behaviors and the responses of your family members

Identify and address when your child is mean through his/her words, voice or actions.  Be sure to do this when your child is in a calm and receptive state of mind.  Session need to be frequent and on-going.  Share your feelings with your child.  Explain how their words/tone/behaviors make you feel, and how it affects your thinking about them (e.g. “Although I love you, your tone of voice makes me feel mad and I don’t want to be around you when you are mean to me”).  This response is a natural consequence – people don’t want to be around people who are mean or unkind.

Why Is My Child Mean?!?  NeurologicallyGifted.com Continue reading

Our new normal: Parenting our child with Tourette, ADHD, OCD & ODD

Ken Shyminskya former vice president of the Greater Toronto Chapter of the Tourette Syndrome Foundation of Canada, draws upon his personal experiences as a teacher and student with Tourette Syndrome to help children with TS and related disorders. He also has Tourette himself and is the founder of the website Neurologically Gifted.

I have an weekday mid-afternoon alarm.  It goes off everyday signaling the end of school.  It is the sound of my son’s blood-curdling shriek the moment he is “home”.  Home to Nate is the place in his world that he is free of scrutiny of others and he can let his guard down.  The garage door opens, then shuts and it is as if the whole outside world disappears and he is transported magically to “home.”

Click, (the garage door), screech, “F**k” (in the loudest voice you can imagine), bang, bang, “F**k”, screech, bang then “Mom?  Hi!

This is my alarm.  My signal that it is my turn.  Nate’s turn is over and he has likely done an outstanding job.  I no longer worry that his screaming and swearing will be heard by the neighbors.  I no longer worry about the noise or the coprolalia.

He comes in to to the kitchen.  “Hi Mom.”  His backpack bumps the counter and he says, “F**k”, screeches and throws his backpack into the corner.  He screeches again.  Then “Sorry Mom”.

At this point I make a decision about whether I should ask him how his day was or if he has homework or if I should give him a hug and a kiss.  I really want to do all of these things but I play it by ear.

I had a rough day.”  He tells me.  He struggles to get his lunch bag out of his knapsack and ends up smashing it down on the counter in frustration at this simple task. Screech then a colossal “AHHHHHH!”, screech.

I wait for him to finish throwing his agenda and homework on the counter and move away from this aggravating task.  I go in for the hug and kiss.  I gently ask if the “situation” at school ended OK.

Nate generously offers a kiss.  The hug he endures because he knows he should.  I remove the force of my hug immediately after giving it to let him direct the duration of contact.  He tells me in 10 words or less what “I had a rough day” means.  He has usually sorted it out at school with the excellent support of his team.

He throws the next test at me.  “Can I have a pop?” or “Can we go out for dinner?” or “Can we get a pony?”  Whatever the question is doesn’t matter.  He needs to ask me a question that he is sure I will have to say no to.  He puts on his puppy dog eyes and stares at me with the look that if he could only have one wish ever this is what it would be.

I say, “No”.  I don’t launch into an explanation of why I am saying no or ask questions or otherwise engage in the question.  “Where would we keep a pony?” isn’t going to help.  Just “No” and I move on.

New normal Neurologically Gifted

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Should I medicate symptoms of my disorder?

Ken Shyminskya former vice president of the Greater Toronto Chapter of the Tourette Syndrome Foundation of Canada, draws upon his personal experiences as an teacher and student with Tourette Syndrome to help children with TS and related disorders. He also has Tourette himself and is the founder of the website Neurologically Gifted.

Medicate Symptoms of My Disorder Neurologically Gifted

Many years ago, I (the lead Special Education Teacher in my school) was asked by the principal to tell a parent that her child needed to be on medication in order to succeed in school.  I refused to do so.  I believed that although medications might have helped this child focus in school, it was not necessarily the only answer.

I saw that this student’s deficits could be managed without medications, given he received focused support at school and at home.  I knew the academic support was provided by parents at home, and I knew they could be provided at school because his teacher had the understanding and training to provide the necessary accommodations to the student.

My advice is as follows: Continue reading

RAGE!!! Part 4: Prepare a plan

Ken Shyminskya former vice president of the Greater Toronto Chapter of the Tourette Syndrome Foundation of Canada, draws upon his personal experiences as an teacher and student with Tourette Syndrome to help children with TS and related disorders. He also has Tourette himself and is the founder of the website Neurologically Gifted.

Rage tends to make family members feel hopeless and out of control.  We began our discussion in Neurologically Gifted’s article Rage 1:  About Rage.  Preparing a plan to deal with rage in the home puts an end to those feelings of hopelessness.  With a predetermined plan, you will have responses and strategies that you and your family can rely on.  You will now have something you can do about it.

When preparing to take on rage in our home, we stepped back to observe carefully what was happening.  We watched for triggers for our son’s rage, how it occurred, and how we responded.  In doing so, we were able to uncover our own (ineffective) default behaviors.  (See Neurologically Gifted’s Article Rage 2:  Look, Listen and Focus).

Once we had identified the behaviors in our family (rage, triggers and responses), we sat down with our son to discuss those patterns.  We openly and honestly discussed our feelings.  With care and support, we helped our son explore what he felt before, during and after a rage episode.  We made it clear to him that this was a family problem and that as a family we could find solutions and improve our situation.  (See Neurologically Gifted’s Article Rage 3: Talk About Rage.)  With this critical step completed, it was time to for us to make a family plan to get control over rage in our home.

Make House Rules

  • Rage 4 NeurologicallyGifted.comMake rules with your child.  Ask them what rules they think should be included.  Prompt them by letting them know that the rules will apply to everyone in the family.  Ask them how they would NOT want to be treated by others.  Ask if there are things they would like to change by making a rule.  Discuss with your child why the rule is important and the natural consequences of non-compliance to the rule.  
  • Guide your child through the rule making process.  Keep rules simple and concise for easy recall.  
  • Do not over-burden the process with too many rules.  Choose your battles, picking only rules that apply to your greatest challenges. Over time, your child will become better able to self-regulate their emotions and responses.  As your family begins to experience progress you will be able to change your focus and rules to address other priorities.
  • Keep rules obtainable and focus on safety.  For example, a rule prohibiting swearing is not realistic for a child with coprolalia.  A rule prohibiting anger or frustration isn’t appropriate either as we all have feelings.  In such a case, the family rule could outline acceptable ways (and places) to express anger and frustration.   You want your child to be successful, gain confidence and learn to apply skills for managing their emotions throughout this process.  
  • Keep copies close by for quick reference.  Having the rules posted in their personal space as well, will allow the child time to review expected behaviors and natural consequences of prior behaviors.  In our home, we placed a copy in our son’s bedroom, and referred to them at bedtime when we debriefed the day’s successes and challenges.
  • When referring to the rules:  Give kind and gentle reminders.  Reminders could include what the family (including the child) agreed would promote a safer and more peaceful environment.  Referencing the rules on paper takes the blame/authority away from the offender/enforcer and places it on the family rules.  A child is less likely to express anger towards a predetermined rule, rather than to being told to stop what they are doing by a parent.   Avoid trying to catch your child breaking the rules or to use the rules in a punitive manner.  You are attempting to use the rules to guide them in a predetermined way to modify their rage, not to punish them. Continue reading

School meetings: How to make them easier

Ken Shyminskya former vice president of the Greater Toronto Chapter of the Tourette Syndrome Foundation of Canada, draws upon his personal experiences as an teacher and student with Tourette Syndrome to help children with TS and related disorders. He also has Tourette himself and is the founder of the website Neurologically Gifted.

School meetings are most often difficult for the parent but so important for your child.  Your child is special, requires special accommodations, your child’s behavior doesn’t follow the normal or expected behavior or your child isn’t learning as well as he or she could.

Perhaps it’s not your first meeting or perhaps the strategies being implemented aren’t working.  Perhaps your child’s teacher or school administration isn’t understanding your child’s difficulties and differences or are unable to offer help.  In any case, it usually provides for a stressful time for the parent … trying to make things better for your child.

I have attended countless school meetings.  My son, having Tourette Syndrome, Attention Deficit Disorder, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder and Oppositional Defiance Disorder, provides an unending barrage of challenges for the adults who help to shape his life.

Some of these school meetings have gone well, some have been a complete disaster.  I have survived them, dreaded them and finally, I now feel blessed that the adults in my child’s school understand his differences, see his challenges and strengths, listen to him and help to guide him and teach him.

School Meetings  NeurologicallyGiftedIn the past, have been at school meetings because my child was suspended for behaviour that was out of his control.  I have been to school meetings where I have been face to face with an adult who told my son he was faking and didn’t have Tourette Syndrome or coprolalia.

I have been to school meetings where I have been asked to keep my child home for all or part of school days.  I have been to school meetings where administration has asked my child’s psychiatrist how they can “turn a blind eye to his behavior and just let him get away with it?”  It has been a very heartbreaking and difficult road.

I have not always been able to follow these tips that I will share, but I do know that even the really, really bad school meetings would have been a little better if I had been able to remember these tips for school meetings: Continue reading

Instructional tools from Social Thinking: A Teacher’s Review

Ken Shyminskya former vice president of the Greater Toronto Chapter of the Tourette Syndrome Foundation of Canada, draws upon his personal experiences as an teacher and student with Tourette Syndrome to help children with TS and related disorders. He also has Tourette himself and is the founder of the website Neurologically Gifted.

Social skills and social thinking are not easy for children who have neurological disorder.  Careful and intense instruction can help a child learn these skills which will improve their capacity to learn in all areas.

Before I give my support to these instructional tools, I’d like to state that I have no financial interests in this resource and receive nothing from the author or publisher.  I’ve merely used the resource and found it to be an effective tool for teaching children with behavior challenges to make positive changes in their lives.  In fact, I was so impressed with the resources, that I purchased a set for my stepson’s (self-contained behavior) classroom teacher. Using the resources together, we were able to establish common language and understanding to support my stepson’s profound behavior challenges at school and at home.

Profoundly challenged by TS, OCD and ADHD, my stepson had absolutely no self-regulation skills.  He lived his entire 10 years (at that time) “in the moment” that he was experiencing.  He’d hyper-focus on himself only, and gave absolutely no thought to future or past events or to others in any given situation.

Even if he was given candy, it would be forgotten (forever more) as soon as it was out of his sight.  He did not connect responses of other people to past events or behaviours.  Without any ability to control himself, he was unaware of “cause and effect“.  He didn’t even see “the effect”. He’d wonder why he was in trouble, react with violence, be consequenced, then move on (without learning anything to prevent recurrences).

As a special education teacher with more than 20 years of teaching experience, I can confidently state that these resources were tremendously helpful.  When challenging behaviors arose, my family members were able to identify the behavior (“You’re seem to have a bit of a Glassman acting in you” or “I’m sorry, that was a total Topic Twistermeister”).

Although there are a number of resources listed on the website, my spouse and I selected two story booklets and a teacher’s resource.  The first booklet is titled, “”You are a Social Detective”, the second is titled, Superflex”, and the teacher resource is titled, “Superflex… A Superhero Social Thinking Curriculum.”

Instructional Thinking Superflex Curriculum: Neurologically Gifted Social Thinking

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RAGE!!! Part 3: Talk about rage

Ken Shyminskya former vice president of the Greater Toronto Chapter of the Tourette Syndrome Foundation of Canada, draws upon his personal experiences as an teacher and student with Tourette Syndrome to help children with TS and related disorders. He also has Tourette himself and is the founder of the website Neurologically Gifted.

Rage triggers a biochemical change in a person which pre-empts choice, reasoning, rational thinking and self-control.  Through observation, as described in Neurologically Gifted’s article Rage 2:  Look, Listen and Focus, we found that it was possible to achieve an excellent understanding of the dynamics of rage in our home.

Through observation we learned about the triggers for our child’s rages – the events, situations and patterns that would usually lead up to a rage.  We also recorded what would calm some situations — strategies we already used throughout the day that helped to de-escalate volatile situations.

We developed some ideas about what we, as a family could do when stressors occurred that might lead to a rage.  Stress and frustration can be managed with love, support, communication and planning.

We practiced disengaging from the rage.  Disengaging can help by not escalating the situation and by watching (to keep our child safe during an episode). After completing our observations we then decided it was time to sit down with our child to talk about rage.

How to Talk About Rage

Before any discussion begins, it is important to remember that a child with neurological disorders may have difficulties in focus and attention.  Gaining self insight to behavior is challenging. It will be important to keep the child’s limits in mind when moving forward with the discussion.

For example, memory and learning are both severely impaired in the time immediately before and during a rage.  Our son Nathan would often have very little recollection of events (even hours before a rage).  Once a rage has begun, talking will escalate the rage (even words that are intended to help).  Nathan often misinterprets words or hears things that were not even spoken.  Even saying “I love you” can be inflammatory for him during a rage.

Father and Son Neurologically Gifted:  Talk About RageIt will require many weeks of ongoing conversations to communicate how rage occurs with your child. Continue reading