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  1. until
    It’s a night to be supported, to ask questions and share resources, and to be with other parents who get what it’s like to deal with special challenges for their kids. Parents of kids with all types of developmental differences welcome (sensory processing disorder, autism, ADD/ADHD, PDD-NOS, mixed receptive-expressive language disorder, Down syndrome, physical disabilities, medical issues, etc.). Parents/family only, please (no therapists, students or business owners). Note: The July meeting is in person at Gigi's Playhouse, 3948 N. Lincoln Ave. Because many of our kids are medically compromised, we request that only parents/caregivers who are fully vaccinated against Covid-19 attend. The August meeting will return to Zoom.
  2. Photo by Jan Kopřiva on Unsplash They aren’t usually learned from a textbook, but social and emotional learning skills (SEL) are still critical to your child’s fulfillment and success. To learn more about SEL and how parents support their children’s development of these skills, we talked to Amanda Moreno, an SEL expert and associate professor at Erikson Institute. What is social and emotional learning when it comes to children?  What skills does it help children develop? There are several ways of defining SEL but in short, it covers non-academic skills that are needed to live a productive, fulfilling life connected to other people. SEL includes skills like emotional regulation, collaboration, social problem solving, kindness, and resilience. [RELATED: Why kids lie, and why it's okay] Why is SEL important? How does it benefit young children, both in the short and long term? SEL skills used to be referred to as “soft skills." That term is being used less, however, because it makes them sound "touchy-feely” when they are actually the foundation for academic skills. Just imagine how hard it would be to successfully engage in school, work and relationships without SEL skills. Parents usually understand that their children need both book and people smarts, but some SEL skills are less obvious than others. One example is that of a growth mindset. When someone with a growth mindset encounters a task that’s difficult for them, they assume that they just need to learn more and keep trying. They also recognize that everyone feels that tasks are too hard for them sometimes. In contrast, someone without a growth mindset will assume that they are incapable of completing the task, and always will be — and thus give up. Through SEL, parents can cultivate their child’s growth mindset by focusing more on process than outcome, and complimenting their efforts rather than static traits such as “smart.” For example, instead of waiting for your child to complete a puzzle or sand castle and then saying “good job,” you can say something like, “Wow, I notice how you keep turning the pieces in different ways,” or, “I see, when the walls of the castle cave in, you dig deeper for more wet sand to keep it in place.” What strategies can I use to increase my child’s SEL in everyday activities, especially now as life begins to return to normal? I am not someone who believes that children have dramatically lost skills in quarantine. Sure, they may be a bit rusty when it comes to interacting in larger groups (aren’t we all?), but it will just take some practice and confidence to get comfortable again. For children to regain their confidence in social interactions, they mostly need trust from their parents. Children use “social referencing” in challenging situations: If they look at you during their baseball game and you look nervous, they’ll be nervous, too. We need to find ways to manage our own anxiety and model resiliency. Doing so will help our children build their own. [RELATED: 10 tips to move your child from fear and anxiety to bravery] As my child grows, what behaviors signify developmentally on-track SEL skills? I love this question, because I think that due to our natural tendency to focus on the negative, it can be hard for parents to recognize growth in SEL skills. For example, we might think that after seeing gains in our child’s frustration tolerance, one big tantrum means all was lost. Instead of focusing on the tantrum, focus on the small wins. Sure, he had a tantrum, but has the amount of time between tantrums increased? Has the length of them decreased? Have certain things that used to be a trigger become easier? SEL development is not a smooth upward path, so be sure to notice the baby steps even when there are bumps in the road. Are there any resources in the community or classroom that I can access to help my child with SEL? Most schools do some form of SEL programming nowadays, and it is a good idea to find out what your child’s school is doing and get involved. Most programs have parent resources associated with them, which can help with consistent messaging across school and home. There are also many great resources online such as Zero to Three, CASEL, and Edutopia. Amanda Moreno, Ph.D. is an associate professor at Erikson Institute where she conducts research, designs and teaches graduate programs, and delivers professional development training on the intersection between emotions and learning.
  3. until
    It’s a night to be supported, to ask questions and share resources, and to be with other parents who get what it’s like to deal with special challenges for their kids. Parents of kids with all types of developmental differences welcome (sensory processing disorder, autism, ADD/ADHD, PDD-NOS, mixed receptive-expressive language disorder, Down syndrome, physical disabilities, medical issues, etc.). Parents/family only, please (no therapists, students or business owners). The Zoom link will be sent out about 2 hours before the meeting.
  4. until
    It’s a night to be supported, to ask questions and share resources, and to be with other parents who get what it’s like to deal with special challenges for their kids. Parents of kids with all types of developmental differences welcome (sensory processing disorder, autism, ADD/ADHD, PDD-NOS, mixed receptive-expressive language disorder, Down syndrome, physical disabilities, medical issues, etc.). Parents/family only, please (no therapists, students or business owners). The Zoom link will be sent out about 2 hours before the meeting.
  5. until
    It’s a night to be supported, to ask questions and share resources, and to be with other parents who get what it’s like to deal with special challenges for their kids. Parents of kids with all types of developmental differences welcome (sensory processing disorder, autism, ADD/ADHD, PDD-NOS, mixed receptive-expressive language disorder, Down syndrome, physical disabilities, medical issues, etc.). Parents/family only, please (no therapists, students or business owners). The Zoom link will be sent out about 2 hours before the meeting.
  6. until
    It’s a night to be supported, to ask questions and share resources, and to be with other parents who get what it’s like to deal with special challenges for their kids. Parents of kids with all types of developmental differences welcome (sensory processing disorder, autism, ADD/ADHD, PDD-NOS, mixed receptive-expressive language disorder, Down syndrome, physical disabilities, medical issues, etc.). Parents/family only, please (no therapists, students or business owners). The Zoom link will be sent out about 2 hours before the meeting.
  7. until
    It’s a night to be supported, to ask questions and share resources, and to be with other parents who get what it’s like to deal with special challenges for their kids. Parents of kids with all types of developmental differences welcome (sensory processing disorder, autism, ADD/ADHD, PDD-NOS, mixed receptive-expressive language disorder, Down syndrome, physical disabilities, medical issues, etc.). Parents/family only, please (no therapists, students or business owners). The Zoom link will be sent out about 2 hours before the meeting.
  8. until
    It’s a night to be supported, to ask questions and share resources, and to be with other parents who get what it’s like to deal with special challenges for their kids. Parents of kids with all types of developmental differences welcome (sensory processing disorder, autism, ADD/ADHD, PDD-NOS, mixed receptive-expressive language disorder, Down syndrome, physical disabilities, medical issues, etc.). Parents/family only, please (no therapists, students or business owners). The Zoom link will be sent out about an hour before the meeting.
  9. As the doctor held up our firstborn, the feeling of joy and overwhelming love was quickly followed by a heavy pit in our stomachs. My husband and I looked at each other and without words, we both had the same feelings and thoughts: While we were so happy, we also knew that raising a Black boy in America is a daunting task. Fast-forward two years and the words, “We recommend your child receive the diagnosis of Autism,” shattered our world. All of a sudden, we now had to raise a Black autistic boy in America. My husband and I were emotionally ill for weeks. My husband, especially, had a hard time accepting our new reality. His first reaction was to not follow through with the diagnosis. As a Black man, he had first-hand experience of the stereotypes and challenges our son would face. He knew that the world may never see him for who he is as a person; he knew he would be judged by the color of his skin and his diagnosis. He knew, because of this, people may give up on him or put him in a box and never give him a chance to show how great he really is. Ultimately, we followed through with the diagnosis because, without it, our son would not get the intervention he needed. We knew that without OT, speech, or ABA therapy our son’s development could stagnate and, as an adult, this would be more harmful. It’s an important reminder: Do not let fear stop you from making the hard — yet right — decision for your child. [Related: How to be an anti-racist parent] “The Talk” Every Black person in America knows what “the talk” is. It is not about sex. “The talk” has been something parents in the Black community have been doing for years. During “the talk,” we learn about our history; we learn some people still see us as inferior, some people hate us, and some people may use their power and position to hinder us from achieving our goals. We learn that the educational, financial, and housing systems in this country were set up to keep us out of the American dream. We learn that some community helpers, like police, overreach their power and sometimes hurt or kill us. So, we wondered: should we have “the talk” with our son? He has been taught to see the police as helpers, who will be kind to him if he gets lost or is in danger. The reality is, some police officers may see the color of his skin first and view him as a threat. The reality is, as our son gets older his meltdowns will probably be misunderstood. My husband and I decided to have “the talk” in phases. We took into account our son’s developmental understanding of social dynamics. We have talked about slavery, we have talked about the Civil Rights movement, and we have talked about racism. We have chosen to leave out certain details because ultimately it may be more confusing and traumatizing. We still need him to seek out the help of a police officer if he is ever lost or in danger, so we decided to be proactive and not reactive. At age 10, we took our son to our local CAPS meetings and introduced him to some of the officers present. We have also taken him down to the local precinct and introduced him to officers, as well. Our hope is that proactively communicating his diagnosis will help just in case, God forbid, our son ever has an encounter with police. [Related: Chicago venues that cater to kids with special needs] Angry Black Parent vs. Advocating Parent One of the nuances of raising Black children in America is that as parents, we have to fight stereotypes as well. Every single ER visit, we have been met with the questions, “Does Dad live in the home?” and “Do you have the same last name?” Our answer, which is “yes” to both, has always been met with surprise and sometimes shock. I even had a nurse say out loud, “Wow, that’s a first!” We have also shocked hospital staff with our organized documentation of our son’s medical history, our knowledge of his rights as a patient, and his benefits under his insurance plans. This is very important; we never want to be in a position in which racial stereotypes prevent our son from receiving the best healthcare. Make sure you are always prepared; do your due diligence. In addition, our approach when advocating for our son has always been from a place of knowledge. Our goal is that we, as parents, can avoid being racially stereotyped as the angry Black parents and change the narrative to “strong parent advocates.” My husband and I use this approach in other aspects of our son’s life as well. Raising children is hard; raising a Black autistic boy in America is even harder. My husband and I do not have all the answers, and we take each situation as it comes. Yes, we get angry and scared. Yes, it sometimes feels overwhelming. Yes, we have shed many tears. However, no matter how disheartening, exhausting, and stressful the journey may be, we never lose hope.
  10. Whether you are just starting to consider an IEP for your child or your child has had one for a few years, it is important to understand the terms, organize your documents and know how to advocate for your child. NPN has teamed up with autism expert and special education advocate Mo Buti to educate parents on the ins and outs of the IEP process.

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