Category: Utah Community

Anxiety Success Story: Jackson The Weatherma

In the spring and fall of 2016, northern Utah experienced two severe windstorms, including a few areas of tornados. The winds were scary and destructive, destroying big, strong trees, trampolines, roofs, and full houses.

Jackson was a 3rd grade student during the first windstorm and a new 4th grader for the second. He experienced the scary reality of these windstorms firsthand and couldn’t forget the fear. Jackson who also has Autism and has a tendency to become obsessed and anxious with certain topics, began to talk and worry nonstop about the weather and if the next windstorm was on its way. He was scared to leave the house and so worried about the weather that he couldn’t think about anything else. One day, he even called 911 to come to his house without his parents’ knowledge, in hopes that a police officer should be able change the bad weather.

His good parents did all they could to calm his fears and anxieties with logic, reassurance, love, prayers and special blessings, but his worries and obsession continued. In 4th grade, his fears intensified, especially as his teacher began the 4th grade weather unit. His parents took him to a counselor who helped and gave his parents ideas, such as limiting the amount of times they could look up the weather or talk about the weather as he earned rewards for discussing the weather less and less. In the fall of his 4th grade year, Jackson’s parents, teachers and principal brainstormed an idea. Jackson could be the school weatherman. He could research and give a weather forecast on the announcements each day for the entire school.

So often, parents, teachers and other adults immediately try to calm children’s fears and anxieties with statements such as, “Don’t worry.” Our focus is on telling a child with anxiety what NOT to do. But oftentimes, adults forget to tell or find something that an anxious child CAN do with their anxious energy. Jackson’s story is a perfect example of empowering an anxious child with what he CAN do!

Jackson thrived as the school weatherman! He took his new job seriously and did a fabulous job! Teachers and students throughout the school looked forward to his daily weather report on the announcements. His parents were relieved that this successful partnership with his school, along with the other strategies they had continued, had eased his anxiety about the weather at home and at school.

In December 2016, after a couple months of being the school weatherman, Jackson came up with an idea all on his own.  He decided he should write a letter to share with other schools about the importance of having a school weatherman. He wrote the letter and sent it to all the elementary schools in his school district. He felt so successful with his school weatherman job that he wanted to others to feel the same success! Below are some excerpts of his letter:

“Hi there, school principal, I’m a fourth grader [and] I’m the school’s weatherman. Do you have a weatherman too? If you don’t, you should get one. I’m going to tell you what you should do if you get your school’s weatherman (if you want to, that is)… If any of the kids… want to, they can tell the teacher… You might need someone who knows a lot about clouds and what the weather is going to be today… So, in the morning, have your weatherman ready to tell the weather for the day. Here’s the things he or she need to say. How it’s going to be over the next few hours, how it’s going to be tomorrow, and the high and the low. Well, there’s the stuff you need. I really hope you get one, because since I’m my school’s weatherman, I wanted other schools to have one too… P.S. I became the weatherman because I wanted to and it’s not a punishment.”After Jackson’s mom endearlingly shared his letter on Instagram to her friends, Utah’s KSL TV station ended up seeing it. KSL’s weatherman, Grant Weyman, highlighted Jackson in a their “High Five” segment. They surprised Jackson with a visit to his school and then invited him to be an honorary weatherman on KSL. You can see their visit to Jackson’s school here.


Funny side note that Jackson’s mom shared with me… Jackson really hates the sound of his own voice on camera. He loves watching the KSL videos, but he has never watched the videos with any sound.

Jackson is pretty proud of his weatherman super star status. And what is even better is that he goes about his days at home, school and in the community with calm confidence in any weather. What a great success story about empowering an anxious child with something they CAN do! Nice work Jackson and all his supporters! I hope this success story might help another child’s parents, teachers and other supporters to brainstorm what their anxious child CAN do!

Simple Tips, Tools and Resources to Help Young Students Develop Basic Handwriting Skills

I recently collaborated with Help Me Grow Utah, a great Utah resource, to write a guest post, “3 Simple Ways to Prepare Your Kindergartener for Handwriting Success”.

As a follow up to the Help Me Grow Utah post, I wanted to share some very simple tools, products and resources to help your young student develop basic foundational skills for good handwriting!

*This post contains Amazon affiliate links as a convenient way to find products and tools recommended.

VIDEO: See Tera talk about developing handwriting skills with FOX 13 The Place here.

 

ENCOURAGE THE USE OF SMALL TOOLS

The use of small tools will require the small muscles of the hand to develop important fine motor skills for handwriting. You already have perfect items in your house right now: toothpicks, beads, string, pipe cleaners, tweezers, tongs, sticks, chalk, Legos, small game pieces, clothespins, paint brushes, etc. Get these out for play time to help develop fundamental fine motor skills!

Smaller is better! Stay away from thick or chunky writing tools for your young students. Buy the regular-sized pencils, crayons and thin markers. (Remember this when buying school supplies also.) In fact, save some money! Broken crayons and short pencils are ideal to encourage a proper pencil grasp.

Add a stylus to screens to encourage better fine motor skill development than just using fingers.

Below are examples and links to some of the small tools I use to help young students develop handwriting skills!

Crayola Chalk

Chameleon Tails Pipe Cleaners

Chameleon Tails Pipe Cleaners/Chenille Stems 12 Inch x 6mm 100-Piece, Assorted Colors

Games with Small Pieces (Hi Ho Cherry-O)

Boogie Board eWriter

Boogie Board Jot 8.5 LCD eWriter, Blue (J32220001)

Stylus Pen

 

 

ENCOURAGE AN IDEAL PENCIL GRASP


Encourage a tripod pencil grasp. Thumb, pointer and middle finger should pinch the pencil while ring and pinkie fingers are tucked into the palm.

“Let the pencil breathe!” Allow thumb, pointer and middle fingers to form an circle while the finger tips hold the pencil. If fingers or thumb are wrapped against the pencil, it is difficult for fingers to move effortlessly without getting tired.

 

 

ENCOURAGE FORMING LETTERS FROM THE TOP

Reinforce starting each capital and lowercase letter at the top with the exception of lowercase d and e (which start in the middle). Handwriting becomes more automatic when letters have a consistent starting point. Eventually, we want students to be thinking about the thoughts they are writing, not on how to write the letters.

 

I love using handwritingpractice.net to create free worksheets with correct starting points. (I recommend using the print letters with the starting point dots. I don’t recommend using the arrows from this website.)

 

Handwriting Without Tears letter formation charts are what I use to help children remember how to form their letters. (The letter formation from this program encourages more fluid letter strokes over the letter formation arrows in the previous website mentioned.)

 

You can also use Handwriting Without Tears workbooks specifically for your child’s grade level. It’s always convenient to have a workbook for them to follow. I love these products.

Happy handwriting!

 

You can read my full article with tips for handwriting here on Help Me Grow Utah’s blog: 3 Simple Ways to Prepare Your Kindergartener for Handwriting Success

Help Me Grow Utah is a great Utah-based resource to help answer any parenting and child development questions a parent or provider has by providing information and community referrals. You can contact them at no cost by dialing 211 and asking for Help Me Grow.

 

*I am part of the Amazon Associates Program. If you choose to buy any of these products from Amazon, I’d love for you to purchase them through the links on my website to help support the work I do with Yums Theraplay! Thank you!

I’m All Right Book Review by Larry Haddock, a survivor of a Traumatic Brain Injury

I’m excited to share Larry Haddock’s book about his life and experience with a TBI (Traumatic Brain Injury). Larry and I met at Brigham Young University during our freshman year. He and his friends were just as Larry describes them in his book. Since I’ve known Larry, he’s always had a zany sense of humor and has no shame about it. Larry loves to make people smile and laugh. Larry and I were acquaintances during this time and I’m grateful that we knew each other well enough to remember one another when we met again 5 years later. After graduating from OT school in Colorado, I started my first job as an occupational therapist in Ogden, Utah, where I’d grown up and Larry’s family had recently moved. In that small circle of therapy in Ogden our paths have crossed many times in the past decade and a half.  I loved reading Larry’s book and recognizing his humorous optimism among the names of BYU college friends and therapy friends from Ogden. Larry has often reminded me as we’ve crossed paths, that my OT title really stands for “occupational terrorist”.

Larry survived a car accident after he had recently returned home from a mission in Spain for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints and was attending Brigham Young University. His book shares his life story, highlighting important experiences and people before and after that have kept him strong through his life-altering traumatic brain injury.

I am inspired by the picture of Larry’s determination in the rehab gym, wearing a sweat-soaked t-shirt, walking on a treadmill while an uneven thump of his left foot is heard in the background. Larry’s friend, Hope, describes this scene so perfectly in the forward of the book. Larry inspires me to keep pushing through life’s challenges, even at a slow pace and in my sweaty mess.

Larry and I started out on similar life paths. Our paths look quite different now. I’ve often pondered this. But as I read his book, I realize that our life’s missions are still the same. We are still striving for the same purposes: serving others with Christ-like love,  enjoying and caring for our spouses and families, and continuing to progress personally and professionally. Larry and I (and many others) are all still very much the same in our purpose despite the difference in our life’s circumstances. Larry gives me hope and inspiration to keep going despite my challenges, with a smile on my face.

This book is quite an accomplishment for Larry and I only expect more from him in the future. He not only inspires, but gives a realistic picture of life after a TBI. Anyone in the Utah area who reads this will also be introduced to a variety of community resources that Larry has found to support his quality of life to continue to participate in fulfilling his life roles.

Larry truly has a gift of optimism to inspire others. Larry’s voice in this book is the real, authentic Larry. He’s been blessed with such a wonderful support system of family, friends and professionals who have made possible his determination to reap the rewards of accomplishment. All will be inspired as you read Larry’s story.

You can buy Larry’s book at lulu.com. He also did a short interview about his book on Good Things Utah.

Autism: Now What? Six Things I Wish I had Known When My Son was First Diagnosed with Autism

By Katie Wahlquist

“Probability of Autism Spectrum Disorder: extremely likely. Level: very severe.” Those were the words that jumped off the paper when I was handed the testing results of my then-two-year-old son Adam’s visit with the pediatric psychologist. Was I surprised? Not even a little bit. Adam was born almost three months early, so we were always operating on a different time schedule when it came to developmental milestones, but when his second birthday came and went without so much as an attempt at speech, not to mention his lack of eye contact, unusual behaviors that could not be written off as “the terrible twos,” and his extreme obsessive tendencies, it was pretty clear that we were dealing with something more than a developmental delay. So was I surprised? Of course not. But was I ready for that diagnosis? Of course not!

I didn’t realize it then, but that was my first in what was soon to be many lessons on parenting a special needs child: my life was now all about contrasts. Like Charles Dickens wrote, “It was the best of the times, it was the worst of times,” that reality was now my everyday life! It’s frustration and joy and fatigue and elation and heartache and love and annoyance and humility and despair and hope and guilt…all at the same time and all before 10:00 in the morning!

Adam’s twelve years old now, and this journey just keeps throwing new curve balls my way. Adam still hasn’t spoken a single word, he’s still not potty-trained, and his behaviors are overwhelming to deal with on a good day, but I have learned a few basic principles over the past ten years that have helped me to stay positive and move forward with joy. Please note that in no way do I consider myself to be a superior parent to any other parent. I cringe when people say things to me like, “Oh, you must be such a special person to have been blessed with such a special child.” I know that these comments are almost always given with love, but I don’t think there’s some special place in heaven reserved only for special needs parents. These truths apply to ALL parents, whether you have a special needs child in your life or not. Also, I want to stress that I am not a professional therapist or medical practitioner; I’m just a mom with a pretty amazing kid.
Which brings me to my first point…

1. You are the expert. Period. Now, don’t get me wrong: raising and caring for Adam is a team effort. We love the teachers, doctors, and therapists we work with. They have become part of our family, and I believe very strongly that becoming allies instead of enemies with the people who are treating and caring for your child is CRUCIAL to your child’s success. Adam’s teachers and therapists love him, and I know that their goals and my goals for Adam are the same, but at the end of the day, no one knows your child like you do. No one. And don’t doubt it. I remember walking into my first IEP meeting (to create a specialized education plan for his school), being surrounded by people who (I thought) knew everything there was to know about Autism (spoiler alert: no one does). I listened to their ideas and suggestions in awe, watched as they started writing down goals and the methods they would use to achieve them. I remember thinking that I really didn’t need to be there, it was just a formality. And then, one of those wonderful teachers looked right at me and said, “What do you think would work, Mom?” They wanted my opinion? Wow! All of a sudden, I realized that I had the power (and responsibility) to shape what Adam’s education was going to look like, and maybe I did know a thing or two that these experts didn’t. After all, they didn’t know that Adam needs help blocking out environmental stimulation before he can focus on a task, or that he will never, ever respond to a loud voice. They didn’t know that music is always the best way to calm him or that he will move heaven and earth for Nacho Cheese Doritos.

(By the way, this same principle applies to other areas of your child’s care as well. I could tell you a really sad story about how Adam broke his jaw last year because he was obsessively grinding his teeth together and we didn’t know about it for two weeks because I didn’t trust my gut feeling that something was wrong with his mouth, more than I trusted the multiple doctors who could not find anything wrong with Adam during those two weeks. I could tell you that story, but I won’t. *cough cough*)

So listen to your team of experts; love them, show your appreciation to them, be open to their suggestions, come up with a plan together. But understand that YOU get to have the final say when it comes to your child.

2. Educate yourself like crazy! Now that we’ve established that parents are the experts, go out of your way to become one. Understanding why Adam has certain difficult behaviors has made all the difference in the world as I try to cope with them. Adam does a kabillion things that drive me BONKERS (like smelling every person we meet, crawling into the tiniest spaces and refusing to come out, licking the walls of every single room in our house, freaking out when he sees people wearing socks, etc.), but when I started learning about the reasons why Adam might be acting in these ways and the science behind it, suddenly it was more fascinating to me than it was annoying. I’m also better able to make informed decisions when I understand what’s happening, especially if I combine my knowledge with my gut-feelings (see point number one). Do I screw up those decisions? Oh yeah, all the time. It’s going to happen, and happen a lot, but when I’m putting in the work and trying my best, I have much less guilt when it does.

A NOTE ABOUT EDUCATING YOURSELF: This may come as a shock to you, but not everything you read or hear is true. Misinformation is rampant in the special needs world, so make sure that you are looking to trusted resources and professionals and not letting yourself get caught up in promises, claims, or therapies that will accomplish nothing but feed you a lot of false hope. Do your homework and know what is legit and what is not.

3. Chill out. Guess what, super mom? You’re not “Supermom” (See what I did there?). Let’s just get over that right now. Being a parent is hard work, and when you throw in the stress of caring for a child with a disability, it’s downright overwhelming. You absolutely cannot do it all, and that’s OK. In my perfect world, I would sit in my spotless house on the freshly vacuumed carpet with Adam and spend 4 hours every day working on communication skills on his iPad. We would build an impressive core vocabulary, all while dinner (gluten-free, of course) cooked on the stove. In reality, I spend those four hours picking up the trail of Cheerios Adam leaves all over the house, while trying to figure out what I can get him to eat before giving up and handing him a bag of Cheetos. And that’s OK. I can’t try every new therapy and every new medication I read about. I can’t be twenty-two places at the same time. I can’t neglect myself and those I love to care for my son. Adam is not the only member of this family, and I have to remind myself often that we cannot let everything revolve around him all the time. That might mean that I’m not going to enroll him in the amazing charter school in the next county, because I have a daughter who needs her mom to be available to take her to piano lessons or discuss the drama of high school relationships, and I can’t do that if I’m in the car for two hours with Adam every day. That might mean that I need to accept the offers of help from family and friends and not feel bad when I tell the PTA President that I can’t be in charge of the Book Fair. Focus on the big picture, do what you can, ask for help, and let go of the guilt!

4. Flip your perspective. I think I’m a naturally selfish person, because most of the time, I tend to view Adam’s Autism in terms of how it affects me (how I have to adjust my schedule, how he dictates what I am able to do, how I have to adapt just about everything in my life for him) but I’ve really tried to consciously consider how it affects him. How terribly frustrating it must be to not have the ability to express your thoughts, to have little control over your day-to-day activities, and to be completely overwhelmed by and unable to process the sights, sounds, and emotions in your life. It breaks my heart for him! BUT, despite all of that, I can think of no one who is more full of life, love, and joy than Adam! Adam’s not stressed out by the projects on his to-do list, he’s focusing on how the wind feels when it blows through his hair. He doesn’t care if he has the latest iPhone, he’s just as happy with a couple of helium filled balloons. The world is new and different every day for me when I try to see it through Adam’s eyes; it’s brighter, more complex, and nothing is ever mundane or ordinary, and that perspective is one to be envied and celebrated! There are times when it feels like I’m viewing the world while standing on my head: everything is upside down, it’s dizzying and confusing, and I feel like I might throw up, but oh, how beautiful the world can be when I see things in a different way!

5. Expect your child to achieve. I get it. You have this fragile little person and you just want to take care of him and do everything for him because you love him so much, right? Wrong! I found myself in this trap early in Adam’s diagnosis (and still find myself in sometimes now), but luckily for me, I came across a remarkable special needs mom who taught me that even though you feel like you should do more for your special needs child, you actually need to do less. Learning does not come as easily for Adam, and my tendency is to swoop in and make things easier for him, but the only way Adam is ever going to master a skill is if I don’t keep doing it for him. Crazy, right? Do I want Adam to learn to buckle his own seat belt? Get himself dressed? Write his name? Then I better back off and let him do it. I can’t even count the times that Adam has surprised me by whipping out some skill that I was sure he couldn’t do without my help. With Adam, there has always been a gap between what he could do, and what he would do (I laugh every time I hear an adaptive physical education teacher tell me that Adam can’t throw a ball; he sure doesn’t have any trouble throwing other items like shoes, shampoo bottles, or bagels), but when someone comes in and actually expects Adam to achieve, he almost always rises to the occasion. I firmly believe that EVERY child is capable of learning and growth, but we’ve got to stop making excuses for them. Have realistic expectations, but make sure you have expectations.

6. Laugh. All of the time. I saved this one for last because I think it’s the most important. Humor has saved my life. Autism is hard, but Autism is funny! When my next door neighbor calls to tell me that she just found Adam lying in her bed, I have to laugh (and also apologize and install a high-tech security system). When I watch Adam eat a piece of licorice like it is an ear of corn, or pick up the piles of random household objects that he very artistically arranges on my kitchen floor, what else can I do? I laugh! When the principal calls me to say that Adam is lying in the sun and won’t come in from recess, I wish her luck and I laugh! When Adam’s teachers send me pictures of him wearing hairnets over his face, or I notice that Adam has unscrewed all of the lightbulbs from the living room lamps and laid them neatly by the fireplace, I laugh! When I discover bags of Cheerios stashed in our heating vents, or watch him calmly remove ice cubes from the freezer and put them inside my pillowcase, I laugh! When he wears snow boots to school every single day of the year, puts on a life jacket and lies down on the front lawn, removes all of the canned food labels in the pantry, what do you think I do? I could go on, but I think you see my point. Laughter changes everything when you find yourself in a high-stress environment, and it has been my saving grace. Cultivate the ability to find humor in the unexpected, and your life will be so much easier!

Autism: Now What?There are so many other lessons I’ve learned from this boy, and I’m sure I will continue to learn from him for the rest of my life. I will never sugarcoat it and tell you that it’s easy; I am overwhelmed every single day. I often think to myself, “I want off of this crazy roller coaster!” If I could take Autism away from Adam, I would do it in a second! But would I ever want to change who I’ve become because of Adam? No way! How else could I have learned what it means to love unconditionally so effectively? How else could I have taught that to my daughter? How else could I have seen my husband’s quiet strength so clearly? How else could I have learned to rely so heavily on my faith? How could I not be grateful for the tremendous growth and love that have come into my life because of Adam? So please, never feel sorry for me because of the demands of taking care of Adam; I think when it comes right down to it, I’m going to be just fine.

But I swear, if I have to clean up any more chocolate lick marks on my wall…

 

Katie Wahlquist is a wife, a mom and a lover of homemade cinnamon rolls. She lives with her husband and two children in Utah.

 

How a Simple Teal Pumpkin on Your Porch Can Make a Difference for a Child on Halloween

Halloween celebrations always include dressing up in a costume and candy! I have so many little friends who excitedly anticipate Halloween night and trick-or-treating, including my little friends who have severe food allergies, are on special diets for medical reasons or are unable to eat food by mouth and are supported by tube feedings. The parents of these children work tirelessly to provide and support typical childhood experiences as much as possible. As children get older, they learn about childhood cultural traditions that siblings, cousins and friends do and they want to join in the excitement also.

A fun-filled Halloween night of trick-or-treating can turn into pure disappointment when candy buckets are dumped and sorted upon returning home… Only to realize that from the large loot gathered, you can only safely eat or keep a few of the treats or none at all! Everything else must be thrown away or worse, given to your siblings to eat!

You can help with some very simple things to make some of these children have an enjoyable Halloween and minimize the disappointment. Join the Teal Pumpkin Project!

Set a teal pumpkin on your porch! A teal pumpkin is a sign to families of children with food allergies and feeding difficulties that your house will be handing out non-food treats… stickers, pencils, small toys, glow sticks, temporary tattoos, etc. Many of you are already doing this, but let those families know with your teal pumpkin so they can add another house to their route of safe houses they plan to visit with their children.

My friend, Ryder, loves to dress up in theme with his parents every Halloween. Last year, he dressed up as Toothless from How to Train Your Dragon. His mom and dad dressed up as Vikings. He loves walking the neighborhood and joining in the Halloween fun. Ryder has an extensive list of food allergies and sensitivities that prohibit him from eating all but a very short list of foods. So, it comes to the point that he cannot safely eat ANY Halloween candy. How a Simple Teal Pumpkin on Your Porch Can Make a Difference for a Child on Halloween

His mom, Kim, loves the Teal Pumpkin Project and puts a teal pumpkin on their porch every year. She makes sure she has non-food treats to hand out to trick-or-treaters. When they went trick-or-treating last year in Morgan, Utah, they didn’t see any teal pumpkins in the neighborhoods they were in. Kim wishes more people handed out non-food treats. Ryder loves stickers, little toys and bubbles. Fortunately, Ryder has a sweet grandma that prepares a special non-food treat package for him every Halloween.

Confession: Several years ago I decided to plan ahead for Halloween and buy bulk bags of candy (mostly chocolate since that’s my favorite), but I ate almost all of the candy before Halloween came! Now I buy my non-food treats early and and candy last-minute to avoid my chocolate addictive behaviors! Win-win for any candy addicts like me!

My daughter loves painting a teal pumpkin and insists on adding her own artistic flair. She is excited to paint another this year to set out on the porch to signal anyone who prefers non-food treats. My sons make sure we still hand out candy for anyone else (or eat it themselves before any trick-or-treaters arrive). How a Simple Teal Pumpkin on Your Porch Can Make a Difference for a Child on Halloween

A few tips to keep in mind:

  • Set your teal pumpkin out before Halloween night so families can plan to make it to your house.
  • Keep food and non-food items in separate containers to avoid allergens touching the non-food items.
  • Avoid non-food items with latex or wheat. Some clays contain wheat.
  • If you don’t have time to paint a teal pumpkin, click on this link to download and print out a free sign at foodallergy.org.
  • You can also add your house address to the Crowd Sourced Fever Map on food allergy.org to let others in your area know you will be participating in the Teal Pumpkin Project.

For more information on the Teal Pumpkin Project, visit foodallergy.org.

Teal and orange compliment each other well, so use both colors for front-porch pumpkin decorating! You can make such a difference for a child who struggles with feeding difficulties with this simple change in your Halloween decorations and treats handed out on Halloween night!