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  1. As a parent of a special needs child, I look forward to the periods of platitude. Every developmental stage is an uphill climb that seems to take forever. So when my child hits a plateau and can thrive in an age-appropriate developmental stage, I relish in the peace that comes with it. I have learned to relax during these periods until it’s time for the next developmental growth challenge. Well, during the spring of 2021 when we had finally settled into our “new normal” and were thriving in a pandemic world, BOOM! I started to notice my usual rule-following, kind-hearted son becoming more irritable out of the blue. And when I say "out of the blue," I mean over things that were never an issue for him in the past. He seemed more tired than usual, he was more sensitive to touch, and even though he has a speech delay, he is verbal — but he really did not want to talk at all. [Related: Raising a Black autistic boy in America] My husband, his teachers, and his therapists all saw this dramatic change in him. For weeks, I chalked it up to the time change. He has always had a hard time adjusting to the bi-annual time changes, especially when we spring forward, so I just assumed this particular year was just a bit harder for him. After weeks of dealing with his attitude, I finally spoke to his pediatrician. She referred me to an endocrinologist. After blood tests and an exam, the endocrinologist looked at me and said, “Well mom, the hormone fairy has asked him to the dance, and he has accepted." He is only 11, My baby is growing up, What does this mean? and Oh no, it’s time for the sex talk, were all the thoughts running through my head. I pulled myself together enough to ask her, "What does puberty look like in a child with autism?” She told me it is different for each child; however most will be more sensory-defensive during this time. She asked me to close my eyes and imagine what it would feel like to feel every single hair growing on my body, what would it feel like to feel the lump of an adam’s apple forming in my throat, and to feel all of the aches as the muscles grow and form in my body. She explained that this is what my son is feeling on a magnified level. This completely explained his change in behavior and his new sensitivity. [Related: Tips for your next IEP meeting from a special-ed attorney] Armed with the knowledge of what was happening, my husband and I immediately put a plan of action in place. The first thing we did was communicate this information to his teachers and therapists. This allowed them to make adjustments in their support. It helped him to continue to be successful and get the most out of school and therapy. Second, we talked to him about what was going on with his body. We discussed the physical and the mental changes that were happening. What stood out to me most was that once we assured him everything he was feeling was “normal,” his irritability lessened by 50 percent. I realized the unknown of what was happening was half of the stress he was feeling. We also asked him to tell us what things he thought would help him cope. He said exercise. Lightbulb moment! My son is a swimmer, and pre-pandemic he was in the pool for three 2-hour sessions per week. This gave his body good sensory work out. Since the pandemic he had been only able to do one 45-minute session per week. His body and brain needed a workout to cope and process all the changes that were happening. Since our son had done Tae Kwon Do in the past and enjoyed it, we picked that up twice a week. It took a few weeks, but we finally started seeing our son return to his rule-following, kind-hearted, non-irritable self. Lastly, we told him to come to us with any questions or thoughts he had about what was going in with his body. We told him nothing was off limits. We also prepared ourselves to be ready and open to answer any questions and have uncomfortable conversations. This part is ongoing, and things come up day by day. However, we have built a deeper level of trust that will be helpful as we enter the teen years. What I have learned on this journey is to start researching and talking to your doctors about puberty when your child is 10 years old. Prepare yourself and be open to questions and conversations. Honestly, if puberty was on my radar, I would have had a preparatory conversation with my son at 10 years old. I would have told him in a very clinical way what changes he may see in his body, and to let me know when it starts happening. Trust what you know about your child. If they have sensory issues, prepare for them to feel body changes on a deeper level, and think of activities they enjoy that can help their bodies cope with the feelings. Be patient, give them grace, and assure them that all the strange things they are feeling are normal and okay. Lastly, as a parent of a special needs child, remember our journey is a marathon: Breathe and give yourself a break. You are doing great!
  2. NPN Tareema

    COVID Regression and What to Do About It

    until
    Have you noticed a regression in your child—behaviorally, developmentally or socially—since the start of the pandemic? You're far from alone. Join NPN for a webinar on how to detect and manage COVID regression, whether you have a child with special needs or a typically developing child in the crucial development years of 2–5. In this discussion, you will hear from behavioral specialists, speech and language pathologists, occupational therapists, and psychologists about the typical signs that your child may be experiencing developmental regression due to the pandemic. You will also learn about the strategies professionals are using, services that are available, and what activities you can do in the home to combat COVID-19 regression. Our esteemed panel consists of: Dr. Shay McManus, Neuropsychologist, Eyas Landing Dr. Chrisna M. Perry, PhD, Founder & Director, Comprehensive Learning Services Lorell Marin, Founder, CEO & Therapist, LEEP Forward Nicole Cissell, Clinical Director, BGF Children's Therapy Jason Wetherbee, Director of Clinical Services & Program Development, EB Pediatric Resources Special thanks to our Presenting Sponsor, Eyas Landing Thank you to our Supporting Sponsors, Comprehensive Learning Services and LEEP Forward By registering for this event, you agree that NPN may share your name and email address with our presenting sponsors.
  3. until
    As parents it is hard to imagine our kids as adults, especially if your child is developmentally different. Will they go to college, trade school or get a job? Are there employment opportunities and, if so, what type? Will they be able to live independently? The panelists on this webinar can help you prepare for the many different options for your child so they can live the most fulfilling life possible. PEERS Chicago will discuss their social coaching program for young adults and Urban Autism Solutions will present their residences, transition academy and farm solution program. We will also learn about Elmhurst University's Learning and Success Academy and Anixter Center will discuss their pathway to college and employment programs. Our esteemed panel consists of: Diane Gould, CEO and Owner, PEERS Chicago Heather Tarczan, Executive Director, Urban Autism Solutions Tim Ahlberg, Assistant Director of Admissions, Elmhurst University ELSA Dina Donohue-Chase, Vice President of Growth & Innovation, Anixter Center
  4. NPN Tareema

    College Admissions 101

    Do you have a young child and you are thinking about their college career? Or do you have a high schooler and you need to figure out the college application process quickly? Either way, this is the session for you. If you wonder how to determine which colleges are a good fit for your child, where to start in applying for financial aid and scholarships, and how to approach standardized tests like the ACT and SAT, NPN can help. In College Admissions 101, presented by Grace Lee Sawin of Chicago School GPS College Search Guidance, you will learn: -How and where to begin your college search -What colleges look for in an applicant -The timeline for a smooth college application process Recorded February 2022
  5. As a busy parent, achieving “peace and ease” may often feel outside of your reach. But with the strategic implementation of routine, you may find that they are closer than you think. Here are three simple tips to get started. 1. Start with one small routine. A homework routine is a great cornerstone routine that you can build upon. The first step is to ensure that your kids’ homework spaces are quiet and clutter-free. Next, establish homework rules. I suggest that kids come home, eat a snack, and get straight to work. Thereafter, removing snacks, devices or other distractions can really help to narrow focus. Depending on a child’s age and amount of homework, set a timer for an appropriate amount of work time (30 minutes for elementary students, 50 for middle schoolers and high schoolers). When the timer goes off, permit them to take a 5-10 minute break before resuming the work. Don’t forget that they will need you to impose the structure at the start, but they may not need that forever. [Related: Transition from summer to school year with these tips] 2. Experiment and build upon your successes. Establishing routine is a process, so don’t be afraid to experiment. For example, if your kids need more down time when they get home from school, give them that break. If you find this leads to late-night homework meltdowns, revisit that assessment and tweak it. Once the homework routine is second-nature, redirect your attention to another time of day that feels particularly inefficient, frazzled, or frustrating. Outline what needs to be done, who needs to do it, and what kind of time restraints are to be imposed. Make sure you communicate clearly with job charts, checklists, and/or to-do lists to ensure that your entire family is on the same page. Utilize alarms and device reminders as necessary to keep everyone on track. The good news is that once one routine in place, it is much easier to build upon your existing routines. You may even find that after some initial pushback, your kids crave and maintain the structure independently. [Related: Helping your anxious child handle homework] 3. Don’t let perfect be the enemy of good enough. Routines are more of an art than a science, and they are definitely a practice. Some days the routine will be seamless, and other days, it will be a mess. That is OK. Use that data as feedback to make decisions about how to formulate or adjust as necessary. Continue to come back to the routine and to implement it with as much consistency as possible, but if you must stray or tweak it, don’t fret. The whole idea is that the routine should work for you — not the other way around. Personally, I don’t love starting new routines, but once a new routine is in place, I don’t know how I lived without it. Put in a little extra work at the beginning of this school year to establish those good routines, and I promise that in the end, it will make your family’s life a whole lot easier.
  6. 2020 was truly a very difficult year with regards to the coronavirus pandemic. There is a lot we know now that we didn’t know at its start and still so much to learn. Scientists and medical researchers are working hard to develop therapeutic medications and vaccines to help protect us from the harms this virus can cause. Families everywhere have had to make sacrifices in their personal lives, work lives and the ways they enjoy sports and recreation, all the while trying to find new ways to stay healthy and active. While spectator sports are an exciting pastime in the fall and winter months, we have all heard over and over again about COVID infections and spread amongst professional athletes. These individuals have made personal decisions about participating in these sports as it is their job. Sports participation at the student level is clearly a different issue. The American Academy of Pediatrics values sports and physical fitness in their guidance of healthy living and good mental health during this pandemic. The safest sports last summer were noted to be golf, running, baseball and tennis — activities in which we’re able to maintain distance and minimize sharing equipment. Keep following the rules The underlying guidance across all activities is the ability to maintain social distancing, perform good hand hygiene, and wear a mask when you can’t maintain a 6-foot distance. For safety, masks may not be required in active elite level exercise, water sports, or where it poses a risk of getting caught on equipment, covering one’s eyes, or choking. Each athlete should have their own mask, access to hand sanitizer, and their own water bottles and towels. [Related: Free or cheap ways to entertain your kids on winter weekends] Recreational sports for young children can be challenging because mask-wearing may be difficult to enforce. Competitive or high school level sports for older children pose additional problems because the severity of coronavirus illness in children in their teen years may mimic that in adults. New information about the effects of COVID infection on the heart poses even more concern. Watch-outs: cardiac conditions The current recommendations by pediatricians and cardiologists include looking for signs of cardiac inflammation or myocarditis in athletes who had significant symptoms of COVID as part of clearing them to return to their sport. This can mean a minimum of a 2-3 week absence from their sport if they don’t have any cardiac concerns, or of course much longer if they have significant cardiac compromise. It is recommended to be in touch with your healthcare provider before making the decision to return to sports. What to avoid During sports practice or games, athletes need to avoid huddles, high fives, handshakes or fist bumps. They shouldn’t share any food or drinks with their teammates. Cheering each other on should be limited to when they are greater than 6-8 feet apart and they should always use a tissue when spitting or blowing their nose. [Related: Coat or no? Car seat safety during the cold winter months] Low-risk activities So the question remains, what can you and your children do to keep healthy and active and be as safe as possible? Here are some suggestions that allow social distancing, mask-wearing and minimal equipment sharing: Walking, hiking and running, fishing, golf, tennis, baseball, swimming and diving, dancing and yoga, and skating and cycling. Higher-risk activities The higher risk sports which involve more contact — soccer, football, basketball, gymnastics, cheerleading and hockey — should be undertaken only if you and your athletes, coaches and sports associations appreciate and follow the best guidance they can to minimize risk. There are no easy answers to the questions parents have about participation in sports. We know robust physical activity contributes to good mental and physical health. Knowing the risks may help you determine good options for your child. Of course, always consider discussing the health risks and benefits with your individual pediatrician. And while this may not be the ideal year for your athlete, we hope that there are good protective vaccines available in the near future which can help protect us all, and allow for a more active lifestyle again! Anita Chandra-Puri, MD, is a Chicago pediatrician with Northwestern Medical Group Pediatrics, as well as a mom and NPN board member. To ask Dr. Anita a question, email newsletter@npnparents.org with the subject line, “Ask a Doctor.”
  7. Many of us learn about sexuality from our friends, textbooks, health class, movies, or...the internet. Parents, guardians and caregivers are their children's primary educators, yet many pre-teens report they do not learn about sexuality from their own caregivers, leaving many of their questions unanswered. In this video, Jennifer Litner gives a straight-forward approach on how parents can start these conversations with their kids. Why is talking to your preteen about sex and sexuality important? What if you are terrified of talking to your preteen about sex? How do you even begin this conversation? Licensed therapist and sexuality educator Jennifer Litner answers these questions and plenty of your own, describes the benefits of sex-positive parenting, and debunks some of the myths surrounding sexuality. Download Ms. Litner's handout of resources to help you approach the topic with your child.

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