Do You Have a Gifted Child?

It starts simply enough: your child seems to catch on to things quickly.  People are often surprised to learn how young he is because of how well he talks, or that he can recite the alphabet at an extraordinarily young age.  Over time, these little incidents may start seeming more significant, especially when compared to peers of the same age.  Recognizing a gifted child often takes time, but typically, before a child is school age, parents will have a good idea of a child’s giftedness. Signs of a gifted learner include:

  • Consistently meeting development milestones early
  • Learning to read at a young age
  • Having the ability to understand more complex ideas

To recognize a gifted child, several other indicators are usually present.  Does your child ask more in-depth questions?  When other children are asking to have a snack, does your child want to know how it is made?  Does your child seem to see and understand the patterns in things, whether it is music, math, or language?  Does he or she learn without being taught and demonstrate new knowledge to you on a regular basis?  Does he or she seem unusually starved for information or obsessive about learning everything about a specific topic?

When you have a gifted child, it is a blessing and a challenge.  All children need love and attention to succeed, but often, gifted children require more attention and intervention than those who have learning disabilities, because while they might be capable of reading chapter books and doing algebra, they also concern themselves with the world on a grander scale.  Your five-year old gifted child may worry about death or world peace or the environment.

Gifted children often have difficulties fitting in with their peers at school.  Extra time may have to be taken to help them socialize and adjust.  In addition, a child can be gifted in one area and struggle in another, or be gifted academically but struggle with motor and spatial skills.  It is important to make no assumptions about your child but to treat him or her as an individual.  Address your child’s needs without assuming that because of the giftedness, he or she can figure things out on their own.  If anything, these children need your support and need to be encouraged to still be kids.

Your gifted child may be obsessed about learning, but don’t forget to encourage physical development and social development as well.  Encourage your child to play and be a kid.  Even the best young minds need to climb, skip, hop, jump rope, laugh, and play.

The most important thing to remember is that all of our kids are gifts regardless of their academic ability, and each child deserves to be treated as an individual.


Raising an Autistic Child – Facing the Unknowns

Getting Real With Veronica Ibarra

I spent ten years working with troubled teens. I worked with them on the counseling side of things and on the education side of things. I spent countless hours talking to parents about their child’s behavior and mood. Some parents were always fretting that I wasn’t attending enough or cutting their child enough slack. Some parents thought I should be stricter. Some parents just wanted me to take care of things. After a while I started to see how the parent’s attitude influenced the success of the child.

Then I became a parent.

In many ways I’m incredibly grateful for the opportunity and experience. I learned so much more than I ever learned sitting in a classroom or lecture hall. What I learned helped me to recognize some early delays and odd behavior in my son that prompted me to have him evaluated. He now has an IEP for autism, and he’s only four, just starting preschool.

However, for all that I know, it doesn’t stop me from feeling sad.

On the continuum of autism things tend to be relatively normal. We have our bad mad moments, but they look mostly like tired kid tantrums–he’s four remember. Most four year olds tend to be concrete thinkers and do better on schedules and hate to be told no. But when I’m standing in the lobby of the Children’s Museum with him laying on the floor, refusing to go back in because he’s ready to leave after walking around for ten minutes, and his sister is exploring and playing it’s hard not to imagine the difficulties that are still ahead.

I’m sure it will be both better and worse than I can currently imagine. I can’t predict how he will adapt or how I’ll adjust to everything. No matter what case studies I read to try to help me understand, our situation will be different because we are different. Some things will work for us that don’t always work for others. Some things that work remarkably well for others will totally fail with us.

And then there are other people to deal with, friends, family, teachers, well meaning people, and people who don’t want to be inconvenienced by us in the middle of the lobby.

Mostly I try to stay aware of my son’s needs, and how to balance that with what’s going on around us. I’m not going to stay shut up in my house all the time just because we might have a meltdown in public. I don’t expect everyone to be accommodating to us, but I hope that there will be some. I hope that my willingness to accept and deal with our reality will in the long run help my son to be successful.

I know that my attitude will play just as much of a role in his life as every intervention to help him learn and grow, but I’m human. I’m a mother. For all I know and understand intellectually, I worry. Because just as I know what will be needed from me, I also know that not everyone will understand or want to understand.

MomsGetReal Roadtrip Day 11: The Biggest Little City in the World

Getting Real With +Shadra Bruce, Owner of +MomsGetReal

July 8 The Biggest Little City in the World

Today we drove into Reno, Nevada. Reno is my hometown. I was born here in 1971 and lived here until almost my 10th birthday. Even after my dad got transferred to Boise, we made regular trips back to Reno. My dad was born here, too, and my dad’s mom moved here when she was a very small child. Her dad – my great grandpa – built many of the houses in the older neighborhoods here. My uncle owns one of the biggest real estate companies here. I even returned here with my family to attend UNR for grad school (until my mom got too sick and I discovered that political science was too political for me (hence the MA in English Lit – still political, but open to more interpretation).

Reno, we discovered when trying to survive 6 months here with our kids, is not the most hospitable place to raise a family. Dave was miserable here, the kids were miserable here, and other than getting to see my grandma and my aunt and uncle regularly, I really did not like living here. We’ve been gone for 6 years, but it only took a few minutes of being in the downtown area to remember why we dislike it.

The traffic is crazy!!

Our worst experience has been with Circus Circus. A place of my childhood that was a marvelous adventure has been a nightmare to us as a family traveling with a child in a wheel chair. The facility barely complies with ADA requirements, and is very insensitive to the needs of the wheelchair bound. Luckily, Kyle can get up and walk when necessary – the chair is because he can go only 40-50 feet before reaching his limit. But for someone who couldn’t get up and navigate around the ten steps it takes to get to the elevator to get to the rooms in the Sky Tower, I don’t know what you’d do. There’s a wheelchair lift there, but it’s locked, and you have to call for an attendant to unlock it. The first time we tried, they couldn’t find a security guard with a key, and all they could do was say, “Sorry.” The second time, we were at the top of the steps and needed to come back down, but the only phone to call for the lift access is at the BOTTOM of the stairs. Fine for someone who has a traveling companion, but what about the individual traveler who is wheelchair bound?

Reno is a great place to visit. My suggestion, however, if you have kids in strollers or someone with limited mobility is to stay somewhere else and only come in to Circus Circus long enough to play on the midway. And be careful driving…people will get out of their cars and come after you if you somehow interrupt their race.

Reno is still my hometown, and I have very fond memories of living here. I had a great visit with my grandma and my aunt and uncle, who served up a very welcome home-cooked meal and spoiled the kids with a trip up the hill to see the wild horses. It makes it all worth it.

Life in a Wheelchair Is Easier with Liberty Street Baggage

Getting Real With +Shadra Bruce, Owner of +MomsGetReal

When our son Kyle was 8 years old, we let him stay out on the playground with his older brother and twin sister while we went to parent-teacher conferences. He fell off the monkey bar. None of us worried, including Kyle, because he acted like everything was ok. He even kept playing.

That’s when we first learned of Kyle’s enormous tolerance for pain and realized that the combination of his Down syndrome and his inability to communicate (he was born deaf; while the hearing was repaired with surgery when he was 7, he remains to this day severely speech impaired).

Kyle’s leg had a hairline fracture that landed him in a wheelchair for six weeks. It was an inconvenience, but one we lived with because it was short term. And, we felt enormously guilty for not realizing the leg was broken for three days until he started limping on it and refusing to walk. Such is the life with a speech-impaired, mentally disabled child some days.

Fast forward 14 years. Kyle is now nearly 22. While we’ve learned to decipher many of the things he vocalizes, he is still extremely speech impaired. As well, due to complications from his Down syndrome, Kyle experienced severe spinal compression that required extensive surgery to repair. The motor deterioration that occurred prior to the surgery, however, left Kyle much less mobile, unable to lift his arms over his head (making dressing himself more difficult) and unable to walk without difficulty.

No longer able to walk long distances – no more than 50 feet – we now use a wheelchair for Kyle so that he is not homebound and can still accompany us on simple trips to the store and longer outings to zoos and parks. It has been a huge adjustment, going from a mobile family to one with a not-so-mobile child.

Finding ways to organize Kyle’s life so that the wheelchair enhances his life and doesn’t hinder it has not been easy, but one thing that has made a huge difference is his Smart-Pack Sac from Liberty Street Baggage isn’t just a bag (or my purse) stretched over the handles of his wheelchair as a make-do solution, rubbing on the wheels and wearing out. The Smart-Pack Sac, is designed specifically designed for wheelchairs, fitting perfectly onto the chair and securing into place with Velcro straps. The bag itself is made of high quality, weather-resistant Dernier – durable material designed to last for years. The company creates custom designs for consumers that reflect their personality and have bags for manual and power chairs.

What I love about the Smart-Pack Sac is that it’s large enough to pack all of the things Kyle needs to get through the day – snacks, water, tissues, sun block, spare clothes, medication, and even necessary medical documents. The bag is portable, too, so that if Kyle does have to leave the wheelchair for any reason (we still try to promote his movement to maintain what mobility he does have) the bag can be removed from the chair and brought with him, as the bag has a shoulder strap for easy carrying (this is helpful when we’re traveling in Montreal, where ADA laws don’t apply and we use the wheelchair to get Kyle from place to place so that he can walk in and out of the buildings we visit).

As Kyle’s physical ability inevitably declines as he ages, his Smart-Pack Sac will be able to hold anything from a Dynavox or other assistive device to Oxygen or other medical supplies. Best of all, the Smart-Pack Sac is so easy to attach to the wheelchair that Kyle’s 9-year old little sister can do it without assistance.

MomsGetReal takes pride in bringing our readers to companies that are truly trying to make a difference in the world in some small way. We’re pretty thrilled to share Liberty Street Baggage with you. We think they ROCK.

If you don’t need a life-enhancing Smart-Pack Sac for you or someone you love, consider making a donation to help those in need who cannot afford a bag get one. The bags can be custom designed to reflect the personality of the user. In addition to Smart-Pack Sacs, Liberty Street Baggage offers a full line of luggage and travel bags to meet any traveler’s needs.

Liberty Street Baggage provided MomsGetReal with a Smart-Sack Pack so that we could provide an honest review. FTC disclosure.

Safety Bunns Helps You Keep Your Seat in a Wheelchair

Getting Real With +Shadra Bruce, Owner of +MomsGetReal

Our son, Kyle, was born with Down syndrome. One of the many challenges facing people with Down syndrome is weakness in the ligaments and muscles. For Kyle, this has resulted in some cute differences: his belly button is a floppy outy; when he eats a lot, his belly pooches out and he pats it like an old man; he can sleep folded completely in half with his head between his toes.

Unfortunately, over time it has also resulted in scarier problems, like difficulty swallowing & breathing at times. It also caused compression in his spinal cord that resulted in pretty severe motor damage, making it more difficult for Kyle to walk and limiting his mobility. About 18 months ago, Kyle had to have surgery to fuse his C1, C2, and C3 (cranial vertebrae) to prevent the compression from severing his spinal cord and killing him. Very scary stuff. We are grateful to the amazing staff and our physician, Dr. Rubery, for the excellent care – before, during and after the surgery – that Kyle has had.

Life goes on, but for us and Kyle, it is forever different. Kyle can no longer walk long distances; he tired after going the length of our front yard and back. We have a placard that allows us to park in handicap parking when he is with us, and we now have a wheelchair for Kyle so that he’s not limited in where he can go and what he can do by his own physical challenges.

From trips to the grocery store to a day at the zoo, the wheelchair has become a constant necessity for us to be able to get Kyle out of the house and into the community. We don’t mind…but it has been a learning experience.

  • It’s difficult to fit a wheelchair into the back of a van AND still fit suitcases or groceries.
  • The “transport” style wheelchair Kyle has currently does not provide adequate clearance for going through anything but paved terrain.
  • When you sit in a wheelchair wearing certain materials, your butt slides off the seat.

Kyle’s not totally wheelchair bound yet, but at the rate he is deteriorating, it is likely that it will become something we rely on more, not less. We refuse to let it get in the way of Kyle having the most fun and joy out of life possible, and while we’ve yet to figure out how to resolve the space issues in the back of the van, and we still need to find a better wheelchair, thanks to SafetyBunns, LLC, we can keep Kyle from sliding out of the chair.

SafetyBunns, LLC is a company owned by Barb Przybylowicz. She’s a former LPN with years of experience working with disabled and wheelchair bound patients. Slips and falls from wheelchairs are one of the most common causes of injury, so Barb set out to do something about it. The result of her efforts is a comfortable, non-restrictive pant for people who use wheelchairs.

These non-slip pants provide the friction necessary to allow a person to keep their seat in a wheelchair while still maintaining comfort. For Kyle, it’s a great solution when we’re out on day trips or traveling to places where he has to spend the day riding. He keeps a better grip on his chair, which helps put less pressure on his feet, reduces the risk of a slip or fall out of the chair, and puts our minds at ease.

The pants come in three colors: black, grey and blue and are available in small, medium, large, and extra large. The sizes run a bit to the small side, so if you’re on the cusp of two sizes, go with the larger size. The pants are a 50/50 cotton-polyester blend Jerzees brand pant with peel-resistant, machine-washable SafetyBunns slip resistant pads on the rear side. They’re a great solution to one of the many challenges facing those with mobility issues who rely on a wheelchair part-time or full-time.

SafteyBunns provided MomsGetReal with a pair of pants for review purposes.

FTC Disclosure

Asperger’s Syndrome Isn’t the Problem – It’s the Reaction to it

Getting Real With +Shadra Bruce, Owner of +MomsGetReal

My son is an extraordinary little boy. I would hope that every mother would say the same about her own kids. My son is extraordinary in my eyes because he is tough, he’s a critical thinker, and he’s amazingly talented. He is also not your typical 11 year old boy. In fact, on the weird meter, from the perspective of his teachers and peers, he probably sets it off more than most.

He was born with a cataract in his left eye and had lens replacement surgery at 18 months old. Now he has to wear glasses with a heavy, bi-focaled lens for his left eye.

At age 2-1/2 he began having seizures and has since been on seizure medicine that makes him occasionally tired and often quite dizzy.

He has a sensory integration disorder that causes him to have difficulty with everything from fine motor skills (he will not wear shoes with shoe laces or pants that have to be buttoned or zipped) to depth perception.

Since before he was a year old, he has been a drummer. He’s rather good, but he often finds himself lost in his own world, drumming and singing and focusing exclusively on songs. He also plans on being a rock star and is growing his hair long. He’s obsessively interested in music of all kinds and can almost always identify the song within a few notes (where’s Name That Tune now?!) as well as tell you who sings it, what album it was on, when it came out, and how long it is to the second.

He learned every country and its capital before kindergarten, and planned a world trip complete with hotels and activities that would take us four years and more than $200,000 to complete – which he plans to pay for with the money he makes from being a rock star.

He is rigid about schedules and rules and cannot stand chaos (especially things like pep assemblies).

We’ve recently learned that many of our son’s challenges can be directly attributed to his recently diagnosed Asperger’s syndrome.

My son is different. But then, we’ve raised him to be. We celebrate individuality. We like having kids who explore their own minds, thoughts, and desires without feeling judged. But we sure do wish there was a little more understanding and a little less judgment and condemnation. So here’s my open letter to all the kids, teachers, parents, and grocery shoppers who would rather give my son a strange glance, call him names, or avoid contact than embrace him for the amazing person he is:

To Whom It May Concern:
Our son has Asperger’s Syndrome. The basics of this challenge are:
difficulties with eye contact, facial expressions, and social gestures; poor peer relationships; lack of spontaneous sharing with others; lack of social or emotional give-and-take; preoccupation with certain interests and subjects; inflexible routines or rituals; repetitive movements.
Associated with the Asperger’s Syndrome, Parker suffers from sensory integration issues. These issues make it more difficult for him to keep his balance. He falls down, he gets dizzy, and he sometimes feels uncoordinated.
Just because he sometimes cannot express the way he is feeling in terms you understand doesn’t mean he doesn’t feel. Just because he’s different doesn’t mean he is a trouble maker. Just because he’s different doesn’t mean he doesn’t want to be liked, befriended, included, and accepted for who he is.
Our son is NOT the one who needs to change.

If a profound gulf separates my neighbor’s belief from mine,

there is always the golden bridge of tolerance

– Anonymous

Positive Reinforcement Works

Getting Real With Amalia Starr

Do you know how powerfully destructive negative input can be?  It can tear one apart and make a person doubt them self in all areas of their life.  It can stop one from advancing and wanting to do better.  It can cause depression.

We all want to feel acknowledged and appreciated for who we are.

Having a positive attitude is a powerful tool and tonic. I know how very important it is for all our children, especially our children with autism and special needs.  When I give my autistic adult son positive feedback, compliments, or praise his entire demeanor changes instantly and dramatically.  I can see with my very own eyes how it brightens him up.   It is like a ray of sunshine lit up his world and he soaks it up like a sponge.

The more positive input I give my son the more he grows and develops.  It is as if I am giving him permission to be himself and to do his best and that I am happy he exists. In other words, I accept him for exactly who he is and he feels it.  If you want to see how your child will respond from positive input just give it a try.  Through positive reinforcement our children will thrive.


Advocating for Your Special Needs Teen

by Shadra Bruce

If you have a special needs child, you are probably used to fighting with the schools to get the accommodations you know your child needs to be successful. Parents of special needs kids often start fighting for their kids from the time they are infants, but even as your child enters the teenage years you will find that your job as an advocate for your child is far from over. Your child needed you as a voice then and they need you now more than ever. Being a teenager is hard enough as it is; the last thing our teens need is problems with a school that doesn’t understand their unique challenges.

Schools are being forced to make unfortunate decisions with the budget cuts they are enduring, and you will quickly realize that your child’s individual needs are not their priority at times. What you also should know is that you as a parent have every right to make certain that your child is receiving the best care and education possible. You and your child have a right to many additional services that most schools do not always feel obligated to offer. It can be particularly frustrating if the school does not recognize your child’s disability. Do not let this discourage you from getting your child the services they need to succeed. Your teenager has the right to the best education available.

During the high school years, your teens will be building the foundations for their future. You have an obligation to your teen to speak up when a different teacher, classroom, or learning style would help your teen succeed.  There are many ways you can effectively advocate for your teen. The most important tool you have is knowledge. Know the laws on inclusion, accommodation, and special services.

Even if your school has not complied in the past does not mean they are not obligated to in the future. Your teen may also have the right to special tutoring and additional supplies at home. If you are struggling with how to properly advocate for your teenager keep, there are people in the community and within the school that can help you. Contact your teen’s school counselor. Not only do they know the specifics of the system but they can help ensure academic and social success.

Remember that no one knows your teen better than you. Don’t try to be adversarial with the school, but be firm about what you want the outcome of your teen’s educational experience to be. Then work with the school to put in place whatever tools and resources are necessary to make it happen.

Every Day is Independence Day!

Getting Real With Amalia Starr

Independence Day is just around the corner and it became one of my favorite holidays fourteen years ago when Brandon became independent and free. At that time, I too found independence and freedom as well.

We never know when we raise children with special needs, or any child for that matter, what the outcome will look like.  Especially after talking with the professionals who worked with Brandon, they all agreed that living alone would be nearly impossible.  As you can see they were all wrong.

I actually celebrate the 4th of July every day.  Freedom is one of the greatest gifts we can give our children and ourselves.  Although living alone may not be an option for your child helping your son or daughter reach his or her full potential and live the best life possible, it is every parent’s dream.

“Start early and think positive,” is my motto, but if you missed that early opportunity like I did with Brandon it is important you know that it is never too late to help your child succeed.

On this 4th of July, I hope you will think about the next action or step you can take to help your child move closer towards independence.  A huge step for me was not to do things for Brandon even if it seemed nearly impossible for him to achieve.  If we do not allow our children to have these experiences, how will they ever learn?

Help your children by encouraging them and giving them the time to accomplish these smaller tasks.  It is sure to improve their self-esteem.  Every small step added together becomes grand, moving your child one step closer to independence.

Happy 4th of July!


Helping Children Build Social Skills – Six Expert Tips

Getting Real With Tonia Caselman, PhD, LCSW

Research tells us that children who have good social skills (i.e. are able to make and keep friends) do better in life. They are more successful professionally; they have more satisfying marriages; they have fewer mental health problems and they have higher self-esteem.

However, many children struggle with social skills. There are many different reasons for this, but parents can determine if social skills are problematic by their child’s complaints of having “no friends,” by the lack of invitations to birthday parties and playdates, or by excessive conflicts with peers.

What are social skills? Social skills are the abilities to manage one’s own feelings, read other people’s body language, initiate conversations & play activities, practice active listening, resolve conflicts, cooperate, show empathy, and be optimistic. If your child is not skilled in these areas, don’t despair. All children can learn social skills.

How can parents teach and support social skill development? Here are some suggestions:

  1. Playdates, playdates, playdates. Children need unstructured interaction with peers. If this is not happening naturally, arrange playdates yourself with the parents of your child’s classmates and peers. Without being too intrusive during the playdate, intervene if there seem to be problems. Limit the time of the playdate if necessary.  Playdates are extremely important.
  2. Good host rules. Together with your child create a list of “rules” for being a good host. For example, “the guest gets to decide what to do” or “let the guest go first.” Post these as a reminder.
  3. Social autopsies. Following playdates, get with your child and analyze the time. What did your child do that made the playdate go well? What did your child do that may have been a problem? How could this be corrected in the future?
  4. Silent TV. Watch a show with the sound turned off. Discuss together what the thoughts and feelings of the characters were. Talk about what the “friendly” response would be to those thoughts and feelings.
  5. Problem-solving. Good problem-solving includes the ability to generate multiple solutions to a problem. Use time in the car or at the dinner table to present social problem scenarios and ask your child to come up with three (3) solutions. For example, “What could you do if you wanted to play the Wii and your friend wanted to go outside?”
  6. Bibliotherapy. There are many good children’s books about friendship. Check these out of the library, read them together and then talk about how your child can apply the lessons in the book to her/his real life. A list of children’s books on friendship can be found here.

    If your child continues to have social problems after your best efforts, consider enrolling her/him in a social skills group at school or seeing a counselor.