Encore Support Services

What is my role in the ABA therapy?

It is important to carry over the skills your child is learning during sessions which, in essence, is practicing them throughout his/her daily routines. For example, if the BCBA or behavior technician tells you they are working on increasing your child’s expressive language skills, at home you can work on your child using his/her words to request his/her wants and needs or to ask and answer questions. Another example - if you observe the behavior technician working on play skills, you can take time to play those same games with your child after school or over the weekend. Although your child may be receiving ABA therapy multiple times per week, s/he is with the behavior technician for only a small portion of the week. So, the more you practice the skills they are learning, the sooner you will begin to see progress. Conversely, if you do not practice what your child is learning, it could take him/her longer to meet his/her goals since there could be a disconnect between what is going on in and out of therapy. Accordingly, it is critical to follow the suggestions and strategies that are used during sessions to maintain consistency of practice. This way, your child will not get confused, there will be uniformity and everyone on your child’s therapy team, including you as the parent, will be utilizing the same, effective protocol. Your BCBA and behavior technician are there as a resource for you in terms of how to carry over skills outside of sessions. Ask them exactly what goals they are working on and how to implement them. Request that they demonstrate and practice with you, and provide you with feedback. While you can work on skills in a formal way with your child when it is appropriate, is also important to find natural teachable moments whereby you incorporate the ABA goals into your child’s interests, what is reinforcing or motivating for him/her and family activities. All researchers agree that parents have the ability to make a positive difference in their children’s lives and each autism treatment program relies on parental involvement. It is advantageous for you to be trained in ABA techniques and to be fully involved in order to maximize your child’s learning rate and skill development. There is no right amount of parental involvement because every family has different needs but understand the powerful impact you have on your child’s success. You play an integral role in your child’s developmental progress. Keep the lines of communication open with your therapy team and collaborate regularly with them. Always feel comfortable reaching out to your BCBA, behavior technician or other Encore ABA staff for advice and guidance.

How do I incorporate movement and sensory activities in my child’s homework sessions?

Making homework slightly more exciting can go a long way in achieving a productive and happy session-and child! Our kids need movement especially as they do not get a chance to let out their energy on a typical school day.  Kinesthetic learning is a type of learning that involves actual activity, as opposed to listening to a lecture or watching demonstrations. This method is ideal and works for almost all children. However, most of our schools teach in the typical fashion of teaching information and the students (hopefully) absorbing them. Drilling information is hard at the cost of patience on both your and your child’s end.
Instead of just sitting and drilling multiplication or sight words for example, lay them out on the floor and have them jump over a card and pick it up while giving the correct answer.
You can do this with the game Twister too-it’s provides great coordination and loads of giggles! If there are no cards but only information, have them move using a beat such as “concentration” and sing such as: Short e, makes “eh”, long e makes “ee”... Songs and chants goes a very long way in helping remember facts and information-don’t underestimate it! Ask many adults and they’ll remember the song with the capitals of the world. You don’t need to be very creative-just use a tune that’s easy and put the words to it. Acronyms and mnemonics is another way to get kids to remember and dancing with the beat will enable then to remember it while having fun too. Ex:  MVEMJSUNP My Very Educated Mother Just Served Us Nine Pizzas (mnemonic for the order of the nine planets) If you have a kriah worksheet, drop a penny game is a cute and fun way to get them to read the word. It would be great if you have those small beanbags, or small bouncy balls. Use a pencil to check off the ones that you did already. Obviously, food is always a motivator and you can put M&Ms on the word and they can remove it if they know the answer. That way you can remember which ones were completed already. But food should really be a last resort. If you can, use a long stick to point to the words and have them tap it along with the beat. Have them alternate motions for different categories or letters. For example, if they come across a word that has an “S”, or if they come across the sight word “and”, clap. Or, if they’re reviewing multiplication, all information in the 4 times table can be practiced using the jumping motion, 5 times table snapping, and so on. Using a simple ball can be done in a variety of ways. Beginning sounds, spelling, history information can all be reviewed by throwing the ball to each other if answered correctly. Also, any game can be used while practicing something, even a silly chutes and ladders. Your turn: how do u spell “racket”? If your child is younger, play doh or paint goes a long way in shaping letters and nekudos. Using silly putty or incorporating it when baking is also fantastic. Remember to make “mistakes” so that you’re kid can correct you. Let them be the teacher and you’ll be surprised how motivated they’ll become. Hopefully, using songs, movement, acronyms, ball, games and sensory materials will get your kid running and doing homework in no time!

My son graduated Kitah Alef (Grade 1) and he still can’t read. What is the cause? Whom can I turn to for help?

First of all, I commend you for reaching out and looking for help for your son who is struggling with kriah. Now is the right time to seek help and provide him with remediation, as he will be going to Kitah Bais next year, where he will start learning Chumash. Kriah deficits can interfere with his academic achievement especially with Chumash and later on with other subjects. Before we begin, we must first determine in which areas your son is struggling with kriah. How is your son's foundation in the early literacy readiness areas? Is he able to recognize and name all אותיות and נקודות? Is he able to identify the sounds of all אותיות and נקודות? Does he have the skills to blend the sounds to create syllables and words? Is he able to read words but omits or reverses parts of the words? Some common issues with children who have deficits in reading/kriah may include: Slow reading speed Omission of words while reading Reversal of words or letters while reading Difficulty decoding syllables or single words and associating them with specific sounds Limited sight words (automaticity) There are many bright and intelligent children who struggle to read.  The exact root of the problem of why your son is struggling to read may be difficult to isolate, and may be different in various children. There are many possible causes as to why a child might struggle with reading/kriah. Learning to read is a complex task. It requires concentration, coordination of the eye muscles to follow a line of print, spatial orientation to interpret letters and words, visual memory, sequencing ability, and the ability to categorize and analyze. In addition, the brain must integrate visual cues with memory and associate them with specific sounds. The sounds must then be blended to make words. Children who struggle to read might have language, vision or memory deficits. There are also children who have Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), or conduct disorders such as Oppositional Defiant Disorder, which affect their focus and reading. In addition, there is also the issue of how your son was taught to read in school. Many schools teach Kitah Alef students in the traditional (מסורה) method by teaching students to read by rote/memorization. The students are taught to memorize syllables and then connect syllables together to create words. (For example, the students are taught that the symbol of the alef and kumatz together (אָ) represent the sound of /oo/. It is not explained to the children why this symbol stands for /oo/.) This is the most preferred method as this helps with automaticity and fluency and helps children automatically recognize words (sight words). Children who learn to read using this method are able to look at a word and then automatically recognize the syllable and can quickly recognize the words. They don’t have to laboriously put together each sound of אות and נקודה. However, there are some children who do not successfully learn to read using this method. There may be many reasons why. One of the reasons is that in order to master reading using this method, a child must memorize approximately 300 different syllable types (i.e. that kumatz alef : אָ is /oo/ and pasach gimmel: גַ is /gah/ etc.). Another reason, especially common with bright and intelligent children, is that there are some children who feel very lost with rote/memorization because they have the need to understand what they are learning. Such children might benefit from one of the many other kriah methods. Some methods, for example a method developed by my esteemed uncle and mentor Rabbi Yaakov Kiwak, teach a more broken-down strategy. Instead of having the child memorize a multitude of syllables, the syllables are broken down and and the child is taught to put together the sound of an אות and the sound of a נקודה and then blend them together to create a syllable. (For example, the students are taught to blend the sound of ז /z/ and the sound of pasach /ah/ to create the syllable of /zah/.) There are various methods and strategies on how to teach children to put together the sounds. Other methods, such as methods based on the Lindamood-Bell program, teach the child how to blend sounds using mouth pictures. Yet other methods, instead of having the child laboriously blend each and every sound, teach syllables and words using word families.  In addition, there are many methods and strategies how to reinforce the basic skills such as using multi-modalities and visual aids that help with cognition, memory and focus. Not all methods are right for all children. It is therefore important to consult with an expert that has a full “tool box” and is knowledgeable and trained in various methods and strategies. A trained professional will also be able to direct you to proper medical professionals to help diagnose if there are any possible medical conditions.

I’ve decided to mainstream my child from a special education setting to a general ed school. What are some pointers to consider?

DO’S:
  • Support your child’s efforts at socialization. Have your child join a social support group, if available. Ask the teacher or school administrator if someone can organize a small group of kids who eat lunch and play together during recess a few days a week.
  • Visit the school and meet the teacher before your child begins school. Allowing your child to become familiar with his new school environment will make it less threatening and anxiety-provoking.
  • Communicate your child’s strengths to the teacher. If your child learns better through visual learning, the teacher may be able to modify the lessons to accommodate him.
  • Ask for extra feedback on your child’s behavior, especially positive. This will allow you to reinforce your child’s accomplishments at home, as well as practice areas of weakness, which will enable him to be more successful.
  • Get a second set of textbooks to be kept at home. Despite efforts to remember, many students forget to bring home the materials they need for homework and studying. Having a second set of textbooks at home will eliminate this problem, and give your child one less thing to worry about.
  • Ask the teacher to set up a buddy system for homework and sharing notes. Ask the teacher to assign your child a buddy she knows is patient, understanding, and responsible about schoolwork. Having an assigned homework and note-taking partner will reduce the stress of forgetting any missed work. This buddy system will also create a natural opportunity for your child to develop a friendship.
  DON’TS:
  • Expect teachers to rearrange their class and schedule. Teachers will have to be accommodating, but they can’t be expected to change everything about their classroom to meet the needs of one student. Even if you feel your child learns best when seated front and center, the teacher may not be able to arrange this.
  • Assume a teacher who “goes with the flow” is better. Some children with special needs do better with structure and consistency. While at first you may think a more relaxed teacher will be more accommodating of your child’s needs and difficulties, the ideal teacher is likely one who is understanding but clear with her expectations, provides and follows a predictable schedule, and consistently applies classroom rules.
  • Assume the teacher will provide all of the supports your child needs. A teacher in a mainstream classroom is responsible for the education of a large number of children, and may not be able to develop, create and implement all of the supports your child needs as quickly as you want. The more you can participate in this process, the more accommodating the teacher will be. For example, if you know your child does better with written directions, send in post-its for the teacher to write instructions on.
Best of luck on your decision! References: Johnson, S., Meyer, L.S., & Taylor, B.A. (1996). Supported inclusion. In C. Maurice, G. Green, & S. Luce (Eds.), Behavioral intervention for young children with autism: A manual for parents and professionals. Austin, TX: PRO-ED. Newman, B., Reinecke, D. R., & Hammond, T. (2005). BehaviorAsk: Straight answers to your ABA programming questions. Dove and Orca Publishers.

How do I decide between a special education school setting and a mainstream setting for my child?

At first thought, parents might prefer to send their child with special needs to a mainstream school where the child can maintain his social network (including friends and relatives), and enjoy all the advantages of a large school. For many parents, the thought of sending their child to a school where everyone has something “wrong” with them is hard to accept. “My son’s problems are not that bad, why should he be in a school with children whose disabilities are more severe?” a parent may think.  On the other hand, in a special education setting your child is more likely to get highly specialized instruction that is tailored to his/her needs. The smaller class sizes and teaching strategies designed to accommodate your child would help him succeed academically and even socially. To begin, you must stand back and take a long, hard look at your child’s current skills and deficits, as calmly and objectively as possible. As your child’s best advocate, you need to be fully informed of his needs and strengths, in order to determine what setting and supports will best meet his needs. In general, the process of mainstreaming should begin when the following 2 conditions are met: (1) Your child has developed the skills necessary to be able to learn and function successfully in a mainstream classroom, and (2) Behavior that is disruptive to the environment, competes with learning, or is socially stigmatizing is under control. Mainstreaming is not likely to be a positive, successful experience unless these conditions are met. Any child can be placed in a mainstream classroom; you want to be sure the experience will be productive, meaningful, and successful. It is not enough for your child to be able to sit appropriately in a classroom; you must ensure he can learn and make progress in all areas, to be successful now and in the future. Here are some questions to consider before choosing a mainstream placement:
  • What is your child’s current level of self-esteem and self-confidence? Would your child be comfortable if he were towards the bottom of the class in a mainstream setting, or would he benefit from being on equal footing with his peers in a special education setting? In mainstream schools, children feel stigmatized when pulled out of class for extra help. They may feel discouraged and lose self-confidence when they trail behind their classmates. Spending time in a special education setting where they are more likely to experience success may outweigh the social benefits of being in a mainstream setting.
  • Is the level of support and supervision available in the mainstream environment adequate for your child’s needs? If not, are there outside resources you can tap into to help support your child?
  • Does your child engage in inappropriate behaviors that will be socially stigmatizing to him/her? Children with special needs are already at higher risk of being teased and bullied, and if your child does not behave and interact appropriately with other children this can be extremely detrimental to his social emotional development.
  • Can your child understand and respond well to group contingencies (e.g., when students earn privileges based on group behavior)? If he needs a more individualized motivational system, can it be easily and consistently implemented in the mainstream classroom?
  • What are the school’s academic, social and behavioral expectations of students your child’s age? Is your child at or near the expected level in each of those areas? If not, are the supports needed to help your child in his specific area of need in place?
  Prerequisite skills: The following are basic prerequisite skills a child needs in order to succeed in a mainstream class. They don’t all need to be mastered skills that your child displays with 100% accuracy; but they do need to be present at some appropriate level, with supports that can be implemented consistently.
    • Follows classroom routines
    • Learns new targets during group instruction
    • Takes turns during activities
    • Waits quietly
    • Completes assignments independently
    • Maintains near-zero levels of inappropriate behavior across environments
    • Keeps his possessions organized
    • Is at or near grade level in academic skills
Next week we’ll explore some tips should you decide that mainstream is the appropriate route for your child. References: Johnson, S., Meyer, L.S., & Taylor, B.A. (1996). Supported inclusion. In C. Maurice, G. Green, & S. Luce (Eds.), Behavioral intervention for young children with autism: A manual for parents and professionals. Austin, TX: PRO-ED. Newman, B., Reinecke, D. R., & Hammond, T. (2005). BehaviorAsk: Straight answers to your ABA programming questions. Dove and Orca Publishers.

How do I train my child to accept “No” for answer?

Most children have a hard time accepting "no" for answer. This is especially true for children with ASD or ADHD, who may be more impulsive and needy. These children struggle even more with this and often react with even greater intensity. Every parent needs to say "no" to their child at times, be it for things like snacks, toys, trips, or even for an outfit he/she disagrees their child should wear. A child might use many tactics to get his or her way. Crying, arguments and discussions are the most common, but many children present with aggression against parents. Some children even resort to property destruction. Sometimes it is easier for parents to just give in to their child's tantrums rather than deal with the fallout. Parents are overwhelmed with the many tasks daily life requires, such as working outside the home, preparing meals, doing laundry, or taking care of other children. It is tempting to simply give the child the snack or object he is demanding instead of risking the unpleasantness involved with saying 'no'. However, each time a child gets his way by means of aggressive behavior, arguing, or even just crying, the child is ingraining negative habits and tactics to be used next time and for the future. As unpleasant as as the process may be, it is crucial for parents to teach their children the necessary skills for tolerating "no". It is far more worthwhile for parents to endure a few hours or even days of tantrums rather than suffer needlessly for years with a child who cannot accept a "no".
So what are the skills and how can we teach them?
---Introduce to your child the concept of flexibility. Explain to your child how being flexible is an essential skill that he/she will need in the future. In real life not everything goes a person’s way, and we need to learn to accept it. Make the words 'flexibility' and 'acceptance' household words. Model acceptance and flexibility. When anything unexpected happens, especially something disappointing, demonstrate your acceptance to your child. "Oh, I'm little disappointed. I was supposed to meet my friend today, but she can't make it. But that's ok. I can be flexible. We'll meet tomorrow." Scaffold flexibility and acceptance. "We were supposed to go to the zoo, but now it's raining! But we can be flexible. Let's go to the ice cream store instead." Notice and praise members of the family practicing flexibility and acceptance. "Wow, everyone, did you see how flexible Moishy was when there were no more red lollipops left? He just took a green one even though he really wanted a red one." The more you talk about it, the more natural the concept will be. You want your child to attain fluency in the all-important concepts of flexibility and acceptance. ---In order to jump start the child’s behavior of accepting parent’s decisions, a reward system should be implemented to motivate the child. Creating a system in the form of a chart with rewards will help teach the skills so they can eventually become part of the child's repertoire. The child should be rewarded each time he/she accepts a 'no'. Once the child will practice accepting “No” from parents with an accompanying reward, it will be easier for the child to generalize the skill in the absence of a reward. It is best if the program is focused on a specific target, such as, for example, frequent requests for snacks. If the target is clearly defined it is easier to reward and implement the program. A good way to introduce the skill is by doing role play with the child. Have the child practice making requests from the parent, practice denying the request, and reward child for accepting 'no.' ---It is essential to use praise along with the reward program. Give sincere verbal praise each time child accepts “no.” For instance, say “I’m really proud when you are flexible." ---Once child completed the chart or similar program, continue providing verbal without providing a tangible reinforcer. If praise was consistently used during the reward process, the positive associations the child will have will help bridge the gap when eliminating tangible reinforcers. Thus praise will have the desired effect similar to actual physical objects. ---Place behavior on extinction. Placing behavior on extinction is accomplished by withholding reinforcers that encourage negative behaviors, thus eliminating these negative behaviors. When children misbehave, it is always to achieve a desired outcome. In this case, the negative behaviors would be tantruming, crying, aggression, or destruction of property when hearing a 'no,' and the reinforcer would be giving in to these behaviors.  The child's desired outcome in this case is whatever demand he/she made, such as a snack, toy, privilege, etc.  By placing  whatever behavior the child exhibiting on extinction, the focus will be on consciously refusing to give in to this child's negative behaviors, thereby shaping his/her behaviors in the future. A child will eventually stop exhibiting behaviors that do not work. Important pointers to have in mind when placing behaviors on extinction: ---It may take some time. The longer a child has been demonstrating negative behaviors, the longer it will take to eliminate these behaviors. If a child has a history of getting his way by either aggression, property destruction, or manipulation, then understandably, he/she will not simply stop exhibiting these behaviors overnight. Patience and commitment are vital. ---The most important component is to not give in to child’s inappropriate behaviors. Either ignore the behavior, or use a short phrase like “Sorry, you can’t have it.” Repeat it like a broken record if you need to. Do not engage in reasoning and arguments. Doing so will make the child feel there is an opening and will only prolong the process. No negotiations. ---It is extremely important to be absolutely consistent. Giving in even once to a tantrum or similar negative behavior will undo all progress and set you back to the beginning. By capitulating even 'just this once' you show your child that sometimes his/her behaviors work, and will result in him/her trying it again in the future. ---Be prepared for an Extinction Burst. This is a temporary increase in negative behaviors or their intensity when behaviors are not achieving their desired results.  When denying access, you should expect your child’s behaviors to escalate before decreasing. When a child  has a history of getting his way by, for instance, crying, this child will use more extreme tactics to get what he wants if his parents are denying him. He may start with throwing objects or even demonstrate aggression against his parents. If parents are prepared and know what to expect, it will be easier for them to ignore the child and not give in to his manipulation. However, it is absolutely crucial to understand that if the target behavior you are trying to eliminate is dangerous or has the potential for becoming so, you should not attempt extinction without the guidance of a licensed behavior analyst. Since negative behaviors typically escalate during an extinction burst, there is significant danger involved. The ultimate goal is helping shape happy and content children who can cope with challenge and adversity. By teaching our children the vital concepts of flexibility and acceptance, we are giving them tools for life.

How do I make my home environment a happy, safe place for my child?

First, being a working mother and raising a family is not easy. Being a working mother of a child with ASD is even harder. Trying to balance it all and provide for the needs of everyone at the same time is almost impossible! It is not unusual for a working mother to come home and lose patience at the end of the day. It is also not unusual for your children to want some (or all) of your attention once you are home. To keep things flowing during your evening routine, try to avoid all of the hullabaloo by using some antecedent strategies to help you avoid or even prevent some of the stress. First tip: Take a break before even walking into the house. Allow yourself at least 2 minutes to take a few deep breaths to calm yourself and collect your thoughts before walking inside, especially since you know it’s going to be hectic. Once you are calm, you can then try to implement a few key tactics to keep your evening moving smoothly, and your home calm and happy. Second tip: Try to identify what the major stressors are. When you mention the tension builds up and things get stressful, what do you mean? Try to pinpoint what exactly makes the evening so stressful. Perhaps if you can figure out the main cause of the stress (e.g., getting homework done, stopping fights between siblings, or even just getting dinner on the table), you can do something in advance to alleviate this problem. Third tip: Try to identify what each of your children need. It is more than a little likely, they each just need some time and attention from you. Plan a “Mommy-time” schedule the night before. This schedule should allow each child a few minutes during which they, and only they, get some time alone with you to tell you about their day. You can write out the schedule on a piece of paper, hang it up, and indicate during which time slot each child gets their special “Mommy time” so that they can follow it themselves too. Doing this can help create a calmer home environment, in which each child feels wanted and loved. Fourth Tip: Positive Reinforcement. Try to catch each child doing something right over the course of the evening at least once, or even many times if you are so lucky ;-)! When you see them doing something right (this could be just sitting calmly and eating dinner, or sharing with their sibling), let them know by praising them that they are doing the right thing. Reinforce the good behavior instead of only focusing on the challenging behaviors that you normally end up focusing on when the tension builds. Doing this focuses on the “happy” aspect of the home. The more you reinforce your children for appropriate behavior, the happier the environment will be and the less likely you will encounter challenging behavior. Fifth Tip: If you would like to try something more structured, you can implement a Mitzvah chart. In applied behavior analysis (ABA), Mitzvah charts are also called “token economies” which are behavior modification systems designed to increase desirable behavior while decreasing undesirable behavior. Token economies work by delivering “tokens” or checks on a paper/stickers for desirable behavior that can later be exchanged for some other prize or privilege (e.g., a trip to the ice cream store once a child gets 5 checks on their chart). This type of a system focuses on getting praise and positive reinforcement for doing the right thing and generally results in happier children, and happier parents, and therefore a happier home environment. To sum up, the key is to take some deep breaths, walk into your house calmly, and instead of getting stressed by all of the hullabaloo in your household, try to pace yourself, and focus on the good things. When you focus on the good behavior instead of the stress in your household, you create a calm, safe place where everyone can be themselves and be happy.

How can I help my child make friends?

Summer is a great time to observe our children’s spontaneous social interactions, and to detect their struggles. In your letter, you are outlining your son’s difficulties in interpreting social situations accurately and exhibiting appropriate behavior.  You feel that teaching him social skills will enable him to behave appropriately. Let’s start by analyzing the term “Social Skills”. Used loosely, social skills refer to a host of behaviors applied by a child (or adult) that make others feel comfortable to share their space. When you mention “social skills” in your letter, you are most likely referring to the specific behaviors you would like your son to display when he is in a social setting, including his mannerism, his tone of voice, the things he says, etc. In order to help children achieve these desired behaviors, we typically resort to telling them how we would like them to act, and when they fail to do so, we let them know that they are acting “inappropriately”. However, it is important to recognize that in reality, good social skills start with social thinking- having thoughts about the social environment and the people in close proximity to oneself, and considering the expectations of the situation. It is only then that it is possible to produce appropriate behavior. When your son is acting “inappropriately”, he is demonstrating a lack of social thinking. When attempting to help children produce appropriate social behavior, we tend to teach them the specific desired behavior. For instance, we may teach a child to say “Hi!” when meeting others; to walk quietly down the street; not to stand too close to others, etc. The drawback with this approach is that each situation is unique, and what worked for one situation may not work for another. For example, we may teach children not to stand too close to others, yet when traveling on the subway this is the expected mode of behavior.  In addition, we do not want our child to sound robotic, greeting everyone, including strangers, with the same warm greeting that should be reserved for his grandmother. If we want children to behave appropriately, we would need to go through every possible scenario with all variations- an impossible task. Hence, in order to help your child succeed socially, you will want to help your son develop the social thinking that will enable him to develop an awareness of a situation and figure out the expectations of the situation. This will eventually lead him to adapting his behavior to match those expectations. Developing appropriate social thinking is multi-faceted and layered; this response will attempt to give you some tools to help him on a simple level. Step 1: Start the Social Thinking A good place to start is to foster a discussion about the thinking involved in social interactions. Help your son realize that he is constantly having thoughts about others. You can help him become conscious of his thoughts by questioning him about the people he has thought about in the past several hours. He will likely share that he had been thinking about his friends playing with him, the bus driver making a short-stop, the man in the wheelchair down the street, etc. You can then guide him to review those thoughts. Did all of his thoughts feel the same to him, or were some thoughts more comfortable than others? Help him appreciate that while most thoughts were ordinary and small in size and allowed him to feel calm, others were large-sized, weird thoughts that brought on uncomfortable feelings. The following activity will help your son further explore the concept that we experience different types of thoughts in response to behaviors observed in others. Stand with him on a street corner, observing the people passing by, and share the thoughts you are having about them. Articulate that a boy walking to school induces an ordinary kind of thought, while seeing an old man running down the street definitely makes you have a big, uncomfortable thought. Ask your son to share the thoughts he is having about the people on the street, and help him realize how his thoughts change based on their actions. When others are behaving in a way that we expect them to act, we have ordinary, comfortable thoughts about them, and vice versa. Step 2: Others Have Thoughts about Me Now you can bring the focus of the conversation back to him. Guide him to consider whether others think about him as well. Many children fail to realize that just like they have thoughts about others, others have thoughts about them. Help him understand that similar to the way he views others, people change their thoughts about him based on his behavior. You can help him list behaviors that induce comfortable thoughts in others, like sharing his snack, and think of what causes others to have uncomfortable thoughts about him. You may present him with a challenge: Does he prefer for others to have ordinary, comfortable thoughts about him, or does he want them to have big, weird thoughts about him? Obviously, we all want others to think about us in a comfortable, positive manner. Step 3: Understanding the Social Expectations We mentioned earlier that the expectations of behaviors change with each situation. Help your son understand that different situations call for different behaviors, and what is considered appropriate (expected) in one situation, may be inappropriate and unexpected in another. For example, the expectations in the playground are not the same as the expectations in the classroom. While in the classroom it is admirable to sit still and listen to the teacher, that kind of behavior would look very weird on the playground. The appropriate behavior at a wedding meal is not the same as what is expected in the school lunchroom, despite the fact that both settings involve eating.  You can help your son understand this further by looking through family photos of different situations, and noting the different behaviors exhibited in each setting. You can play games in which he needs to match situations with different expected behaviors. Help your son realize that when his behavior matches the situation, others have comfortable thoughts about him. Step 4: Adapting my Behavior Now that you have helped your son establish the concept that others have thoughts about him, and he acknowledges that he wants them to have comfortable thoughts, he is left with a big question: How can he figure out which behaviors to utilize so that it will match the situation and will enable others to have comfortable thoughts about him? In order to understand the expected behavior, your son will need to become a Social Observer. He will need to learn to look around and ask himself the question: What is everyone else doing?  How are they acting in the playground? What is everyone doing at the wedding? How are they benching at the Shabbos Seuda? By looking at what others are doing, he can figure out that when at the playground, it is weird to sit on the side while all other children are running around. At the pool, it’s expected to laugh and race with your friends. When he learns to observe and think about the behaviors of others, your son will be able to figure out the social expectations of a given situation. Once he does that, he can change his behavior so that it matches the others in his environment. Step 5: Gauging Others’ Reactions By adapting his behavior to match those of the others in his vicinity, your son will learn to blend into the group and behave in a manner that belongs to that setting. This will bring those around him to have small, comfortable thoughts about him and enjoy sharing their space with him. The opposite is true as well: when he acts in a way that does not match the situation, others have uncomfortable thoughts about him, and do not look to spend time with him. Help your son realize that when he uses his social thinking to figure out the expectations in a given situation, when he adapts his behavior to match to what all others in group are doing, others feel comfortable to be around him. Try these pointers over the summer. Make sure to take note of all the instances when your son is adapting his behavior to his situation. Let him know you noticed by saying things like “I like your calm behavior. It is expected to be calm when sitting at the Shabbos Seuda, and it makes everyone in the family feel happy to be with you!” If you find that your child is still struggling, it may be advisable to consider professional help. This response is based on the work of Michelle Garcia Winner and Reuven Feuerstein.

How can I foster the development of early reading skills in my young children?

You are absolutely correct that reading skills are key to a child's success in school. Literacy is likely the single biggest factor influencing an individual's academic success and achievement in adulthood. It is no surprise that that many of the poorest nations in the world are those with the lowest literacy rates. In the U.S., low literacy rates are strongly correlated with poverty, juvenile delinquency, crime, and incarceration.  Reading unlocks doors and creates infinite opportunities. Literacy is especially important in our culture. Reading is crucial to function as a frum  Jew. A child who cannot read cannot daven, say Tehillim, learn Chumash, Mishnayos, Gemara, or any other religious subject. Reading is intimately connected to our way of life, and the pain of a child who struggles with literacy is immeasurable. Such children are at risk of feeling like outsiders, unable to participate in the basic rites of our society. Happily, there is much you as a parent can do to enable your child's success. You do not need to be a professional. With some basic knowledge and awareness, you can empower your child and lay the groundwork for his or her success. There is so much you can do to teach your child, far before he/she ever steps foot in school! Reading development begins way before a child even reaches preschool. First and most important: make reading fun! The more positive associations your child has with reading, the more likely he/she is to view it as something rewarding and enjoyable rather than a chore.  Create positive rituals and memories with books and reading. An excellent and obvious place to start is with bedtime stories. Try to make the experience as relaxing and cozy as possible. Sit close to your child or with him/her on your lap. Rather than rush through the text, take the time to talk about the pictures and discuss the feelings of the characters. Ask your child to guess what happens next, and invite him/her to read along with predictable text. Use a natural speaking voice instead of a stilted singsong, and make it even more fun by assuming different silly voices for various characters in the story. Your child will look forward to bedtime as the highlight of his/her day. There are many other ways of creating positive memories with reading. Surround your child with books starting in infancy. Even if your baby uses books mainly as teething toys, the exposure to the bright colors and pictures will lead to an increased interest in books as he/she develops. Begin with picture books, and gradually introduce books with varied characters and storylines. Use books and magazines as rewards and incentives. Make a trip to the library an exciting family event. Purchase or borrow books the family can enjoy together, such as books written in cartoon format, or books like "Yiddishe Kop." The most important thing to remember is that your child should enjoy it! A child with a love for reading will be a future reader. Having set the stage for enthusiasm for reading, there are also many things parents can do to help their child develop individual skills necessary for literacy. Early literacy can generally be broken down to 5 components, which will be listed individually along with tips on how to facilitate their development. These components are:  Print Awareness, Letter Knowledge, Phonological Awareness, Vocabulary, and Background Knowledge.  Print Awareness: This is the understanding that print represents spoken language and can convey meaning. There are many things you can do to help foster this awareness even in very young children. These activities can be naturally embedded in your daily routines with little effort on your part.  When reading books with your child, point to the individual words as you read them. Show your child labels on packages such as cereal boxes, paper towels, or shampoo bottles. "Oh, look, this is the plain Cheerios, and this is the Honey Nut Cheerios," while pointing to individual words. Or, "look, this is the baby shampoo that doesn't sting your eyes."  When walking outside with your child, point out various street signs and shop signs. "Look, Yaakov, see where it says Ice Cream House?" Another excellent way to encourage print awareness is by labeling items with individual family members' names. Children as young as 2 or 3 years old can recognize their own or even siblings' names written on toothbrushes, toys, or other personal possessions. Letter Knowledge: This is the simple knowledge of the names of the alphabet or aleph bais. There are many age-appropriate ways to encourage a child's development of letter knowledge. Early and consistent exposure is important.  There are a wealth of toys and materials out there that can help, including blocks for infants, aleph bais Clics, letter tiles, flash cards, memory games, electronic games... the possibilities are endless. Don't push these on your child. Take his/her lead. If possible, sit down and play with your child, and try to label the alphabet in a relaxed and playful manner. Other ways of exposing your child to the alphabet include singing the alphabet or aleph bais songs and hanging posters of the alphabet around the house. Phonological Awareness: This is the knowledge and awareness that spoken - not written - language is made up of individual sounds. Print, or the alphabet, is what represents these individual sounds called phonemes. Phonological awareness is one of the key predictors and prerequisites of early reading success. A child must first understand that a word is made up of sounds before he/she can use letters to actually represent those sounds.  In other words, a child must be able to understand that the word 'shop' is made up of 3 individual sounds, /sh/ /o/ /p/, in order to then be able to read or spell that word. Phonological awareness skills begin at the word level (how many words to you hear in this sentence?), move on to syllables, rhyming, and finally isolating and manipulating individual sounds in spoken words. There are many age-appropriate and fun ways to enhance early phonological awareness skills. Beginning at the word level, you can encourage your child to count how many words they hear in a sentence, or to clap, stamp, or bang on the table once for each word heard in a sentence. Similar activities can be done for syllable counting with older kids. Kids of all ages enjoy rhymes. Sing songs, read rhyming books, make up silly rhymes (We're going to the park/ We'll be back before dark/ Let's go run and play/ The entire day), and encourage children to supply the missing word in a rhyme. (Who wants to play a game?/A different one, not the ____.") Silly word activities can also be done with initial sounds in words "The big blue ball bounced by the brown broken board". Tongue twisters are another great way of playing with phonological awareness skills in a fun way. Your child will love engaging in these word games with you. Vocabulary: A large, well developed vocabulary is vital to a child's reading success. The more words a child knows, the more equipped he/she will be when encountering a new word in a book or elsewhere in his/her environment. Vocabulary can aid in the decoding of a longer word, and will support the crucial comprehension that is necessary for fluent and meaningful reading. A child's early vocabulary and language development is heavily dependent on parents. It is up to you to encourage a strong and robust vocabulary. How can you do this? Talk to your child! Do this from early infancy on, through the toddler and early childhood years. Limit baby talk. Describe, using clear words and full sentences, what you are doing with and for your child throughout daily routines. Use appropriate words when engaging with your child. Instead of saying "doggie" for a small animal, use the correct term such as 'raccoon' or even 'poodle'. Say "I'm feeling frustrated" and "You're disappointed" instead of "I'm angry" and "You're sad". A young child has almost limitless potential for language! They more words your child is exposed to, the larger and more varied his/her vocabulary will be. Also very important, read to your child! Books are excellent vehicle for introducing new words and concepts to young children, and provide invaluable opportunities for parents to scaffold the development of new ideas and information. Background Knowledge: Similar to vocabulary, a child's prior knowledge has a huge impact on their future reading success. A child with rich funds of information, also called schema, already has a wide base onto which to build further learning. The more your child knows, the easier it will be for him/her to add on more information. Knowledge begets knowledge. And a curious child is a child who reads. How can we build background knowledge? Again, talk to your child. About your day, about the incident you saw together in the street, about current events. Discuss upcoming holidays and special occasions. Point out local news and schedules such as alternate side parking or grand openings of shops or community programs. Explain the sequence of events of davening in shul.  Keep your child in the loop. All this can be done in an age-appropriate manner. Another excellent way of building schema is by taking trips. These do not need to be costly. A new experience of any kind provides a wonderful opportunity to expand a child's world and knowledge base, especially when guided by an adult. A trip to the waterfront can teach a child about fishing or shipping. A trip to a garden can teach a child about birds and flowers. A trip to a car mechanic can teach a child about cars! When possible, take trips to museums and zoos that offer a wealth of information to expand a child's schema. And, of course, an excellent way of increasing a child's funds of information is by reading to him/her. Books provide endless sources of new information, especially when shared with a beloved adult.
We as parents are our children's first teachers, and likely their most influential ones as well.
We have infinite opportunities and a power unlike any other educator our children will encounter. Hopefully, we can support their early reading skills and help pave the way to a lifetime of learning.

How do I deal with an intensely emotional child, while juggling daily duties?

If you are a parent of a child with intense emotions, you and your family probably feel like you are walking in a minefield, not knowing where and when the next explosion will be triggered. This can be an emotionally draining and stressful reality for a lot of families. In addition, parents of emotionally intense children often find themselves under public scrutiny, recipients of well-meaning advice and in extreme cases, social isolation. Every outing becomes fraught with tension and even a simple trip to the grocery store can become a potential hazard for an emotional showdown. Now that we've established how difficult it can be to care for a child with intense emotions, let's talk about some tried and true techniques to help you remain calm, while trying to de-escalate an emotional outburst.
  1. Self-compassion
Kristen Neff, PhD is an associate professor in the University of Texas at Austin's department of educational psychology. She has researched and lectured extensively on Self-Compassion and emotional stability. She is also the mother of a child with Autism and talks about what a life saver Self-Compassion was to her in her book, Horse Boy. She acknowledges that these emotional outbursts need to be met with a healthy dose of empathy and validation, but how do parents do this when their well of compassion has all but run dry? She goes on to say that actually a large portion of your attention needs to be spent on giving YOURSELF the compassion you need, so that you can muster the emotional stability to be a calming presence to your child. What does this look like in action? -When your child is screaming in the shoe store and you are frantically trying to pinpoint the source of his sensory/emotional overload, you need to first soothe yourself with kindness RIGHT THEN AND THERE. -When your 15 year old loses it at the family Chanukah party in front of everyone, and your well-meaning mother-in-law is gently telling you how to discipline your child, you give yourself the compassion you aren't receiving from others. -When you are making numerous mistakes with your child, recognize that you are doing the best you could rather than flogging yourself with criticism. Dr. Neff goes on to say that self-compassion helped her cope, and put her in a balanced state of mind to deal with all her challenges in the most effective manner. She literally suggests gently placing a comforting hand on your heart and talking to yourself in the same way that you are supporting a dear friend. You deserve at least that much.
  1. Speaking Softly
Now that you have calmed yourself down first, you should be able to speak in a softer tone of voice. This includes taking some deep calming breaths before you start talking (stop rolling your eyes. If you actually DO this it can really help you.) Make sure you are speaking slowly, and use a soothing tone of voice that will calm you and your child down
  1. Beware of your thoughts
Be aware of the ineffective thoughts that will hold you back from dealing with your child in a skillful way. So thoughts like "he's doing this on purpose, he wants to embarrass me, here we go again, I'm a horrible mother, why is every other kid normal except for mine, how will he/she ever get married?" You get the picture. These thoughts (even if they are true) will only increase your suffering during a crisis and decrease your ability to deal with the actual problem at hand.  Save these thoughts for later, or better yet, go practice more self-compassion
  1. Cheerleading statements
Replacing your self-defeating thoughts with cheerleading statements about your parenting ability can be really helpful during these challenging moments. Saying things like "I have what it takes to take care of my child, I will get through this, and If I can stay calm I can help my child stay calm," will go a long way in helping you and your child remain emotionally regulated.
  1. Know the triggers and vulnerability factors
It also goes without saying that you need to be mindful of your own vulnerabilities and triggers as well as your child's. This may take some planning on your end when setting up routines and behavioral interventions that will ensure a more emotionally stable environment for your child. It may also be beneficial to watch out for the times that either one of you are hitting upon one of the four major vulnerability factors. This comes in the form of HALT- ask yourself, are you or your child Hungry, Angry , Lonely or Tired? If the answer to any of those are yes, rather take the time to address those needs to ensure that you are lowering the inevitability of an emotional outburst. It is my hope that these tips will give you the strength and peace of mind that is so sorely needed when parenting children with intense emotions. Good luck!