Developmentally Challenged Children – Tips for Parents

2 05 2007

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Upon discovering that a child of ours is having a developmental disorder, be it autism, ADHD, dyslexia or whatever, parents face a number of difficulties. Often the first question asked is “who’s fault is this?”. Rest assured, developmental disorders are not the result of poor parenting!

The process of discovery may be painful but it is very important for both parents to accept the reality and deal with it. In many cases the disorder will be treatable even when discovered late. More importantly, the negative effects on a child with a developmental disorder can be devastating unless they are counteracted by parents and friends who are determined to let their child know that an inabity to perform on par with peers does not result in rejection or less love.

Start keeping a detailed journal for your child. Note down things like diet, moods, new therapies, hours of sleep, illnesses, medications, and physical data such as height, weight, head circumference, bmi and whatever else seems of importance. Make sure that you make relevant entries daily. This can be an invaluable help as time goes on. Ask your therapist to give you an appropriate developmental checklist and note down your child’s progress.

Finding the best therapy for your child is of great importance and perhaps even more important is to evaluate exactly what the individual child’s problems are.

A good therapy centre for developmental disorders will have at least the following facilities: Personnel; an occupational therapist, a child psychologist and a special educationist. Then Facilities; comprehensive licensed tests, a developmental playground, sensory integration toys and tools and good nutritional support. They will also maintain a therapy schedule with plenty of one-on-one sessions and so have a high therapist to client ratio. Finally, good therapy centers will include the parents in the therapy process. In our experience, when parents and therapists effectively cooperate, children do much, much better.

Parents then need to find out all they can about the particular problems that their child faces. The internet has plenty of information, but not all of it is good! Be sure to discuss what you learn with the professionals who are helping you! Join a support group with other parents who are sailing in similar waters. A good support group can be invaluable for sharing burdens and for finding solutions. You will be surprised to discover how common developmental problems are!

Finally, start including your extended family and your friends in your experiences. Don’t try to keep your child’s difficulties a secret.  This can be hard to do but it is very necessary.  Not all will be understanding but most people will appreciate your confidence and will try to be practically helpful.

Educating a developmentally challenged child can be difficult but many schools recognise the problems and are starting to practice inclusive education. Search out such forward thinking schools and spend time talking to your child’s teachers about what additional therapy is ongoing and areas where your child needs extra help.

Always know that you and your child will grow together. Some developmental problems can be completely cured, others can be so well compensated for that no deficit will be detectable and in all cases improvement will be seen!

So, never give up…
Digg!
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NUTRITION FOR KIDS WITH LD

22 04 2007

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Every aspect of the life of a child with learning or developmental disorders has to be studied and modified in order to give the child the best chance of achieving his/her true potential.

Attention should particularly be paid to the following key areas:

1. Play (guided, therapeutic play).

2. Adequate sleep and rest.foodpyramid-2.jpg

3. Physical development.

4. Therapy.

5. Nutrition.

6. Lots and lots of affirmative affection and love.

7. Discipline – for an ordered life.

I would like to just discuss a few pointers on diet. We have found that a change in diet makes a huge difference to attention spans and mental acuity as well as helping to correct deficits in physical growth and development.

A lot of parents are aware of the ‘food pyramid’ and have implemented those suggetions. Children with LD and developmental disorders require even more care as the diet not only has immediate effects on behavior but is also critical for normalising the functioning and development of the brain and nervous system.

The basics af a good LD diet are: Adequate calories and nutrients + a shift in the composition of the diet so that 40% is protein, 35% fat, and 25% complex carbohydrates.

Quantity is not as important as quality but do see that your child gets just enough calories.

Add more fried things – side dishes and snacks.

Mix the oils used in food preparation. Too often adults’ fears of too much cholesterol means that families stick to one safe oil, say sunflower oil. There’s nothing wrong with sunflower oil, but for kids other oils can help with the development of their nervous systems. Add oils like Olive, Sessame, Safflower, Rice Bran, and Corn oil, and you can also happily let the children have other dairy fat rich things like cheese and butter. Fish oil (cod liver oil) and other omega 3, omega 6 supplements we have found to be very helpful.

Use more herbs and spices in your cooking. Many exotic ingredients like mustard seeds, black pepper, cardomom, cloves, nutmeg, aniseed, sessame seed, corriander seeds and leaves, and mint are very good because they contain essential oils that are useful for the body. A few spices, especially red chilli powder (caprica) and turmeric we have found to be generally unhelpful. Nuts are an excellent source of essential oils – almonds, cashew nuts and macadamias are especially enriching.

Vegetables and fruits should be present in every meal. Let the kids have their favourites in any quantity but do see that the yellow vegetables are represented (e.g. carrots, pumpkin). Spinach, broccoli, brussel sprouts and cabbage are very good but some creativity may be required to get the children to eat enough of them.

Carbs should be complex, especially for kids with ADD/ADHD. Honey, molasses, treacle, pure maple syrup, and date syrup, are very good sweeteners. Stay away from sugar (sucrose) and glucose as much as possible. Fruits of all types are good. Dark chocolate is good as are homemade icecream and fruit cocktail. Fruit preserves that have no stabilizers or artificial preservatives are fine. In fact it is best to stay away from anything with artificial stabilizers, food colorings and preservatives as many of these have effects on mood and can worsen hyperactivity. Bread should best be whole grain, but a number of children are sensitive to gluten so check that out and if necessary try a gluten excluded diet for at least a week to see whether it helps.

Don’t store anything in the fridge, if at all possible – FRESH IS BEST!

Changes in diet will result in both immediate and slower changes, and if you are a sensible parent you will pay close attention to this very important aspect of your child’s life. make sure to keep track of dietary changes or anything ‘new’ that your child eats in your journal.

Anyone interested in the Challenge ‘eggetarian’ LD diet (very Indian) can mail me and I will send you a copy. There is no ONE CORRECT diet that will work with all developmentally challenged kids, so keep working on it and learning as you go!

Digg!





LD3 – Dyspraxia

15 04 2007

spilled mikDyspraxia is again a very common learning disorder.

One can think of dyspraxia as being in a disordered state of mind. Disorganisation can become the hallmark of a child’s life. Common tasks cause confusion. There is no plan put into action to complete a job. Indeed, dyspraxia is more than a learning disorder, it is a life disorder!

For students, the common signs are messy workplaces, things going ‘missing’ very often and when a series of actions are called for an inability to repeat a sequence of actions in the same way. Simple everyday activities like brushing one’s teeth can prove problematic. If you think about it, what many of us do almost without a second thought actually involves a number of separate steps. We find and pick up a toothbrush, then find and open a tube of toothpaste, then put just the right amount of paste onto the bristles of the brush, cap the paste and put it back in its proper place. We then brush our teeth and usually that too in some sort of ordered sequence to ensure that each tooth has been cleaned, front and back. Then wash the paste out of our mouth, find a towel and dry up. The brush has to be washed and brush and towel returned to where they should be.

The student with dyspraxia will often have forgotten books, pen, diary etc. Typically the disorganisation will be visible on the work surface. Things will be scattered around. Something once used will not be put back from where it was taken. Activities like searching or finding will often end in failure.

I think you can see the devastating effects that dyspraxia can have on a chid’s life, self-esteem and personality development.  Typically, such children will be thought of as  ‘unable to do the simplest thing properly’. Without intending to, they will be considered naughty, stubborn, lazy, messy, unreliable, careless, forgetful and a lot of other unfavourable things.

Dyspraxia can be very frustrating for parents to deal with for it is not limited to school or study but will affect every area of a child’s life.messy desk toon

Dyspraxia again is a developmental disorder and one that can occur alone or along with dyslexia, dysgraphia and/or ADHD. Dyspraxia can and should be treated!

Most chidren will show improvement with therapy. For a few kids, some degree of difficulty will be with them throughout their lives. Many will be able to compensate for their disorder to such an extent that it may become unnoticeable.

Digg!





LD2 – Dysgraphia

4 04 2007

Dys (Greek – something wrong or improper) + graphia (writing). An inability to write at all is called agraphia but this is very rare. What is a very common learning disorder is dysgraphia – messy, poorly spelled, difficult to read handwriting. Dyslexia (difficulty reading) often but not always is found along with dysgraphia.

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Poor handwriting can sometimes be the result of improper teaching of basic writing skills but that would not be considered a “learning disorder” and can be easily corrected with just a bit of focused coaching.

The real disorder is not so easy to correct and depending on factors such as concomitant dyslexia, it may take years to set right. But, dysgraphia as with dyslexia IS treatable. Improvement with sound therapy is very possible and for many kids a complete recovery is possible.

Again, early detection is important. Any signs; bad spelling, messy handwriting, inability to write in straight lines, resistance to writing and even complaints of hand pain while writing should result in a proper professional evaluation of the child. The pros will look into all aspects including proper functioning of nerves and muscles and other possible physical sources like eyesight. Along with the physical tests they will use tests that study whether there is good coordination between the motor and perceptual parts of the brain.

A key issue always with any LD is how the child is developing and whether the child’s development is on par with other kids of the same age. Slower development of some parts of the brain can often be detected in kids that have learning disorders.

Dysgraphia is treatable, so if you have any suspicion that your child’s handwriting is not on par with her/his peers, do get it checked out and don’t get disheartened!

In our experience in dealing with developmental disorders, we have found that nutrition is very important. In my next post I will talk about that and a few other things that parents need to know…





LD1 – Dyslexia

30 03 2007

There are many, many things that can disturb a child’s ability to learn. The commonest cause of learning disorders is improper development but genetics is also thought to play some roll…LD1

Today, I want to highlight reading difficulties or dyslexia as a common and troubling disorder.

Signs can be detected from about 3 years of age onwards as children fall behind their peers in reading. Commonly one will encounter any or all of the following:

  • May have poor reading ability or poor comprehension
  • May often misread information
  • May have problems with syntax or grammar
  • May confuse similar letters or numbers, reverse them, or confuse their order
  • May have difficulty reading addresses, small print and/or columns

The amount of disability and its causes will have to be determined by experts for each child. Various standardised tests are available to help with the diagnosis. Depending on the cause, many childrens’ disability can be lessened or even sometimes eliminated. Early detection and treatment are keys to success but our experience at Challenge is also that it is better late than never!

Almost every town now has professional help available for affected children. To ignore a child’s difficulties will simply consign them to a life far below their true potential. If you have questions please do feel free to contact me.

We will soon do short highlights on each of the following – Dysgraphia, Dyscalculia, Dyspraxia, ADHD, Autism and Aspergers.





Birds and Elephants at Topslip

24 02 2007

Do you know that India boasts over 1,400 of the world’s 10,000 species of birds! Of these fully 260 species can be seen in the Indira Gandhi Wildlife Sanctuary – one small 500 sq km patch of forest? Serious birders from all over the world visit here every year to enjoy the myriad and unique birds found only in the various remaining small patches of shola forest.

Ponnvandu (our little trust) organised 15 volunteers from our college student work to participate in this year’s elephant and bird counts. It was an exciting two days. Most of our kids are getting into the forest on foot for the very first time! Some are so city bred that they have never even seen the milky way before…

We were blessed with lovely weather. Five of our volunteers were needed for the elephant census and the rest were assigned to enumerate the bird species. Only four of us are decent birders so we decided to form three teams and divided the sholas amongst the three for two days of morning and evening counts. It is exciting work! The forest department lorry drops us at specific points in the forest and from then on we work with the local tribal guides and forest guards to complete routes of 7 to 10 km each in the early morning and then starting again in the late afternoon.

The five that went for elephant counting saw a total of 39 elephants, which is quite encouraging given that this is a dry season census and most elephants are known to head deep into the forest in search of perennial streams and lakes (few and far between). A number of calves and juveniles were counted in the family groups. One young man found himself just feet away from a late foraging sloth bear while he was absorbed in observing a mother and calf elephant. Luckily these bears are very short sighted and it went harmlessly on its way.

Our budding birders quickly got the hang of things, started recognising bird song and we came up with a very encouraging 87 species including many of the rarer birds. The group that first went into the Karian Shola were able to see two nesting Malabar Pied Hornbills (Anthracoceros coronatus) and one male actually feeding the ensconced female – a very very rare treat indeed. They also spotted the very hard to find Ceylon Frogmouth (Batrachostomus moniliger) on this hike. One group came across the ‘dreaded’ king cobra up close (a 4 meter/13 footer, about medium sized). This is one species that eats only other snakes. The king cobras come to the bamboo breaks and near spots of water for their breeding season and they can get quite aggressive if someone is found near their nests!

On the second day we were joined by the world famous bird guide (now a forest dept guard) Mr. Natarajan. He is amazing and being a local tribal, knows both these forests and the resident wildlife intimately. Articulate and a wonderful teacher, the lucky five kids that spent the day with him really got a grand education in censusing, bird identification and generally how the whole ecosystem works.

Having these young people from the Sri Krishna College of Arts and Sciences (SKCAS) enthusiastically participating in very rigorous census work was perhaps the most exciting part. They learned a tremendous amount, but more than that they got the feel of what biodiversity means, how fragile these ecosystems are and the crying need for more involvement in conservation work.

One of the saddest findings was that many areas of shola are being invaded by coffee plants. Coffee seeds from the surrounding private coffee plantations are being effectively dispersed into these sholas and one can see that the shola forests are under a very severe threat from this new invasion. Sometime soon I will do a post on what shola forest is, but so far the main point is that we don’t have any idea how to regenerate a shola, so once gone, gone forever.

Digg!





Bison’s Charge – A Tall Tale

18 02 2007

In line with our focus on forests and animal censuses, here’s another true story from a few years back.

Roy (Aruna’s cousin) decided to join me for a census and we headed to Mudumalai. Roy is a young man, Chennai born and bred (i.e. big city). This was his very first time in a real forest and we were both looking forward to it. The real beauty of these animal/bird counts is that one is given a route to follow and allowed to walk. If you go to any of our national parks as a tourist, walking is banned! One can only get into the forest in the Forest Department’s own vehicle and that too on a fixed, well travelled route.

Hiking into any of the woods in South India is a glorious experience. Ancient lichen coated, orchid draped trees, sholas, myriad birds and even the undergrowth is wonderful with mosses, liverworts, cycads and ferns to fascinate. it does not really matter whether one does see much in the way of animals – spotted deer and monkeys (macacques or langurs) are hard to miss – still it is an enthralling and enlivening experience.

On the very first day we ended up in different teams. There were too few volunteers. On the second day though, a few more people showed up and we were together. On his first day’s trek, Roy’s forest guide had found them a huge hive of mountain honey and they had seen a few elephants. Roy was now hooked!

We started out bright and early with a forest guard who was a bit of a reluctant (and noisy) walker. With encouragement and perseverance we made good headway, moving through the open teak forest at the periphery and were soon going into a fairly dense forest. After a couple of hours the route led us downhill. We could hear a small stream chuckling in the depression ahead and about 100 yards from the bottom the trees opened up and we were on grass. Roy and I were abreast leading the way, with our ‘guide’ quite a bit behind us. There was another group somewhere East of us, they had been dropped a half kilometer before us and so we were the last to start.

The bottom of this small valley was fairly open with a few small shrubs and plenty of grass. The rivulet of pure mountain spring water looked inviting. We were thirsty and speeded up down the slope when suddenly there was a burst of commotion on the far side of the clearing and charging straight towards us thundered this massive gaur bull (Indian bison, Bos gaurus). Now these are huge animals, the largest of the bovines, easily weighing in at over a ton a piece and muscularly built – one ton of pure muscle!

He was going full tilt, jumped the rivullet and started up the slope, saw us standing startled into stillness and slack jawed not 30 feet ahead. He came to a sudden halt and there occurred again one of those frozen moments. He stared, he snorted, we were barely breathing. Abruptly, he turned and trotted rapidly back the way he had come leaving us still gaping. If he had decided to continue his charge, I wouldn’t be here to blog about it!

He was almost black with huge humped shoulders and rippling with muscles. Four white socks looked incongruosly cute and his neck – wow! The pics here do not do justice to seeing one of these 6 1/2 feet tall monsters up close.

Our guard had stopped at the beginning of the clearing and he now came hurriedly down and tried to persuade us to head home. We were only half way through our prescribed route and both of us flatly refused.

Seeing people in the deep forest is very ratre and it looked as though this gaur bull had been frightened by the previous group and had been making tracks away from their ramble when he suddenly ran into us. He must have wondered how his persuers had managed to get ahead of him and cut him off again!

Luck was certainly with us, for the lone bull bison is considered the most dangerous of the forest animals. They rarely have human contact, being very shy and behemoths of the very deep forest where even poachers rarely venture.

The rest of our trek was anticlimactic!

We were startled to see the amount of cattle droppings on the periphery of the forest range. It turns out that the government actually licences the native tribals to herd cattle within the forest, but, quite naturally, these licences are abused by local non-tribal heavyweights who buy out or extort the licences and then use them to allow large herds of cattle to forage within the forest itself.

Incidentally, Roy is now well settled in Switzerland. He and Akila (and their beautiful baby Leah) had come down this Christmas and we got to spend a brief time together in Chennai. Roy has certainly not lost the forest bug! We are going to try to schedule his next visit so that he can ‘do the census’ again!