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Rejective Sensitive Dysphoria: The Unrecognized Symptom of ADHD

It is an unfortunate fact that our young humans that possess a differently wired brain tend to hear a lot about what they don’t do right. Parents, teachers, and other caretakers often experience understandable frustration. Also unfortunate is the fact that the ADHD child often is much more sensitive to correction than their nuerotypical peer, feeling it as a personal rejection. They feel reprimands deeply and profoundly.

This fact, combined with the knowledge that typical reward and consequence type systems do not help the ADHD brain correct maladaptive behaviors, should lead us to use alternative methods to prevent permanent damage children. Remember, their brain is wired differently. We wouldn’t expect a child who needs to wheelchair to walk up steps. In the same way, we must sometimes “ramp it up” for children with ADHD by providing them with supports that help them develop the skills they are delayed in.

When you teach and parent, you touch the future and that is a pretty amazing place to be.

For more ideas on how to create accessible learning for the ADHD brain, contact me at deanna@deannawestedt.com.

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The Tip of the ADHD Iceberg

This last week I’ve discussed the challenges of invisible disabilities, including ADHD. Today, I want to touch on the misconception that ADHD is simply about hyperactivity and maladaptive behaviors such as fidgeting and not completing work. These are, of course, stereotypical behaviors associated with ADHD and due to the challenges the present in parenting and teaching an ADHD child they probably garner the most attention. However, if the Titanic is any indication, it is what lies beneath the surface that can be incredibly impactful.

Although not every child who has this diagnosis experiences every single symptom or attribute, it is incredibly important for caregivers to understand the underlying challenges. Doing so can completely change the lens of the adults caring for children who have ADHD, once again changing their behaviors from being “naughty” or “incorrigible” to being part of their differently wired brain. And while we very much want to address these challenges for students ( I mean, we don’t want to say not being able to to keep a job potentially is just a symptom), understanding the the child is not trying to struggle and make life difficult can be a breath of fresh air, take out the personal feeling that the child’s behavior feels like (yes, we are human , too), and relieve the frustration.

The ability to identify the specific and lesser known ways that ADHD may affect your child or a student can help you provide scaffolding (think a step ladder) to help them build the skills they need to function successfully in a world, that will not necessarily bend to their unique challenges. Our goal is to create a human that has the skills to be healthy, happy, and successful out in the world and this is a VERY attainable goal for the child with ADHD. Not only can the child with ADHD be able to survive they can be successful in whatever pathway they choose. In fact, if tapped into properly, I would venture to say they have the chance to be incredibly successful in their chosen path because the way their brain is wired often makes them incredibly passionate about their interests, often working leaps and bound beyond their nuerotypical peers. It is our role to help them identify their passions, give them the tools, and help them develop the skills that do not come naturally to them. This IS a big ask. You will get frustrated. You won’t handle every situation textbook. But, the process of raising and educating our children is to also model resiliency and most of all communicating that they will not be given up on.

When you parent and teach, you touch the future and that is a pretty amazing place to be!

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Invisible Disabilities: The ADHD Edition

The term ADHD is a common one these days, but for all of the recognition the term has, so many misunderstandings about the condition exist. It is so important to uncover the myths and incorrect “urban legends” surrounding ADHD and the impact these narratives have on the way our students with ADHD access curriculum.

  1. ADHD is not made up. It is a clinical condition wherein the brain is developmentally different than the average brain. In fact, the common medications given to treat ADHD/ ADD are stimulants, not sedatives as many think. There is a lot of evidence to support that the ADHD brain responds differently to stimulants than a brain that is wired in a neurotypical way.
  2. Medication is not a one and done treatment. While medication may be a part of a treatment plan (and for some it is not), there are many additional things that families may implement. Some children appear to do better without particular ingredients in their diet, while others may have difficulty managing their reaction to technology. In any case, there are many moving pieces to managing the ADHD brain and, like with other conditions, there is a spectrum. Even if a child is having behavioral challenges, it by no means implies that the family is not parenting that child. In fact, I have referred to parenting ADHD children as EXTREME parenting! Other aspects of treatment for ADHD may include cognitive behavioral therapy, occupational therapy, hippotherapy (horses), and working with a specialist who understands the dynamics of a family that is raising an ADHD child (or two).
  3. Attention deficit is actually a very misleading term. ADHD children can actually pay attention very well! Sometimes a little too well as they tend to perseverate on topics that are of high interest. And sometimes their brain is just overwhelmed by all that is around them and they have a hard time compartmentalizing. This is where giftedness behaviors often overlap with the ADHD brain. And thank-goodness for brains that are wired like this because I promise that we have many breakthroughs and advances in science and other areas thanks to brains that function like this. On the flip side, it is important to help a child who is wired this way to learn to balance this so they may develop proper executive functioning skills.
  4. Children with ADHD cannot just try harder…and tough love isn’t necessarily going to help them improve. Since the ADHD brain is wired differently it also reacts differently to common behavior management strategies such as reward and consequence driven programs. These programs do very little in helping the child with ADHD overcome their challenges. I highly recommend the book “Lost at School” by Dr. R. Greene in which collaborative problem solving structures are discussed. These strategies are amazing and not only do they help unravel the mystery of some of the most challenging behaviors, but also simultaneously teach executive functioning, communicating, and thought processing.
  5. ADHD/ADD is not necessarily more common in boys. While this may be statistically correct, it is likely that boys are simply more often identified because the present with behaviors that are noticeable or disruptive. Often times children, boys or girls, who are quieter and fly under the radar may have their ADHD/ADD ignored. While some may be noticeably hyper, sometimes ADHD presents itself in a student that daydreams or get hyperfocused on preferred activities and cannot transition easily. This means that students like this are at higher risk of falling through the cracks.

For more ways to understand and provide access to curriculum for our ADHD children, contact me at deanna@deannawestedt. I offer consulting and coaching services to walk along side teaching practitioners and provide accessible learning environments for students of all overlapping characteristics.

When you teach, you touch the future and that is a pretty amazing place to be!

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Tips for Living with Invisible Disabilities: Food Allergies Edition

We often focus on the medical aspect of food allergies for children and adults, but seldom do we reflect upon the toll it takes on those who navigate life with food allergies and their caregivers. Food allergies fall under the umbrella of the Americans with Disabilities (ADA) and for good reason. When someone has a food allergy that means that they may be susceptible to severe and life threatening reactions because their body reacts differently to a food that is considered otherwise safe. Add in to that well-meaning individuals who don’t understand some of the complexities and others who are just thoughtless or unkind, and living with food allergies can be tough! Below I’ve included my top tips to thriving with food allergies:

  1. Try to find the positive. This one is tough, because I will admit that so much of our society centers around food. It is foundational for many social activities. Although food allergies can make life challenging, I do credit it for making me more aware of what is in food and in some ways this has contributed to healthful eating choices in ways that go beyond just avoiding my allergen (s). Also, it created a sort of compassion in me that can only come from walking in these shoes.
  2. Focus on what you can eat, at least just as much as what you can’t. While a big part of managing food allergies is maintaining an almost hyperawareness of what goes on your plate, at one point I started appreciating the things I could have and the things I am able to enjoy. This is a case of glass half full, but it does remind me that I am able to eat a lot more things than I can’t.
  3. Be confident in advocating for yourself. At this stage in my life, I have very little qualms about what others may think of me doing what I need to be safe and feel comfortable. But… that was not always the case. So, if me now had a talk with me back then, I would tell myself not to worry so much about what others think when I ask questions at restaurants or have to turn down a treat. Breathing is important! Much more important than what others think. Those who know and care about me understand and accept this as part of who I am (and what I need to do!)
  4. Make sure that you are getting what you need in your diet just as much as keeping out the things you can’t have. This has been a very steep learning curve for me. Depending on the allergy, it may be necessary to take out whole entire food groups (such as dairy). Other food allergies such as wheat or eggs may make it harder to get other nutrients or protein (the later). Add in multiple food allergies and it gets really complicated. Learn what things you can put in to your diet to replace the vitamins and minerals that usually are obtained from your allergen. I ended up consulting a nutritionist at the local regional hospital who gave me tips and recipes for helping me with protein, calcium, and iron. Check with your insurance to see what they cover and what the requirements for this are (sometimes a referral and diagnosis code is required).
  5. Look for online support, but take it with a grain of salt. Emotional support is super important and it can be helpful to keep in touch with others who are experiencing the same as you. There is such a spectrum of allergy related conditions, though, so it is important to make sure that suggestions shared are right for you or your child. Always clear advice with your allergist and discuss a emergency plan in case of reaction.
  6. Find other ways to connect with people outside of food! Take a hike together or if food must be part, have a picnic where everyone BYO. Get creative here and have fun looking for ways outside of food to socialize.

When we teach and parent we touch the future and that is a pretty amazing place to be!

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Equity for Invisible Disabilities

As progress is made in the understanding of children whose brains develop differently, there is one area that continues to be problematic: the assumption that when a child is challenged behaviorally, the parents must not parent or the child is just being “difficult.” But for a parent who has tried all the “tried and true” methods with no results, the backstory is quite different.

The reality is, that for a child with developmental delays in executive functioning or maturational issues, the need for scaffolding and appreciating the baby-steps is incredibly important. If we heard that a teacher would not allow a child who is behind in reading to go to recess until they could read on grade-level, why would we do that to a child who has executive functioning delays that affects their impulse control. Of course, the issues need to be addressed, but I can promise you that a child who is repeating maladaptive behavior and receiving negative results isn’t in it for attention. And they certainly don’t enjoy it! Could it be that a fresh perspective is needed when looking at our frequent flier behavior challenges?

Many children who struggle with behavior challenges or organization simply do not connect the dots and they desperately need someone to come along side them to help them do it. Much like a structure under construction, they need behavioral scaffolding. And they need to know their small successes are just as important as the kids who get Student of the Month. So, be that person. Help them connect the dots. If tried and true consequences aren’t working for a kid, quit doing that and look outside the behavior chart box.

When you teach you touch the future and that is a pretty amazing place to be! For ideas on how to reach children in the classroom that are having trouble connecting the behavior dots, contact me for coaching and professional development opportunities at deannat@deannawestedtdeannawestedt.org

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Food Allergies in the Classroom #2

Food is an obvious central social theme in our society and culture. The impact of this starts young for children as they are bombarded with the message early on that there is a food attached to almost every type of celebration. Eating is something that unites us, but for the food allergic child or individual such socialization is quite the opposite of unifying.

Know that there is more than one right approach to managing a food allergy. When my son was diagnosed with food allergies at age 3, we took the approach of helping him learn to navigate the feelings that come along with the social nature of food. In his case, we felt the best approach (for him) was to equip him to know how to keep himself safe in an age appropriate way and to learn to accept that the world may not always accommodate him. However, this is not necessarily the correct approach for every child with a food allergy. As with many things, there is a spectrum upon which food allergies may lie. So right off the bat, I want to get it out there that one right way to approach a food allergy does not exist. It depends upon the type of reactions, the trigger (airborne or ingested or both), and the maturity/ comfort level of the individual. Please don’t be that person that says,” But I know a person that has a food allergy and they can ( fill in the blank).”

For example, we cannot expect young children to necessarily make appropriate decisions for themselves at all times. We can definitely start equipping them to do so and scaffold for them. Statistically, it needs also to be said that increased incidences of food allergy related injury or death increases in the adolescent years. A combination of the child venturing out more independently, feeling invincible, and perhaps a general feeling that the child is capable of more responsibility gives us an idea of the contributing factors. It should also paint of picture of why we cannot let our guard down.

Do not underestimate the seriousness of a potential reaction. Just because someone you know “just” gets a sick tummy or “just” gets hives, know that reactions depend upon the person. Pop culture would have us believe that epi pen is a magic cure all, when in fact it just buys time to get to the hospital. Most often a second epi pen is needed within 15 minutes (therefore, they are prescribed in double packs. What? did you think it was a bulk buy?) Serious traumatic brain injuries can occur for even those who do survive a serious allergic reaction due to oxygen deprivation. Truly, it is a very serious matter that can change somebody’s life forever.

Be considerate with questions. While most are happy to oblige , I have to say that the two questions I hear most often get rather old. The first question is” Why do I think so many people/ kids have allergies these days?” Hmm… no one really knows for sure, least of all me… but if you come at me with “…but kids didn’t use to have allergies like this,” I will tell you that modern medicine is a blessing and we have only to see the amazing things that come from the young lives that are saved through the use of an epi pen and hospitalization. The reality is that many food allergic children most likely died in infancy back in the day (at least that is one theory). I don’t know about you, but I would much rather have a higher percentage of food allergic children reach adulthood, then have fewer kids with food allergies.

Next question I hear is “What do you think cause food allergies?” Jury is still out on this and just like the above question, a million different theories and no definitive answer . A lot of times, I feel people just want a little reassurance as to why it happened because they want assurance that it won’t happen to them or their loved ones. They want to know what could have been done differently or have theories as to what could have been done differently. This goes back to the decades long debate of choices parents make while raising a tiny human and everyone wants to find the “reason” that it happened. The reality is that genetics are most likely to blame for the most part. Yes, research has showed correlation to other factors, but that is not causation. Case in point, my regular birth child is the one that had food allergies, whereas my C-section child had absolutely none. Some studies point to the opposite often being the case, but again we are a mixture of our own genetic stew.

Join me tomorrow as I share a bit more about allergic living from a teacher’s and mom’s perspective.

When you teach, you touch the future and that is a pretty amazing place to be.

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Inclusivity for the Invisible Disability

When we think of disabilities, those that are visible on the outside are often what comes to mind. When the need is in plain view, why certain accommodations are needed is much easier to explain. But within the disability community, exists a subcategory of those who have what is known as an “invisible disability.” When the disability is not visible from the outside, the territory of making assumptions is all too often entered. For example:

  • A child with spectrum disorder or attention deficit disorder (or any other disability that affects the development of the child) displays behavior not in line with their chronological age and the Judgey Mcjudgersons of the world make sure the mom knows their disapproval, because clearly it must be the parent’s fault (it’s not).
  • A person with an invisible illness or disability that affect their mobility receives a back-handed comment from a passerby for parking in the handicap spot.

These are just two examples of the biases that are experienced by individuals with invisible disabilities and their loved ones.

Within the classroom, it is especially important to make space for children who present with developmental or medical differences due to an invisible disability. It is 100% the responsibility of the adult to make sure that the classroom is not only accessible, but is a safe place for children to learn in all ways. In some cases, depending on whether or not the disability directly affects the child’s ability to learn, they may be placed on a 504 or IEP. 504’s generally apply toward a medical disability such as a food allergy or even ADHD, if it does not affect the child’s ability to learn ( truly, there are some cases of ADHD where the issues are more behavioral and do not affect the student’s access to the curriculum, but I advise parent to really reflect on what is best for their particular child if they are diagnosed with ADHD). An Individual Education Plan (IEP) is a plan that addresses what accommodations and/ or modifications will be made for a child in order to allow them to access the learning. Both are legally binding; however, an IEP tends to be seen as more rigorous. All such diagnoses or conditions are covered by the American with Disabilities Act (ADA).

For more ideas on how to make sure your classroom is accessible for all students, contact me at deanna@deannawestedt.com. I would love to walk alongside you or your staff in ensuring that all children have access to that depth of knowledge equity I am so passionate about!

When you teach, you touch the future and that is a pretty amazing place to be!

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The Writing Life

I have always loved to write. I spent a lot of time as a child journaling and by the time I reached adulthood, I was the proud owner of about 20 journals! When I went into my doctoral studies, however, I found that not only was I a bit rusty and out of practice with my writing, but that as a mom of two very active boys I had to create the space for my writing.

Every person is different, but personally when I write I find it to be something that I have to immerse myself in. It is very difficult for me to tune out extraneous noise or to focus my energy when I am finding myself worrying about what is going on in the next room (#momlife). During my doctoral program, I had a couple days a week at home while the boys were at school and this became my writing time. Shortly after the completion of my doctoral program, the pandemic hit and boy, did our life change (as did everyone’s!). In fact, I have remarked many times to my husband that our life today looks nothing like it did just over a year ago. With our boys now being full-time homeschooled, there is a constant hustle and bustle around the house. Not so much the creative space needed by an introverted and easily distracted writer. Over the last few months, we have tweaked things around the house and created the space I need for writing.

If you find yourself in a program of study and encounter challenges in making space for the writing requirements, reflect upon what is hard about the process for you. Is it noise interference, constant interruptions, or beginning the writing process? By identifying your hang-ups, you can get into the solution. For example, we reconfigured the room uses in our house to accommodate our new homeschooling lifestyle. We developed signals (such as a post-it on the door) that means the occupant cannot be disturbed at the moment unless it is life or death. Additionally, using a noise canceling headset may help, as well. Don’t be afraid to try some new strategies to help address the issues. Be ready to even have to make additional tweaks. Most importantly, try your best to communicate to those you are around daily what you need from them in regards to this. Communication of these types of things is healthy in any relationship and sets an example of problem solving and respecting boundaries for our children.

When you teach you touch the future and that is a pretty amazing place to be!

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It Only Takes One

As a school administrator for over 20 years, my mother always noted the importance that every child needed to have at least one person in their life that deeply believes in them and champions them. And it is an unfortunate fact we know each year, that at least some of our students will come from a home where that may not be the case. While the majority of parents genuinely do their best for their offspring, there are those cases where while a home situation may not qualify as CPS worthy, yet the support and cheerleading may be missing for that child.

But the good news? While we are not able to completely replace that space in a child’s life, we can be that one person for that child. We are brought into other’s lives, sometimes for life (here’s looking at you life-long friends!), sometimes for a reason, and sometimes for a season. (Or any combination of these, too!) These children are brought into our lives, and we into theirs, and we can be that source of belief, compassion, and encouragement for that child who may not have that resource coming from home.

While the school year is a while away still, take a moment to be grateful for the children that were brought into your life (yes, even the difficult ones because they challenge us and show us where we need to grow). And then set your eyes forward and resolve that you will be that source of encouragement for that “out of the box” child.

When you teach you touch the future and that is a pretty amazing place to be!

Check out my website at deannawestedt.com for ways that I can walk alongside and find ways to be that person for those children who need us just a little bit more.

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One Healthy Change: Spotlight on Teacher Wellness

This week, I’ve focused on personal wellness for teachers. Teaching is a work of heart, but throughout a school year teachers often find themselves drained of their own energy. We often put personal wellness goals off to the summer. But I’m here to suggest something a little different. Instead of going gung-ho on fitness or wellness goals this summer, start small. Each action you take will lead to more. My favorite starting point, especially for myself if I get off track, is to take the single step of refocusing on hydration. Let’s face it, hydration can be easy to let slip while in the classroom. I find that starting with hydration, finding how many glasses of water I should be drinking for my particular set of circumstances, and focusing on that as a goal generally starts me off in the right direction. Your “one healthy change” may be different, but whatever it is, make sure to take time to feel great about doing something good for yourself and build habits that can go back with you into the classroom!

When you teach, you touch the future and that’s a pretty amazing place to be!