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  • November 26, 2014 11:59 AM | PEN (Administrator)
    Ask The Expert: Acceptance, Communication and Boundaries - Breathing your Way through the Holidays

    By Elizabeth Corsale, MFT, Director at Pathways Institute

    Parents of kids with learning and attentions difference can often feel stress about the prospect of long dinners, evenings, travel and many other logistics as the holidays draw near. One parent told me, "My husband and I take turns when our son gets up and down during Thanksgiving dinner at my mother house. We do this so we get a little bit of time with the extended family.

    My mother sometimes gets upset and feels like we are pushover parents by not punishing my son for leaving the table." What should a parent do to prepare for a situation like this? For parents of kids with learning and attention differences, the work of preparing for and getting through the holidays is inside of ourselves as much as it is logistically.

    The big question is this: "What can I realistically expect of my child during holiday events? What can I expect of myself?"

    To answer this question, you should start with some mental mapping. This means: think, visualize, and get a feel for the events, including timelines and activities.

    After mapping out the holiday, take a deep breath. Exhale. Think about your child and how s/he usually behaves under these type of circumstances. What is the reality of the situation, versus the fantasy? Time for another deep breath and another deep exhale. Now ask yourself, "What's in my control and what's not in my control?"

    For example, if the longest your ADHD child is able to sit at a table is 6 minutes (as opposed to an hour) then you need to really think about how you want to approach a holiday meal. Is there anything you can do to encourage your child to stay longer? Is there a reward they might get if they stay for 15 minutes? And how about if they then take break and come back for dessert? If they are older could they be given a job of serving the food, moving around the table filling the water glasses? Or do you want to just accept your child's current table time limit and not work on skill building this particular holiday?

    You need to find the courage to communicate your needs and your child's needs honestly with the host or guests about what they can expect. Remember, your child's ADHD isn't a parenting issue, it's a neurological issue and it requires understanding, compassion, patience, creative solution solving and non-judgment. You may need to ask your family and friends for any suggestions or thoughts about what could help them understand and what they might need or want during the meal. Rehearse and practice what you need to communicate, if you need to. And don't wait for the day of the holiday; have these conversations a few weeks before.

    Now inhale and exhale. Let's talk about boundaries. Boundaries are not meant to shut others out or close down connection; they keep us psychologically, emotionally, physically safe, and secure. Boundaries create safety for everyone and invite communication and facilitate understanding. One of your jobs this holiday is to keep your boundaries. If you know that your
    child can't wait until 9pm to eat dinner, can't stay up until midnight to go to mass, can't wait for everyone to open one gift at a time, then you need to accept this reality, thoughtfully explain it to family and friends so they can understand and find a solution. Then you need to stick with the solution - that is your boundary and your child's boundary to keep.

    One last deep breath. You have thought through the holidays and mentally mapped them, you have rehearsed your communication, you have spoken to the hosts, you have come up with some creative solutions and now you have to let go, detach, surrender and try to stay present with yourself, your family and friends. Okay now exhale…..

  • November 03, 2014 3:39 PM | PEN (Administrator)

    Hyper: A Personal History of ADHD
    by Timothy Deveni

    Review by Douglas C. Thompson, Ph.D., Head of School,
    Mid-Peninsula High School

    Timothy Denevi’s latest contribution to the literature about learning differences is a complex and engaging work. Denevi provides a hint as to what to expect in his new book, Hyper, by subtitling it A Personal History of ADHD. And while the book certainly is that, it is much more. It is also a portrait of a marriage (his parents’), and of a family. It is a biography of childhood and a story of growth and self-discovery. It is a cautionary tale about the perils and pitfalls of school, from Kindergarten through high school. It is also a very personal biography of treatment for a mental disorder, and finally, it is a comprehensive history of Western medicine’s attempt to get a handle on the concept and treatment of mental illness, with a focus on ADHD.

    These strands are woven together throughout the narrative.  The effect is at first jarring, especially the contrast between the everyday language of family and social interaction (F-bombs abound) and the much more formal language of the medical passages. But the eventually the pieces of the story start to fit together, like a mosaic, and the narrative takes on a life of its own.

    Denevi acknowledges in his choice of two epigraphs that memory is a tricky thing, implicitly asserting that the story he is about to tell is not necessarily the truth, but his truth.

    The chapter titles read more like those in a volume of poetry:  “Reflection in the Low Linoleum Glaze,” “In the Way You’d Watch a Bird That’s Flown in Through a Window”--they put me more in mind of Wallace Stevens than of a serious medical study. But the seriousness of Denevi’s effort is attested to by the 20 pages of notes and the 14 page bibliography—this is a very thorough and informative analysis written in a way that not only lays out the facts but also allows us to understand from a personal perspective why the facts are important

    Denevi begins his history of diagnosis and treatment by citing “the early-twentieth-century physician George Frederick Still,” who “during a 1902 presentation at London’s Royal College of Physicians, … identified several of the present-day ADHD diagnosis.”  He traces the history of diagnosis and treatment through the twentieth Century and to the present, with reference to specific individuals too numerous to cite here, but including Freud, Jung, Ken Kesey and L. Ron Hubbard!

    He parallels this parade of clinicians and therapists with an equally various set of teachers he worked with throughout his school career.  As he does with the health professionals, he regularly provides us with highly detailed and evocative descriptions:

    He’s in his early seventies, and his hair is white and sheer, capped thinly against the pink heights of his skull.  He’s wearing an army-green blazer.  His mouth is closed.  But look at his eyes; they’re black and small, crowded together.  It’s a disgruntled expression—he’s like an aging film director who’s not quite sure why he keeps demanding so many takes.

    In fact, his passion for detail of all kinds illustrates the crucial central fact that ADHD is not a failure of attention, but rather a tendency to focus attention elsewhere from where someone else wants it. 

    In the end, the argument Denevi makes is one that I am coming to after 30-some years of working with learning differences: we all learn differently; it’s just that some differences are more obvious and, sadly, more inconvenient in a traditional social/academic structure.  Denevi in middle school is a boy going through the familiar phases of growing up, but experiencing everything more immediately, more intensely, and less manageably than some of the rest of us:

    To look back on that world!  You wake up each morning and walk the bright corridors: the sound of voices, of lockers rattling shut. Everyone is in motion, and you think maybe this is the day things will turn around.  Then they notice you.  The tone drops.  You hear whispers, feel the glances; you’re meant to feel them.  It’s like the plunge in humidity after a thunderstorm.  This is their weapon, not fistfights or taunts; the other teenagers let you know you’ve offended them, simply by showing how much your presence disrupts their own.  And you’re forced to see yourself from only one perspective: theirs.

    Which of us has not been there, not felt that pain?  In the end we see ourselves in his story, and then his story becomes ours:

    When it comes to the broader narrative of ADHD, the most important questions are the kind you’d ask about your own life.  How did we get here?  Where are we going next? And what’s the point of all the work—not just in the present, but also by the people before us, along with the ones who’ll be around after we’re gone?

    Clear hear to support PEN by purchasing Hyper from Amazon!

  • October 31, 2014 12:06 PM | PEN (Administrator)

    Got some free time this Sunday? PEN is a community partner for Superfest: International Disability Film Festival this Sunday, Nov 2 in San Francisco. 

    Superfest is a showcase of juried films held in the San Francisco Bay Area. This annual competition celebrates cutting-edge cinema that portrays disability culture in all its diverse, complex, and empowering facets, and is the longest running festival of its kind in the world.


    Check out the film schedule here!

  • October 15, 2014 4:50 PM | PEN (Administrator)

    Photo of Sara KayI am excited to be joining Parents Education Network (PEN) as the new SAFE Program Facilitator!

    Before I joined PEN, I served as an AmeriCorps VISTA in St. Paul, Minnesota for Urban Boatbuilders; an organization that worked with adjudicated youth to build wooden boats as a way of teaching academic, vocational, and leadership skills. In this role I focused on development, communications and program management to hone organizational goals and triple youth serving programing.

    Prior to my year of National Service, I graduated from Grinnell College in central Iowa with a BA in Sociology and a self designed concentration in Cultural Food Studies. There, I also served as a Sociology Student Educational Policy Committee leader, Student Resident Advisor, the Editor-in-Chief of the college’s small press.

    As a student with learning differences myself, PEN’s philosophy of educating, collaborating with, and empowering students resonates with my personal experiences of self-advocacy and individual growth.

    I’m thrilled to be joining PEN’s team in this exciting time of organizational growth. I look forward to meeting you and your children in the very near future.

    Sincerely,

    Sara Kay
    SAFE Program Facilitator

  • October 09, 2014 3:30 PM | PEN (Administrator)

    The cognitive benefits of exercise for kids, and especially those with ADHD, continue to attract media attention. A New York Times Magazine article in early September exhorted schools to Put The Physical In Education. A more recent article by James Hamblin in The Atlantic (Exercise Is ADHD Medication) summarizes current research on physical activity's impact on academic performance. In a study reported in Pediatrics journal, the difference in executive functioning between kids who participated in an exercise program for nine months and those who didn't is, says Hamblin, "so dramatic it's unsettling."

    Hamblin becomes caustic when contrasting the cautious reception that greets such research to "the haste with which millions of kids have been introduced to amphetamines and other stimulants" to treat ADHD:

    The pharmaceutical market around the disorder has grown to several billion dollars in recent years while school exercise initiatives have enjoyed no such spoils of entrepreneurialism. But, you know, once there is more research, it may potentially be advisable to consider possibly implementing more exercise opportunities for kids.

    Hamblin goes on to cite John Ratey (who spoke for PEN back in 2009) who advocates thinking of exercise as medication for ADHD, even likening its effects specifically to a combination of Ritalin and Prozac. Ratey's recent TEDTalk on the topic can be viewed here.

    We can only hope the focus on this issue in the media continues and creates change in our educational practices. As Hamblin makes clear, physical activity is "integral to maximizing the utility of time spent in class" - for all kids, but especially those with attention and executive function issues.

  • October 02, 2014 12:08 PM | PEN (Administrator)

    Learning Disabilities Awareness Month is a designated time each year to honor children and adults who have learning and attention differences, and to spread awareness about their unique challenges, strengths, struggles and triumphs. LD Month was officially proclaimed in 1985.

    We invite you to celebrate this month with PEN in a couple of ways. Firstly, we have scheduled a special Speaker Series presentation on dyslexia by Tuck Geerds, an expert in the field with a long record of respected service to the local LD community.

    Join us for Understanding Your Dyslexic Learner: How to Support the Student with Language Processing Difficulties, Oct 17 in San Francisco!

    Secondly, over the month, we will be sharing a series of links full of myth-busting information and practical tips about learning and attention differences. We encourage you to share these by email, Facebook and Twitter in honor of LD Awareness Month!

    Yesterday we encouraged our email subscribers, Facebook Likers and Twitter followers to share any article from Understood.org's Facts vs. Fiction section. Please tag us on Facebook or Twitter if you do!

    Please look out for these and other ways to spread accurate information about learning and attention differences this month. Thank you for celebrating with us!

    Understanding Your Dyslexic Learner: How to Support the Student with Language Processing Difficulties
  • September 29, 2014 5:06 PM | PEN (Administrator)
    PEN logoUnderstood logo

    Introducing Understood.org

    Parents Education Network and 14 other nonprofits have been developing a new digital destination for parents of children with learning and attention issues -- and it’s unlike anything available today. It’s called Understood, and it’ll launch just in time for back to school.

    Through research and interviews with thousands of parents, we’ve learned a lot about what people need to help their kids thrive at home, at school and in life. We developed Understood with that in mind.

    In English and Spanish, Understood.org gives you:
    • Personalized recommendations about the information that’s most relevant to your child
    • Advice about how to deal with common behavior challenges
    • Daily opportunities to connect with experts and get your questions answered
    • A secure online community with parents who are on a similar journey
    • The ability to experience what it’s like to have issues with reading, math, organization or attention
    • And that’s just the beginning!
    Explore Understood.org Now

  • September 25, 2014 4:04 PM | PEN (Administrator)

    Thinking Differently: An Inspiring Guide for Parents of Children with Learning Disabilities
    by David Flink

    Review by Jenna Ellis, PEN Board Member (Silicon Valley)

    Finally, an owner’s manual for the parent of a child with learning and attention differences! Thinking Differently offers parents specific advice and practical tools for every step along the LD/ADHD journey. In Thinking Differently, author David Flink, Cofounder and Chief Empowerment Officer at Eye to Eye, shares his own personal experiences as a LD/ADHD adolescent, college student and professional in a sincere and sometimes brutally honest first-person voice. Intertwined throughout the book are passages about Eye to Eye’s creation, development, methodologies and impact. In effect he “put(s) the lessons of Eye to Eye in your hands”.

    While dispelling myths about the causes and implications of LD/ADHD, Flink sounds a convincing call to action for parents who suspect something might be awry. He calls on parents to take the critical first step of having their child tested NOW. Good advice for parents who know “something’s not right here” and perhaps are waiting a year to see if the child grows out of it. That myth has been dispelled: your child will not grow out his/her LD/ADHD. Having your child tested will reveal his/her learning challenges, and also strengths, and knowing this will empower you and your child to create an effective learning environment. Flink argues that “environments are really what predict whether a student with LD/ADHD can be successful” and encourages parents to focus on fixing the environment, not the kid.

    Tools in Ch. 1-3: identifying LD/ADHD signs, how to talk with your child about testing, how to talk with your child about the results while boosting his/her self-esteem, how to boost your child’s self-esteem outside the classroom

    The author succinctly sums up the benefits of metacognition: “a happy brain is a successful brain”. An essential job of the parent of a child with LD/ADHD is to help your child uncover and understand how his/her brain learns best. Knowing this will empower you to know what kind of accommodations will help your child in the classroom and make you a better advocate for your child. Better yet, Flink contends, your child will be better at advocating for him/herself and more likely to reach his/her goals if he/she knows how he learns best. Also on the list of parenting jobs is seeking accommodations and encouraging your child to ask for help. Flink shrewdly advises: “Don’t wait till you fail to ask for help”. Ask for accommodations, get the accommodations and use the accommodations – those are the critical steps to teach your child to work smarter.

    Tools in Ch. 4-6: understanding educational assessments, how to prepare for an IEP/504 meeting, how to help your child uncover his/her strengths, understanding potential accommodations that might work for your child, how to use your accommodations to work smarter

    Allies are essential to your child’s self-confidence. “Sometimes your best accommodation is an ally,” Flink maintains. In addition to supportive parents, your child needs someone who believes in them and someone with whom they have a shared LD/ADHD experience. These allies can be found everywhere in both adults and peers. Your child’s allies will help him/her build her LD/ADHD community and find “kids like me” who appreciate each other’s differences. In addition to allies, your child needs advocates acting on his/her behalf and to be taught self-advocacy skills. Your child will use these skills throughout her life, and it’s the parent’s job to teach them.

    Flink concludes the book with another call to action. He encourages parents and students to become involved in the LD/ADHD movement to “create a world where all learners are recognized.” An inspiring message no matter where you are on the LD/ADHD journey. The LD/ADHD movement is currently just a “nudgement”, but this book may just inspire enough parents and students to join in and transform it to the tidal wave that will be necessary for change.

    Tools in Ch. 7-9: how to find the right ally, how to advocate for your child, how to teach your child to advocate for herself, how to empower your child, how to help your child develop his/her own LD/ADHD story, how to tap into the LD/ADHD community

    As a mother of two tremendous teenage sons with learning differences, I only wish this book had been published back in 2000 when we were “waiting a year” for my sons to grow out of it. They didn’t. And so my sons and I began our (albeit sometimes bumpy) LD journey together. I’m quite certain the path forward will be smoother relying on Flink’s advice and using the tools he has given us. Parents, just starting or who have been on the LD/ADHD journey for a long time, will surely find Thinking Differently a helpful road map along the way.

    Click here to purchase Thinking Differently from Amazon.com and support PEN!

  • September 18, 2014 3:43 PM | PEN (Administrator)

    We are excited to announce that Student Advisors for Education (SAFE) members Mia, Ben G. and Ben E. are participating in the Student Voice Live! Conference in New York this Saturday, 9/20. 

    Student Voice Live! is an annual education summit created to advance the education community through the voices and actions of students. Building on the success of the inaugural event last year, we expect more than 300 students and youth supporters to join us in NYC on September 20 with satellite events across the globe. While there, students, thought leaders and change makers will tackle some of educations' most fundamental issues and engage in community-building discussions to strengthen ties between students, teachers and policy makers.
    Mia, Ben and Ben will take part in the Think Tank: The Power of Diverse Learners session at 10:45AM PST.

    The event will be livestreamed so we can all view it over the internet. Check @stu_voice for updates!
  • September 12, 2014 3:42 PM | PEN (Administrator)

    PEN Phoenix board members Julie Erfle and Linda Parkis were interviewed on Eight: Arizona PBS about the resources they are bringing to their local community by founding a PEN Affiliate. Watch it here!


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