If a child cannot learn the way I teach, then I must teach the way he learns.
--Anna Gillingham, educator and psychologist

Monday, July 10, 2017

Could My Child Benefit from Occupational Therapy?



Occupational therapists can help families with a variety of challenges. Take a look at the list below for some signs your child might benefit from occupational therapy. Remember to always consult your pediatrician with any concerns you have about your child.

Does your child demonstrate any of the following:

Motor Skills
  • Developmental delay (not reaching developmental milestones of sitting, crawling, and walking and/or not developing age appropriate play and social skills)
  • Difficulty with manipulating toys, puzzles, feeding utensils, or scissors
  • Difficulties with pencil grasp or handwriting
  • Difficulties with clothing fasteners (zippers, buttons, shoelaces)
  • Not developing a hand dominance
  • Difficulties with coloring, drawing, tracing, pre-writing shapes
  • Clumsy or uncoordinated movements and poor balance
  • Difficulty going up and down stairs at an age appropriate time
  • Difficulty with the concept of right and left
  • Poor ball skills
  • Low or high muscle tone
  • Poor posture while sitting or standing
  • Difficulty coordinating both sides of the body
  • Doesn't cross midline of body during play and school tasks

Visual Processing
  • Difficulty with the spacing, placement, and sizing of letters
  • Difficulty recognizing letters
  • Loses his/her place when reading or copying from the board
  • Difficulty with copying shapes, letters, words, or sentences
  • Difficulty with visual tracking
  • Difficulty finding objects among other objects

Oral Motor/Oral Sensory
  • Drools excessively
  • Difficulty using a cup or straw at an age-appropriate time
  • Loses excessive liquid or food from his or her mouth when drinking or chewing
  • Appears to be excessively picky when eating, only eating certain types or textures of food
  • Excessively mouths toys or objects beyond an age-appropriate time

Sensory Processing
  • Overly sensitive to sound, touch, or movement
  • Under-responsive to certain sensations (e.g., high pain tolerance, doesn't notice cuts/bruises)
  • Constantly moving, jumping, crashing, bumping
  • Easily distracted by visual or auditory stimuli
  • Emotionally reactive
  • Difficulty coping with change
  • Inability to calm self when upset

Learning Challenges
  • Unable to concentrate and focus at school
  • Easily distracted
  • Difficulty following instructions and completing work
  • Poor impulse control
  • Hyperactivity or low energy
  • Makes letter or number reversals after age seven

Play Skills
  • Needs adult guidance to initiate play
  • Difficulty with imitative play
  • Moves quickly from one activity to the next
  • Does not join in with peers/siblings when playing
  • Does not understand concepts of sharing and turn taking

If you notice one or more of these signs in your own child, consider making an appointment to discuss it with your pediatrician. You can also participate in an OT screening, which will indicate whether there is a need for a full OT evaluation, at Laughlin Children's Center without a doctor's prescription by calling 412-741-4087.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Free Summer Meals for Youth at the YMCA


Did you know that children are at a higher risk of hunger during the summer? For some children, summer is a time of fun and freedom. However, for the millions of children who rely on school for breakfasts and/or lunches, summer can be a time of hunger. Experiencing chronic hunger affects not only a child's physical well being but also their emotional and mental well being.

The good news is that many generous organizations all over the country are recognizing this problem and creating solutions! This summer our very own Sewickley YMCA  is offering free nutritious meals for youth ages 18 years and younger Monday through Friday from 1:00 pm-3:00 pm at the Oasis Teen Center.

Donations of food as well as paper products (plates, napkins, bowls, utensils) are gratefully accepted. If you are interested in volunteering, the YMCA is looking for Lunch Monitors as well as help with set up and clean up.

For more information, you are asked to contact Barb Herman at 412-741-9622 ext. 131 or bherman@sewickleyymca.org.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

We've Got the Beat!


We are having a rockin’ good time so far at our “We’ve Got the Beat” preschool learning camp!  We were fortunate to have Mr. HueiShang Kao from the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra visit with his violin.  We also had a wonderful visit from the talented Lynn Dunbar and her friend Chris to teach us about woodwind instruments.  Today we created our own drums and had a drum circle under the direction of Don Wright!  We look forward to the guitar with Mr. Tom Fraser and Mrs. Butterworth’s trumpet lesson later this week.

Thursday, June 8, 2017

Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra Sensory Friendly Performance












The occupational therapy department of Laughlin Children’s Center sees many children with a variety of sensory needs. For this reason, we couldn’t be happier to hear about the upcoming Sensory-Friendly Performance of Music of Flight and Fantasy being put on by the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra and renown occupational therapist, Roger Ideishi. It will take place on Saturday June 17 at Heinz Hall. This year's theme, Music of Flight and Fantasy, will feature musical selections that celebrate stories, characters, and adventure featuring the music from ET, Harry Potter, Star Wars, Willy Wonka and The Chocolate Factory, and The Wizard of Oz.

The staff behind this event have truly thought of everything. On their website, they have provided pre-visit materials including social stories with pictures specific to Heinz Hall performances. The amount of detail these materials go into, all in a child-friendly way, is incredible. They include waiting in line, giving the usher your ticket, finding the restroom, going to the Quiet Room (more on that later), and what the child might hear, see, and feel while they are at the event. It allows the child to feel prepared and confident by knowing what to expect when they attend the performance. Recordings of the songs to be played are also available to listen to ahead of time.

On the day of the performance, Heinz Hall is beginning pre-concert activities an hour and 15 minutes prior to the performance. Some individuals with sensory needs feel more comfortable after they have spent some time in a new place, and this early start allows attendees the time they need to settle in. During this time, a variety of activities will be available including a Kinesthetic Room, Musician Meet and Greet, Quiet Room, “Picture This”, Sound Exploratorium, and Fiddlesticks’ Art Room. In the Kinesthetic Room, faculty from the Pittsburgh Ballet will be leading creative movement activities. Members of the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra will be available to say hello in the Musician Meet and Greet. The Quiet Room is available for anyone who needs a break from the excitement. It is equipped with bean bag chairs, weighted lap pads and neck rolls, noise cancelling headphones, play mats, and coloring materials. “Picture This” will be an area in the Grand Lobby to take pictures with your favorite character cut outs. Attendees are welcome to dress up like their favorite character and share photos on social media using the hashtag #PSOsensoryfriendly.  The Sound Exploratorium will provide opportunities to explore percussion instruments, singing, and movement with the Music Therapy professionals from Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh. Children will be able to create Flight and Fantasy inspired art projects in Fiddlesticks’ Art Room.

While the event is geared toward children, people of all ages and abilities are welcome to attend. Tickets are priced at only $15.00 each. In addition, the Pittsburgh Symphony is allowing full refunds to any families who find they are unable to attend the day of the performance. This applies only to Sensory Friendly performances. In addition to the typical services available at Heinz Hall performances (curbside assistance, accessible entrances and seating, an accessible restroom, and portable FM assistive listening devices and hearing loop), there will be a family restroom, Braille programs, large print programs, ASL interpretation, and Communication Access Real-Time Translation (CART) at the concert.


We highly recommend you check out the event’s website to learn more. If you, your child, or someone you know has sensory needs, you will not want to miss this awesome event! A video recap of the 2016 Sensory Friendly performance is available to watch here here.

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

How to Protect Your Child’s Hearing


Did you know that an estimated 12.5% of children and adolescents aged 6–19 years (approximately 5.2 million) and 17% of adults aged 20–69 years (approximately 26 million) have suffered permanent damage to their hearing from excessive exposure to noise?

Noise threatens our hearing because when we hear sound, delicate hair cells in our inner ears vibrate. This creates nerve signals that the brain understands as sound. If we overload these delicate hair cells with exposure to loud noises, we damage them. This results in sensorineural hearing loss and often tinnitus—or “ringing in the ears.” The hair cells that vibrate most quickly—and that allow us to hear higher-frequency sounds like birds singing and children speaking—usually become damaged, dying first. Sounds 85 decibels and above put you at risk of hearing loss. Many of your child’s devices including cell phones, iPods, iPads, and tablets are capable of producing sounds at and above 85 decibels.

Here are some tips to help prevent hearing loss in your child:
  • Check to see if your devices have software that includes a "volume limit feature."
  • Choose headphones that block out the sound around the listener. If the headphones have a good seal, your child will be less likely to turn up the volume to drown out the other sounds.
  • Limit your child's use of headphones or earbuds to only one hour per day.
  • If your child is using headphones or earbuds for more than one hour per day, be sure the device is set to play at no more than 60% of the maximum value.
  • Encourage your child to take regular breaks from headphones or earbuds.
  • Don't listen with just one earbud. It's harder to hear the music and your child might be tempted to turn up the volume putting that one ear at serious risk.


 For more information, visit: 

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

SLP at Laughlin Children’s Center Traveling to Guatemala and Nepal to Serve Children in Need


We already know we have wonderful staff here at Laughlin, but times like this remind us just how stellar they truly are! Our very own speech language pathologist, Jill Eckert, will be traveling to Guatemala next month and Nepal in October with Dr. Suzanne Maslo, DDS to volunteer with Global Dental Relief providing children with free dental care. This isn’t the first time Jill has volunteered her time and skills to impoverished children. This will be her ninth dental mission trip!

When asked why she goes on these dental humanitarian trips with Global Dental Relief, Jill responded, “We are called as fellow humans to provide love and care to children. I love being part of a team offering first time dental care to children who may not otherwise receive it.”

Global Dental Relief (GDR) is a charitable organization established in 2001 to provide free dental care and oral health education to impoverished children and families of Nepal, northern India, Cambodia, Kenya, and Guatemala. GDR’s commitment is to return to these same children every two years to provide continuous care. Dental camps, such as the ones Jill takes part in, generally include up to six dentists, three hygienists and six to twelve non-medical volunteers who collectively treat upwards of 150 children per day. GDR currently offers twenty clinics in five countries to volunteer combined with opportunities to explore local culture and participate in guided travel following the clinic. Since 2001, GDR has hosted more than 2,000 volunteers and treated more than 125,000 children. To learn more about Global Dental Relief, visit www.globaldentalrelief.org.

Outside of her work, Jill likes to garden, cheer on the Pittsburgh Steelers, and participate in her church’s music team. When asked what she most wants to share with the world about her experience volunteering, Jill said, “We want people to know that anyone can do this work; anyone can make a difference in the world.” Laughlin is so proud of you, Jill, because that’s exactly what you’re doing! Wishing you a safe and successful trip!


Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Stand Together: Help and Hope

If you are a parent of an adolescent, you have likely heard of, or even watched, the popular Netflix series Thirteen Reasons Why. It is based on the fictional novel of the same name written by Jay Asher, which follows the aftermath of a young girl’s suicide and delves into the reasons she decided to end her life. While many people are thankful that teenage mental health is being discussed in the media at all, some are concerned the show could be seen as glamorizing suicide.

Whatever your opinion may be, everyone can agree that it has gotten people talking about mental health. These conversations may be uncomfortable and bring up questions that are tough for parents to answer. However, don’t give up! Be sure to remain open to communication about mental health with your children.

Whether you and your child have had in depth conversations about mental health or you find it difficult to discuss, LEAD (Leading Education and Awareness for Depression) Pittsburgh encourages you to watch “Stand Together: Help & Hope” a television show about mental health that was created by teenagers in Pittsburgh. The show’s goal is to decrease the stigma surrounding mental health and offer a hopeful message. You can watch a promotional clip of the show here. It will be airing Saturday May 27 at 9:00am on Fox 53.

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, approximately 20% of children have or will have a mental disorder. If you are concerned about your child’s mental health, make an appointment to see a professional who can point you in the right direction. There are many resources, including the mental health professionals who work at the Laughlin Children’s Center. Call us at 412-741-4087 questions you may have about beginning services for your child.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

May is Better Hearing and Speech Month


With the month of May comes not only beautiful spring weather, but also Better Hearing and Speech MonthIt is now estimated that 1 in 68 children have autism spectrum disorder. Better Hearing and Speech Month is the perfect time to consider how you communicate and interact with individuals with autism.

Autism is a neurodevelopmental disorder characterized by difficulties in communication and social interaction. Speech-language pathologists help children with autism in areas including communication and social skills.

Everyone can play a role in fostering an inclusive atmosphere for children and adults with autism at school, workplaces, local businesses, and throughout our society.

Try using these tips:

  • Reach out. People with autism want to make social connections just like everybody else, but it might be more difficult for them. Make an effort to engage the person in conversation or to invite them to participate in an activity.
  • Be patient. Give the person additional time to speak and respond. Don’t try to finish the person’s sentence or thought for them.
  • Modify your communication. Rephrase what you say if the person doesn’t understand or respond the first time. Use visual cues, or write your message down. Go the extra mile to be a good communication partner!
  • Don’t make assumptions. Don’t assume you know what the person wants or what they are thinking. Ask them!

This is a great time for parents to talk to their kids about classmates or friends with autism—how they can include them, be kind, and better understand that despite some differences, they are similar in many more ways than they are different.

Parents who have concerns about their own child should contact a professional. Research has shown that early treatment strongly correlates with better outcomes for children with autism. Parents can obtain free speech and occupational therapy screenings for their children at the Laughlin Children’s Center by calling 412-741-4087. The screening process is brief and will indicate whether a full evaluation is recommended.

Information and graphic obtained from http://www.asha.org/bhsm/.

Monday, May 2, 2016

Day Of Giving


Tomorrow, Tuesday, May 3, 2016, is Pittsburgh's Day of Giving, where Pittsburghers give to local charities and non-profits. Help Laughlin Children's Center continue to build bridges to learning success for children in Western Pennsylvania by donating at our Pittsburgh Foundation page: https://givingday.pittsburghgives.org/npo/mary-and-alexander-laughlin-childrens-center.
 
Thank you!

Monday, January 25, 2016

Laughlin Receives Penguin in Honor of Past President


Just before Christmas, Laughlin Children’s Center welcomed a new friend: a three-foot tall penguin made of cement and fiberglass and covered with fantastical animals.  The statue is a gift from Oliver and Mary Kay Poppenberg of Sewickley, given in honor of their daughter, Kate Poppenberg Pigman. Pigman served four terms as the President of the Center’s Board of Directors as well as chairman of its Board of Trustees from 2009 to 2015.

The penguin was created by local artist Laura Jean McLaughlin as part of the 2002 “Penguins on Parade” fundraiser sponsored by Sweetwater Center for the Arts.  The Poppenbergs placed the winning bid on the penguin, which McLaughlin titled, “Green Gals on Two-Headed Elephants.”  After more than a decade of the penguin greeting guests at their home, the couple decided it was time for the public to enjoy the fanciful figure.

“Ollie and I are so thrilled about his grand reception at the Center,” Mary Kay Poppenberg stated.  “He has brought lots of smiles and good thoughts to our family and friends, and we are very happy to give him a new home at Laughlin Children’s Center.  I am especially pleased that the artist’s statement matches up so well with the spirit of LCC.  And we’re even more pleased that this gift is in honor of Kate’s board service for so many years.”

According to the artist’s notes, McLaughlin “looked at the form of the penguin and allowed images of people and creatures to flow out, while never second-guessing” what she painted.  “Green people represent all races and genders. The animal forms are metaphors for various hierarchical structures that… carry us and form our immediate perception of the way we see things good and bad,” McLaughlin explained.  According to her website, the artist has work in the collection of the City of Pittsburgh, the Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh, and the Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh.

Along with a new home, the penguin will also be getting a new name. “While ‘Green Gals on Two-Headed Elephants’ is certainly descriptive, it doesn’t exactly trip off the tongue,” Laughlin executive director Douglas Florey shared.  “We are so grateful to the Poppenbergs for this generous addition to the Center,” Florey continued.  “It’s the perfect tribute to Kate’s many years of dedicated service, and is already well-loved by our clients—which is why it needs a more kid-friendly name.”

The Center will be collecting suggestions on what to call the penguin throughout the coming months and will announce the new name via its Facebook page on April 25th, World Penguin Awareness Day.  Those interested in making suggestions should “like” the Laughlin Children’s Center Facebook page and comment on the Name the Penguin post, pinned to the top of the feed.

Monday, January 18, 2016

The ‘American Storyteller’ to share his experiences at Dyslexia Today 2016 conference

One out of every five students has dyslexia, and Nelson Lauver just happened to be one. However, Lauver’s parents and teachers had no concept of what dyslexia was, so he went undiagnosed, struggling through school at around a second-grade reading level. Forced to pursue knowledge outside of the classroom, Lauver learned through observation of the people and the environment surrounding him, which would later serve him well in creating colorful stories. After high school he left the scholastic world for the more comfortable sphere of entrepreneurship starting several small businesses. In his late twenties, Lauver had an unexpected conversation that prompted him to be tested for dyslexia and finally was properly taught to read. In his effort to improve his writing skills, Lauver began composing stories from his memory of growing up in Pennsylvania and soon became famous for his narrated tales on the radio. His memoir Most UnLikely to Succeed gained critical acclaim, and he has since been a champion of literacy for all students.

Lauver will be the keynote speaker at Dyslexia Today 2016: Learning and Living with Dyslexia, sharing his story with those attending the conference held by the Pennsylvania Branch of the International Dyslexia Association. Apart from the keynote address, Dyslexia Today will offer attendees learning disability-related exhibits and two break-out sessions on topics ranging from hands-on math training techniques to assistive technology demonstrations. In addition, Laughlin Children’s Center will be sponsoring an afternoon session on the principles of the Orton-Gillingham Approach. The conference program also will include the Gardner Award presentation and both breakfast and lunch. Dyslexia Today 2016 will take place from 8 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. on April 9th, and is open to educators, parents and students.

To find a full list of session topics or to purchase tickets, please visit http://www.pbida.org/conferences/pittsburgh-region-conference/.
 

Thursday, January 7, 2016

Acknowledging trauma in the classroom and the home may lead to stronger academic programs and healthier students

Research has shown that one out of every four preschoolers has gone through a traumatic experience. Many times the scars from these mentally shocking events are manifested in “bad” behavior in the classroom. As a result, disruptive little ones often forfeit the chance to learn, all because their past trauma has not been addressed.

In the Kansas City area, many students live in poverty and over five percent of children are homeless, a strong correlate with traumatic incidence within the family (e.g. observation of physical or substance abuse at home, incarceration or death of family member, etc.). With the knowledge that many of their preschoolers were likely to have experienced trauma, many school districts in Missouri around Kansas City decided to mitigate the instances of pre-kindergarten expulsions and future risky behavior in adolescence by piloting Crittenton Children’s Center’s Head Start Trauma Smart program.

Head Start classroom programs naturally integrate trauma-informed practices into the student’s environment by training both educators and family members to address behavior through the framework of the Attachment, Self-Regulation, and Competency Model. Recognizing that trauma often places a young child’s mind on constant “high alert,” the program encourages teachers and guardians to establish securing routines, concrete calming methods, and a safe space to discuss emotions with their little ones. In addition to this training, Trauma Smart offers Intensive Individual Intervention for those students in need of counseling, Classroom Consultation to improve instructional and disciplinary methods in response to actual situations, and Peer Based Mentoring to foster harmony and support.

After adopting these trauma-informed principles in multiple levels of the school system, administrators saw a decrease in behavioral problems, disciplinary and therapy referrals, and educational costs, as well as an increase in attendance and graduation rates.

Addressing trauma has long been a practice in the field of counseling, and here a Laughlin Children’s Center, each clinician of the Psychology Department works to educate her clients and their teachers on how past experiences can affect learning. Clinicians warn educators of potential triggers, help clients create calming rituals they can use throughout the school day, and even bring in therapy dogs to ease students’ anxiety or depression.

However, even those without traumatized clients or past trauma themselves can adopt more mindful practices in their daily routine. Over at the Village Preschool, instructors encourage the students to notice their emotions and the physical actions that might accompany them, taking steps to appropriately express feelings and foster behavior conducive to classroom learning. As Head Instructor Susan Wright says, “As teachers, we demonstrate and facilitate problem solving with the end goal [of] self-regulation and independence,” a fitting aspiration for all regardless of background. 

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Kidsburgh's Top 10 Pittsburgh Toy Stores


Courtesy Lynlott Miniatures
 
Whether you collect miniatures or train sets, like trading art supplies or board games, or are looking for vintage items or great ice cream in the middle of winter, the toy stores on this list are sure to help you find that perfect gift as well as bring out your inner child this holiday season. Enjoy!
 

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Bridging the IEP and the classroom through words



 
Check out the video interview with Michael Yudin of the U.S. Department of Education here to learn more about the use of dyslexia, dysgraphia and dyscalculia in the educational sphere and its impact on students.
 
Information obtained from https://www.understood.org/en.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Standing Firm


Out of every five full-time employees, at least one is a victim of domestic abuse. So next Thursday, when business leaders from all around Pittsburgh and the surrounding area gather at the Omni William Penn Hotel, they will be meeting for a highly relevant and worthy cause. They will discuss the prevalence of domestic violence and its effect on the workplace and recognize those who have worked to publicize and mitigate this issue’s impact on the individual.

Both Kristy Trautmann, Executive Director of the FISA Foundation, as a champion, and Pittsburgh Technology Council, as an employer, will be honored for their commitment to the safety of their employees. Joshua Safran, author, attorney, and advocate, will speak on his experience with domestic abuse as a child witnessing his father victimize his mother and as an adult litigating the cases of abuse victims. And over 250 member businesses, from Giant Eagle to Peoples Gas, will reaffirm their pledge to play their part in ending domestic violence.

The force behind this awakening to how trouble at home can be brought into the workplace: the Standing Firm organization.

Standing Firm seeks to inform businesses that domestic abuse, or partner abuse as they like to label it, poses a risk for companies themselves and not just the individuals who work there. When employees are in abusive relationships at home, their productivity often suffers at work due to the distraction of anxiety. Occasionally, confrontation and aggression are even brought into the physical workplace as, statistically, one in four violent acts at work are related to domestic issues. Thus, businesses have a stake in ending partner violence, as Standing Firm points out, simply to help their bottom line.

Once a company recognizes this, Standing Firm asks it to respond and refer. The organization walks each business through a safety plan specific to its size, location, and environment so that it can respond efficiently should the need arise and so that it can take preventative measures to avoid these crises altogether.

Standing Firm encourages employers not to ignore possible signs of domestic abuse in their employees. Susan Nitzberg, the Associate Director of Outreach, points to possible indications such as a once stellar employee producing subpar work, secretive and frequent phone conversations or texts, an employee who wears turtlenecks despite the warm weather, or simply a seemingly unwarranted and constant concerned demeanor.

Standing Firm then gives these businesses resources and contacts so that they can refer potential at risk employees to professionals. Nitzberg says that over the years one mistake that she has seen people make again and again is to tell a victim of abuse to leave their partner and come stay in that friend’s home. She reveals that this tends to escalate the situation as the abusive spouse almost certainly becomes enraged and, consequently, more lives, including the friend’s and the family’s, are put in harm’s way. Instead, she advises that friends and employers connect victims to community support organizations who deal with these situations every day and are able to provide safe exit strategies.

Although it is hard to gather personal stories when dealing with abuse, Standing Firm has already helped many victims throughout the western Pennsylvania region. One women’s shelter received five calls from state employees to self-report their abusive partner due to their workplace’s membership in Standing Firm.

If your company would like to become a Standing Firm member for free, support the organization, attend the luncheon, or simply find out how to reduce domestic violence and its impact on the workplace, please visit http://www.standingfirmswpa.org/ or call 412-421-3682.

Information obtained from Susan Nitzberg and the Standing Firm website.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Parent Groups at Laughlin Children's Center


 
Every month two small groups of elementary to high school parents gather in the Laughlin Children’s Center boardroom. They begin with introductions welcoming the new faces around the table.
Then Amy Jackson, the assistant director of academics and the dyslexia program coordinator here at LCC, introduces the month’s topic. The issues that her 15 minute presentations address range from school-work organization to self-esteem in those with dyslexia, from reading comprehension to the celebration of learning differences.
Whatever the subject introduced, it is one that the parents have requested and the topic leads to spirited discussion. There is a real sense of camaraderie as mothers and fathers of high schoolers share their past experiences with and encourage those who have middle or elementary-aged students and as all the parents commiserate over similar struggles their children have encountered in their educational journey.
As Jackson puts it, the aim of these parent groups is to provide a casual atmosphere in which parents can ask questions so as to better help their child through school. And through this support network, mothers, fathers, or even grandparents will hopefully be able to effectively support their student’s scholastic growth both within and outside of the school system, ultimately leading to the community’s education in learning disabilities.
In the month of October, Jackson, by popular demand, will speak on homework techniques, and then she will bring in a professional advocate for November to address parent-educator communication skills when specifically discussing dyslexia.
If you are interested in any of these topics or simply would like to learn more about how to support your child with his or her learning difficulty, we encourage you to join Jackson on the second Wednesday of each month (October 14th, November 11th, and December 9th of 2015) at either 1:00pm or 6:30pm. Please send Jackson an email letting her know which time you will be attending; she can be contacted at a.jackson@laughlincenter.org.
  
 

Friday, November 7, 2014

4 Tips for Preparing Your Child with Autism for Holiday Celebrations

Michael J. Cameron, Ph.D., BCBA-D

[Note: although Dr. Cameron is writing specifically for families of children on the autism spectrum, many of his ideas and suggestions make sense for all parents!]

Holidays are a time for family, friends and food. A time to celebrate the spirit of thankfulness, giving and receiving. A time for decorating, traveling and shopping for many. As Abe Lincoln once said, "Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe." This means preparing for success. For a child with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), preparing for the hustle and bustle of the holiday season is imperative.

Whether you celebrate Thanksgiving, Christmas, Hanukkah, Ramadan, Kwanza or any other holiday celebration, the chaos, audio and visual stimuli and increase in human interaction that these occasions bring about can cause elevated amounts of anxiety and stress to a child with ASD. These heightened emotions can manifest into behavioral (e.g., an exacerbation of repetitious verbal and motor behavior) and physiologic changes (e.g., increase in heart rate and adrenaline), which can be eliminated, reduced or managed with the right preparation.

Here are some tips that we at Pacific Child & Family Associates share with families to help families like yours prepare a child with ASD for a season full of holiday cheer:

Communication: It is critical that you have a plan to communicate to your child, spouse and family or friends that you will be visiting. It is important for your child to know what to expect and for all other people involved to understand your child's needs and concerns. You can accomplish this by gathering information about a home you will visit including details of pets, other children, home security (in case your child has a history of wandering or leaving without permission) and food that will be served (if your child has food sensitivities). It is equally important for you to communicate with the host about what they might expect from your child and how the visit might go.

Preparing for Visits to Family or Friends' Homes: Once you have communicated with the hosts, use the information you gathered to ensure a successful and enjoyable visit for both you and your child. If your child has particular food preferences, you may want to prepare and bring something that he or she will enjoy. Bring materials that your child will be highly interested in, including videos, electronics (iPad, Leapfrog, etc.) or anything that your child has a high motivation to play with due to lack of continuous access.
You don't want to put your child in a corner to self-entertain, however. Do try to create a medium for social interaction by giving him a role. Perhaps he likes magic tricks and can practice showing his tricks to others. You could also inquire about the interests of the other kids that will be in attendance to see if they have interests that might be intriguing for your child to learn. If that is the case, pre-teach your child to play and engage with the materials other children may enjoy (e.g., Beyblades Battle Dome). Again, it is important that whatever the plan, you should communicate to your child what they can expect.
Religious Services: If planning to attend a church, temple, mosque or Karamu feast, pre-exposure to the environment can be very beneficial for your child. Every venue has its own standards, practices and rituals. Rehearsing routines that your child will encounter, such as kneeling on a pew, taking shoes off, sitting on benches, singing songs or praying, will create an opportunity for your child to participate as a community member and feel proud.
Traveling: Whether by airplane or long car ride, be prepared by bringing activities that will keep your child comfortable for long periods of time. Pack a special travel bag just for your child that includes materials that he or she is interested in. These items should include items of comfort, but also novel but desired items -- new things that are of your child's taste and preference. You should also research to find out about any restrictions along the way that may create distress for your child, such as lack of Internet connection. Prepare for the journey through an airport by practicing required protocol, such as taking off shoes or putting your child's personal items in a bin to go through the x-ray scanners. Understanding protocol and restrictions can help to manage expectations for your child. You can look for events such as the Blue Horizons for Autism airport rehearsal event hosted by Jet Blue Airways and Pacific Child & Family Associates on May 3 at Burbank Bob Hope Airport in Los Angeles. This event provided families and individuals affected by autism with the opportunity to navigate the air travel experience in a realistic, relaxed environment, surrounded by other families in the autism community.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Asperger's: Finding a Balance

“I’m sorry. It’s the Asperger’s.”

That was the “heartfelt” apology that my almost seven year old daughter came up with, after a raging meltdown in her classroom the day before, during which she verbally unfriended her best friend in the class.

Of course, trying to play the part of the responsible mom of a daughter with asperger’s, I tried to steer her away from these words, claiming that they sound like an excuse. And, well… NOT very sorry.

I encouraged her to dig deep and find her empathy. Empathy that, although not always present at the appropriate times, I know she is capable of.

“Maybe tell her that you’re sorry, and that you didn’t mean what you said, and that she really IS your friend, and that you’ll never yell at her again…”

“It’s not an excuse,” she replied, bluntly. “It’s the truth. And it’s what I’m going to say.”

Because I persisted in trying to alter her idea of an apology, she left for school on the bus, still anxious, and perseverating on how she needed ME to WRITE an apology for her, because she hates writing and writing makes her hand too tired and cramped, and it needed to be done NOW and it was just all too overwhelming for her.

She declared that she wouldn’t talk to her friend that day. She wouldn’t be able to look at her. She was scared of her.

As I reflected on my feelings of failure as a mom that morning, that I couldn’t make her see things differently, I realized that I was trying too hard. In my efforts to teach her “Theory of Mind,” the concept that other people can think and feel differently than her, I de-valued her own struggles.

This happens a lot. Being as high functioning as she is, people will likely always see her as having more control over herself than she actually has. They won’t factor in sensory overload, or difficulty understanding social situations, or fine and gross motor skill struggles that aren’t bad enough to qualify her for occupational therapy. They will be appalled that such a seemingly intelligent child can throw a regressive tantrum that could rival any toddler.

I sometimes see it in their stares. Hear it in their voices: A spoiled brat. Needs discipline. Parents must not set limits.

She sometimes resembles a modern day Veruca Salt, as she demands a new stuffed animal because having one more cat stuffed animal is the solution to her feelings of overwhelm as she is innunndated with sensory stimulation and social information that is impossible to process in that moment. The object of obsession is tangible, straightforward. It makes sense. She needs a solution, and her frazzled young brain seeks to find a simple one.

No, it doesn’t make sense to us. But to her, in those moments, nothing makes sense. She needs something to make sense.

After her massive school tantrum had subsided on the day she was mean to her friend, she called me from the principal’s office. “I’m having a hard day,” she said. “She told me she couldn't come to my birthday party, and I said she wasn’t my friend anymore, but I was just being sarcastic.”

“Sweetie, that’s not sarcasm,” I replied defeatedly. Sarcasm has been a point of contention before, as it confuses her. In an effort to relay that she was saying something she didn’t mean, she described it as sarcasm. I made a mental note to find a way to better explain the concept of sarcasm to her, and told her that she should apologize to her friend.

I was so quick to correct her faults. The fact that it’s unacceptable to throw tantrums in school, and yell at your friends. The misuse of the word, “sarcasm.”

In all actuality, I knew that she was disappointed and confused in that moment that her friend politely declined her party invite because her family already had plans. She misinterpreted the situation, and was so overcome with emotion that there was no sorting through to logic. Her feelings were too big, too confusing. She exploded. I felt sorry for the innocent victim who was likely just trying to let her know about the party she wouldn’t be attending. I felt even more sorry for my daughter, who couldn’t interpret this rather cut-and-dry social scenario through her own sensitivity.

So while I’m sorry for the hurt feeling my child caused another little girl, and for the hard time she gives to the adults in her life, and those at the school, and as much as I want her to take responsibility for her actions, not use her deficits as an excuse, and only exhibit her strengths, she’s kind of right when she says, “It’s the Asperger’s.” And she’s young. And she has high-functioning autism that is not obvious to the average on-looker.

Yes, she’s pretty, smart, and charming most of the time. And yes, she will throw completely socially inappropriate tantrums at times, and not fit properly into the box that she’s supposed to fit into. She’ll possibly be wearing a ridiculously sparkly dress while she’s doing it.

It may not look right to them. But, I’m sorry. It’s the Asperger’s.

By the way, her teacher informed me that she did, in fact, apologize to her friend at school that day. She dug deep. She tried. I’m not sure how she phrased her apology, but it doesn’t matter. I’m certain that she didn’t say it the way I would. She found her own way, and I’m immensely proud of her for that.


About the Author...
Rachel Finnemore is a sleep-deprived stay at home mom of two girls, and one boy. An aspiring farmer, and writer, she blogs about parenting on her blog,Chroniclesofjustamom.blogspot.com, and her adventures in becoming a wannabe farmer at her blog, Weepingwillowmicrofarm.blogspot.com.
- See more at: http://www.scarymommy.com/im-sorry-its-the-aspergers/#sthash.4OFyxH7h.dpuf

Friday, May 9, 2014

George Saunders’ Advice to Graduates




What follows is adapted from author George Saunders' 2013 convocation speech delivered at Syracuse University. As we move into graduation season, take a moment to read it--it's truly good for all ages.

In seventh grade, this new kid joined our class. Ellen was small, shy. She wore these blue cat’s-eye glasses that, at the time, only old ladies wore. When nervous, which was pretty much always, she had a habit of taking a strand of hair into her mouth and chewing on it.

So she came to our school and our neighborhood, and was mostly ignored, occasionally teased (“Your hair taste good?” — that sort of thing). I could see this hurt her. I still remember the way she’d look after such an insult: eyes cast down, a little gut-kicked, as if, having just been reminded of her place in things, she was trying, as much as possible, to disappear. After awhile she’d drift away, hair-strand still in her mouth. At home, I imagined, after school, her mother would say, you know: “How was your day, sweetie?” and she’d say, “Oh, fine.” And her mother would say, “Making any friends?” and she’d go, “Sure, lots.”

Sometimes I’d see her hanging around alone in her front yard, as if afraid to leave it.

And then — they moved. That was it. No tragedy, no big final hazing.

One day she was there, next day she wasn’t. End of story.

Now, why do I regret that? Why, forty-two years later, am I still thinking about it? Relative to most of the other kids, I was actually pretty nice to her. I never said an unkind word to her. In fact, I sometimes even (mildly) defended her.

But still. It bothers me.

So here’s something I know to be true, although it’s a little corny, and I don’t quite know what to do with it: What I regret most in my life are failures of kindness.

Those moments when another human being was there, in front of me, suffering, and I responded . . . sensibly. Reservedly. Mildly. Or, to look at it from the other end of the telescope: Who, in your life, do you remember most fondly, with the most undeniable feelings of warmth? Those who were kindest to you, I bet.

It’s a little facile, maybe, and certainly hard to implement, but I’d say, as a goal in life, you could do worse than: Try to be kinder.

How might we DO this? How might we become more loving, more open, less selfish, more present, less delusional, etc., etc? There are ways. You already know that because, in your life, there have been High Kindness periods and Low Kindness periods, and you know what inclined you toward the former and away from the latter. Education is good; immersing ourselves in a work of art: good; prayer is good; meditation’s good; a frank talk with a dear friend; establishing ourselves in some kind of spiritual tradition — recognizing that there have been countless really smart people before us who have asked these same questions and left behind answers for us.

One thing in our favor: some of this “becoming kinder” happens naturally, with age. It might be a simple matter of attrition: as we get older, we come to see how useless it is to be selfish — how illogical, really... We get our butts kicked by real life, and people come to our defense, and help us, and we learn that we’re not separate, and don’t want to be. We see people near and dear to us dropping away, and are gradually convinced that maybe we too will drop away (someday, a long time from now). Most people, as they age, become less selfish and more loving. I think this is true. The great Syracuse poet, Hayden Carruth, said, in a poem written near the end of his life, that he was “mostly Love, now.”

And so, a prediction, and my heartfelt wish for you: as you get older, your self will diminish and you will grow in love. YOU will gradually be replaced by LOVE. Since, according to me, your life is going to be a gradual process of becoming kinder and more loving: Hurry up. Speed it along. Start right now. There’s a confusion in each of us, a sickness, really: selfishness. But there’s also a cure. So be a good and proactive and even somewhat desperate patient on your own behalf — seek out the most efficacious anti-selfishness medicines, energetically, for the rest of your life.

Do all the other things, the ambitious things — travel, get rich, get famous, innovate, lead, fall in love, make and lose fortunes, swim naked in wild jungle rivers —  but as you do, to the extent that you can, err in the direction of kindness. Do those things that incline you toward the big questions, and avoid the things that would reduce you and make you trivial. That luminous part of you that exists beyond personality — your soul, if you will — is as bright and shining as any that has ever been.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

The Village of Sewickley STANDS FIRM against partner violence

From our friends at the Sewickley Valley Chamber of Commerce:

On Tuesday,April 8th, 2014, The Sewickley Valley Chamber of Commerce will kickoff its 2014 Professional Development Speaker Series with an Awareness-and-Response Training on the workplace effects of partner violence,facilitated by STANDING FIRM, a Pittsburgh non-profit that presents the business case to end partner violence. The presentation will take place in the Sewickley Public Library’s Community Room, with registration and breakfast at 8:30 am.

According to Susan Nitzberg, Sewickley resident and Associate Director of STANDING FIRM,partner violence happens at home, but it also walks through the doors of many workplaces, whether employers realize it or not.  Partner violence causes absenteeism; impaired performance; workplace-violence events; potential liability; and safety concerns for employees and customers.

Thanks in part to generous support from Esmark, there is no charge for this training as long as the employer is a member of STANDING FIRM. For more information on joining STANDING FIRM, log on to www.standingfirmswpa.org and click on “Join Us”. Although it is FREE to join, advanced registration is required no later than April 3, 2014 by emailing: sewickleyvalleychamber@gmail.com.

The following local businesses and organizations are keeping our community safe by being STANDING FIRM members: Angel Event Productions, Borough of Sewickley, Clearly Pilates,Eat ‘n Park Hospitality Group, Giant Eagle, Heritage Valley Health System,Laughlin Children’s Center, Liz Murphy Design, McFadden Wellness and Chiropractic Center, Orr’s Jewelers, Quaker Valley School District, Safran's Supermarket, Sewickley Confectionery, Sewickley Valley Chamber of Commerce, Sewickley YMCA, Schenley Capital, Sweetwater Center for the Arts, Sewickley Spa, Spoiled Chics the Boutique, Two Men and a Truck, Village Green Partners, Village Theater Company, and Yoga in Sewickley To learn more about the organization, check out this YouTube video featuring Nitzberg:www.bit.ly/1fpO6Z5.

To learn moreabout the Sewickley Valley Chamber of Commerce, including the other topics inthe 2014 Professional Development Speaker Series, visit www.vgpsewickley.com and click “Chamber of Commerce”.

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The Sewickley Valley Chamber of Commerce (SVCC) strives to educate, motivate, and connect local merchants, professional services, and nonprofits, and works hand in hand with Village Green Partners to promote the area as a destination for shopping ,dining, and living.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Quaker Valley wants to hear from YOU!

The following is a press release from Quaker Valley School District:

Superintendent Search: School Board solicits community input

The Quaker Valley School District’s Board of Directors is seeking community input as it begins its search for the district’s next superintendent. 

“We value community and staff involvement as we analyze the district’s long-term needs and the attributes needed to successfully lead our district,” Sarah Heres, school board president, said.

The school board is working in collaboration with the Allegheny Intermediate Unit and the Pennsylvania School Boards Association as it proceeds through the search process.

Community members can provide feedback online at www.aiu3.net/qvsd or by visiting the district’s website www.qvsd.org and selecting Superintendent Search (the first item listed under the News heading). Input will be collected through Sunday, March 23, 2014.

In addition, community members are encouraged to participate in focus group discussions with members of the Allegheny Intermediate Unit’s Executive Search Committee. Sessions will be held between 6:30-8:30 p.m. on Wednesday, March 19, in the Quaker Valley Middle School auditorium, 618 Harbaugh Street in Sewickley. No RSVP is needed – community members may drop in at any time during the evening session.

The focus group discussions provide community members with the opportunity to provide input regarding the qualities, characteristics and skills desired in Quaker Valley’s next superintendent of schools.


For more information, please contact Tina Vojtko, director of communications and development, at 412-749-3623 or vojtkot@qvsd.org

Thursday, March 6, 2014

SAT Prep Individualized for each student's particular needs!

Click on the flyer below to learn more about Laughlin's upcoming super-small groups for Verbal and Writing content knowledge and test-taking strategies!


Thursday, February 13, 2014

From our friends at the Children's Dyslexia Center in Pittsburgh: Chris Woodin to speak in March!

COGNITION, LANGUAGE, AND THE ACQUISITION OF MATH COMPETENCY

Presented by: Chris Woodin Ed.M. Math Department Chairman, Landmark School, Manchester, Massachusetts
WHEN: SATURDAY, MARCH 15, 2014

WHERE: CHILDREN’S DYSLEXIA CENTER - PITTSBURGH                                   
3579 MASONIC WAY, PITTSBURGH 15237

REGISTRATION AND CONTINENTAL BREAKFAST: 8:45 A.M.                                                                                                                                                      
WORKSHOP:   9:30 – 11:00  A.M.
                                                                                   
COST:  $40      

REGISTRATION DEADLINE:  FRIDAY, MARCH 7TH

Learning math can be challenging, especially for students who have specific learning disabilities. Language skills, executive functioning, motor planning, and math-specific visual processing skills all play a role in acquiring math competency.  Specific deficits and their resulting impact will be explored.

Christopher Woodin has developed innovative, research-based methods for teaching about numbers and learning basic math skills. Methods will be presented that use minimum language demands and whole-to-part, multimodal strategies to help students express, relate, store, and retrieve information efficiently.

Mr. Woodin is a specialist in the fields of mathematics and learning disabilities. A graduate of Middlebury College and Harvard Graduate School of Education, he has taught extensively at Landmark School in Massachusetts. At Landmark School, Elementary-Middle School Campus, he holds the Ammerman Chair of Mathematics. He is the author of The Landmark Method of Teaching Arithmetic (1995), and Multiplication Facts for the Whole to Part Visual Learner (2013), in addition to several journal articles. He served on the Massachusetts Department of Education’s Mathematics 2011 Curriculum Framework Panel and teaches graduate-level education courses. Christopher Woodin was the 1997 Massachusetts Learning Disabilities Association (LDA) Samuel Kirk Educator of the Year. He has presented at numerous international LDA and International Dyslexia Association (IDA) conferences and led math workshops to audiences across the country.

FOR MORE INFORMATION: PGHDYSLEXIACENTER@COMCAST.NET    OR (412) 931-3181

Appropriate for parents and educators of students with language-based learning disabilities such as dyslexia, dyscalculia, dysgraphia, etc.

Monday, January 27, 2014

A Silent Epidemic

by Amy Joyce
Laughlin Children's Center Board of Directors member

“An autistic teenager has wandered away....” is the headline in the news more and more often these days.  As a parent of an autistic teen, my breath catches each time I hear those words.  That fear ranks among the top we parents share for our children on the autism spectrum.  Verbal, non-verbal, high-functioning or low-functioning, every child with ASD is at risk for this behavior.

When the story broke that the remains of a nonverbal, severely autistic boy named Avonte Oquendo washed up by a New York City river last week after wandering away from his school last October, the entire city mourned with the parents.  Not because they knew the family or the boy, but because they felt the loss as their own.  They had searched for him, checking the subway trains and yards, knowing he loved trains.  They had scoured faces similar to his, wondering if he was the boy who couldn't speak but was lost.  They had helped with bloodhounds, and police and other rescue teams to call his name, look for signs of him or hope he was huddled somewhere. 

But it's all counter-intuitive to a family who has an child with autism.  None of those helping had malicious intent, but we knew their efforts were in vain. We knew because one of the first things we teach our kids is Stranger Danger.  We knew there was no way a severely autistic boy would come to someone he didn't know, no way he would come out when his name was called, and no way he would run toward a barking dog who picked up his scent.  We know this because we see every day how our kids hide from loud noises, cover their ears when dogs bark, shield their faces when bright lights shine and become too wrapped up in their own thoughts to hear their names.

How can you find a person who's too afraid to be found?  Recently an article in the Pittsburgh Post Gazette highlighted an effort by the Allegheny County District attorney to "produce a DVD titled Encountering People with Autism for police and other first responders who may come in contact with those diagnosed with some form of the mysterious brain disorder, characterized by social difficulties, communication problems and repetitive behaviors and fixed interests.”  More than 100 police departments in the county will receive a copy in March to help train officers and make them aware of particular behaviors exhibited by persons with autistic disorders.  Read more: http://bit.ly/1e29zro


New York Senator Chuck Schumer proposed a bill in November that would expand an existing voluntary program for people suffering with Alzheimer's to include autistic children. If passed, parents and other caregivers would be able to outfit autistic children with tracking devices, on their wrist, ankle, or anywhere they would tolerate such a device.  While we can't always control the actions of those with these types of cognitive impairments, whether it be autism, Alzheimer's, or dementia, we can take steps to help ensure their safety.  It's time for this technology to help save lives.  My son loves the car GPS, I can only hope he'd love his own GPS even more.